The Council is based on Articles 202-210 EU.
The Council has its origins in Art. 202 EU and consists of a representative of each Member State at the ministerial level who is authorised to enter into binding agreements on behalf of the government of his Member State (Art. 203 EU). The actual composition of the Council sessions depends on the agenda: certain ministers must attend meetings on particular subjects.
The fifteen ministers for Economic Affairs and Finance meet in the Ecofin Council; the ministers for Social Affairs meet in the Social Council, etc. In addition to these departmental councils, there is a coordinating Council for ´general matters´, which consists of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Member States.
Not all policy areas require frequent meetings. The Agricultural Council, for instance, has monthly meetings, while the ministers in the Environmental Council meet only two to four times a year.
The diversity in the composition and names of the various Councils does not alter the fact that, as an institution, it remains one and the same Council. All decisions are decisions of the Council of the European Union.
The Presidency of the Council rotates (Art. 203, paragraph 2). The Member States take the Presidency in turns for six months in the order determined by the Council.
The Council is assisted by the Secretariat-General, which is chaired by a Secretary-General appointed by the Council. The Secretariat consists of approximately 2,300 officials.
The seat of the Council is in Brussels. In April, June, and October, however, the meetings take place in Luxembourg.
The Council is the most important legislative body of the Union. In addition, the Council takes care of coordinating the general economic policy of the Member States (Art. 202 EU), adopts the budget in cooperation with Parliament (Art. 272 EU), and plays a minor role in implementing decisions (Art. 202 EU).
The Permanent Representatives Committee assists the Council. These fifteen representatives with the status of ambassadors prepare matters that are to be dealt with. The committee is best known by its French acronym COREPER (Comité des Représentants Permanents).
The Council can take its decisions in one of three ways: with an absolute-majority vote, with a qualified-majority vote, or with unanimity. Though Art. 205 paragraph 1 EC stipulates that absolute-majority voting is the main rule, there are so many exceptions to this rule in the Treaty that qualified-majority voting or unanimity are most common in practice.
A decision is accepted with an absolute-majority vote if eight out of the fifteen Member States vote in favour. In the case of qualified-majority voting, the votes of the Member States are first weighted. Big countries such as France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom have ten votes each, whereas Belgium and the Netherlands have five votes and Luxembourg, two. There is a total of 87 votes.
For a decision to be reached, 62 votes must be in favour if the Commission takes the decision on a proposal. In the other cases, there is the additional requirement that these 62 votes must derive from at least 10 countries (Art. 205 paragraph 2).
In the case of unanimous voting, Art. 205 paragraph 3 stipulates that abstention from voting does not prevent a decision from being accepted. Members are not required to vote. If a country abstains from voting, the decision is nonetheless fully applicable to this Member State.
However, for decisions taken with unanimity in the framework of the second pillar, there is the possibility of ´constructive abstention´ (Art. 23 EU). A member of the Council can abstain from voting and make a formal statement. In this case, the Member State is not bound to the decision taken but may not take measures that thwart the decision taken.
In an Union that one day will comprise 30 Member States, it will be very difficult to make decisions by unanimous vote. This creates the risk of the Union being paralysed. Therefore, the number of cases in which a Member State can pronounce a veto had to be reduced by the reform. This is why, thanks to the Treaty of Nice, it is now possible to make more decisions by a qualified majority. This goes, for example, for the trade agreements concerning services or intellectual ownership, which, in principle, can be concluded by the Council by a qualified majority.
The Treaty of Nice provides for a change in the weighing of the votes as from 1 January 2005. The number of votes assigned to each Member State has been changed and it has already been decided how many votes will be assigned to the candidate Member States on their entry into the Union. Henceforth, the qualified majority is reached when:
Weighing of the votes for the Member States and the candidate countries
Via the Internet site of the Council of the European Union, a number of documents can be consulted. The Public Register of Council Documents provides references of documents. Within the scope of the accessibility of information, the register can be used to look up references of documents that have been published since 1 January 1999. The register specifies which documents have been made accessible to the public. In this case, the full text can be retrieved directly. Documents from before 1999 and documents that are not publicly accessible must be requested in writing via email@example.com.
In the cooperation and co-decision procedure, the Council takes a common position after the first reading by the European Parliament. Since 1994, the texts of common positions have been published in the Official Journal series C. Since the introduction of the Public Register in 1999 common positions also can be searched in this database. A common position dating back to before 1994 must be requested in writing via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Review of the Council´s work is an annual publication on the Council´s activities relating to the internal and external policies and the Acts drawn up and approved by the Council with page references to the Official Journal. The annual report is published in a paper version only.