The Council

The Council, which is governed by Article 16 TEU, consists of representatives of Member States at ministerial level. It is therefore sometimes called the Council of Ministers. The ministers participate in the EU’s political and legislative activities with due regard to the interest of the respective State. This is strongly reminiscent of the role that such representatives play in traditional international organisations and demonstrates a classic international law element in the construction of the EU. It is the Council, together with the European Parliament, that exercises the legislative and budgetary functions in the EU. Although the Council formally is one single body, it is in practice divided into, and meets in, different configurations, which deal with various types of question. For instance, environmental matters are dealt with by the Environment Council, which consists of environment ministers of the

Member States. The Council currently meets in ten different such configurations. The General Affairs Council, usually consisting of the Member States’ European Affairs Ministers, shall ensure consistency in the work of the different Council configurations (Art 16 (6) TEU).

The Council decides by qualified majority, unless otherwise provided in the Treaties regarding a particular issue. The definition of ‘qualified majority’ is quite complex. Since 1 November 2014 qualified majority has meant at least 55 per cent of the members of the Council, which should include at least fifteen Council members representing Member States comprising at least 65 per cent of the EU population. A blocking minority must include at least four Council members. Three large Member States cannot alone block a decision, even if they represent more than 35 per cent of the citizens.[1] [2]

Situations in the environmental field which require unanimity in the Council are, for instance, decisions relating to fiscal measures or those affecting town and country planning, or a Member State’s choice between different energy sources (Art 192 (2) TFEU). This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.

Questions coming up for vote in the Council are usually prepared in expert groups and in the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper)P7 This consists of Member States’ ambassadors to the EU.

  • [1] According to a special protocol appended to the Treaty of Lisbon, until 31 March 2017 a MemberState may demand that a qualified majority decision be adopted according to the old rules. This is theProtocol on the Decision of the Council Relating to the Implementation of Art 16(4) of the Treaty onEuropean Union and Art 238(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union between 1November 2014 and 31 March 2017 on the One Hand, and as from 1 April 2017 on the Other [2007]OJ C 306/159.
  • [2] Le comite des representants permanents.
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