B1.3.3 Council of the European Union


“The Voice of the Member States”

The Council of the European Union was formerly known as the Council of Ministers. It is the EU’s principal decision-taking body. With the European Parliament, it shares the responsibility for passing EU laws. It is also in charge of the EU’s foreign, security and defence policies, and is responsible for key decisions on justice and freedom issues.

The Council consists of ministers from the national governments of all the EU countries. Meetings are attended by whichever ministers are responsible for the items to be discussed (i.e. the ministers of the economy and finance meet to discuss financial and economic matters).

Every six months, a different Member State assumes the so-called Presidency of the EU, meaning that it chairs these meetings and sets the overall political agenda.

Each country has a number of votes in the Council broadly reflecting the size of its population, but weighted in favour of smaller countries. Most decisions are taken by majority vote, although sensitive issues in areas like taxation, asylum and immigration, or foreign policy, require unanimity.

Several times a year the Presidents and/or Prime Ministers of the Member States meet as the European Council. These ‘summit’ meetings set overall EU policy.