Together with the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, or just “the Council” as it is also known, forms the two main decision-making bodies of the EU. This means that whenever the European Commission proposes a new initiative, the Council and the European Parliament negotiate the final outcome.
One Council - ten configurations
The Council of the EU is made up of the ministers of the 27 Member States. It is a single body, but is organised in ten different configurations depending on the subjects under discussion. For example the environment configuration is made up of Environment Ministers and the transport configuration is made up of Ministers of Transport.
Despite the fact that the Council is made up of ten different configurations it is always referred to as one Council just as a decision by one of the configurations is simply referred to as a decision by the Council.
The Presidency of the Council's ten configurations rotates among the Member States. However, the Council of Foreign Affairs has a permanent president and is headed by the EU's High Representative – Catherine Ashton from the UK.
Preparing the Council meetings
Council meetings are held in either Brussels or Luxembourg. Before the ministers assemble in one of the Council configurations to make decisions, meetings are prepared in more than 150 working parties and committees. These committees are comprised of officials from the 27 Member States and are highly specialised, dealing with a number of issues varying from the working party on technical harmonisation of motor vehicles to the working party on fruit and vegetables.
Dossiers which have been prepared by the working parties are passed on to the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper), made up of the Member States' ambassadors and vice-ambassadors to the EU. Coreper ensures consistency and prepares the Council meetings by resolving technical-political questions before dossiers are submitted to the Council.
In a great majority of cases, the Council makes decisions on a proposal from the European Commission and in association with the European Parliament.
The Council makes decisions by a vote of Ministers from the Member States. However, in the majority of Council decisions a compromise is reached which is supported by all Member States. There are different ways of voting depending on the subject being dealt with. Certain policies like foreign policy are subject to unanimity.