Not to be confused with the European Council or the Council of Europe, which will be discussed in later articles, the Council of the European Union is one of the stranger aspects of the EU. We won’t pretend it’s easy to understand how the European Union works. It’d be disingenuous if we did. But what we can do, however, is try and make it easier. What is it? What does it do? Does it affect me? By the end of this article, you’ll know the answers to all three of those questions.
The Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers, consists of appropriate Ministers from EU Member States, plus the appropriate Commissioner. In terms like this, it’s difficult to understand. But this might make it easier – there are 10 different configurations it can take – the specific one it takes depends on the topic at hand. Find below a list:
- General Affairs Council
- Foreign Affairs Council
- Economic and Financial Affairs Council
- Justice and Home Affairs Council
- Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
- Competitiveness Council
- Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council
- Agriculture and Fisheries Council
- Environment Council
- Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council
So each of these Councils will have the Ministers relevant to the topic at hand – for example, at the Justice and Home Affairs Council, the Home Secretary of the UK Theresa May, and Minister of State for Immigration James Brokenshire both attended. Additionally, the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, who currently is Dimitris Avramapoulos, attends as a representative of the European Commission. In the same Council, you could see the Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security Carmelo Abela, or the Italian Minister for the Interior Angelino Alfano.
The idea behind having different configurations is so that at every stage, the Council of the EU is being managed by experts in the area.
Primarily, it acts as an “upper house” to the European Parliament. In the same way we have the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the EU has the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. It’s a closer analogy than it may seem – peers of the House of Lords are supposed to be appointed for their expertise in a certain field, and the Council of the EU consists of the EU’s most senior, and therefore (presumably) knowledgeable politicians in that field.
Alongside the European Parliament, it adopts the annual budget of the EU, and co-ordinates policy between Member States, as well as setting EU foreign and security policy. The other major power it has is to conclude agreements between the EU and third parties, be they other countries, or international organisations.
The idea behind the Council of the European Union is to provide a second voice to proposals. The European Parliament, because it’s elected proportionally, tends to have a very wide spectrum of views. The Council of the EU provides another level of scrutiny, and also gives countries a chance to make sure that their policies, and the policies of the EU, work together well. For a law to pass, it needs to have 55% of the EU states agree to it – at the moment, that means 16 states – and the number of people voting in favour has to add up to 65% of the population – this supermajority makes it very difficult for countries to gang up on each other.
In practical terms, it doesn’t really affect you as there aren’t huge amounts that it can do that will filter down to an individual, but it’s in terms of countries that the Council can be felt – it can stop policies that your country doesn’t think its people would like, and it can affect how much funding from the EU a country may get. But individually, it’s not really felt.
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