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European Council Configurations

24 September 2009
by inadim -- last modified 26 September 2009

The Council is a single body, but for reasons relating to the organisation of its work, it meets – according to the subject being discussed – in different "configurations", which are attended by the Ministers from the Member States and the European Commissioners responsible for the areas concerned.


Council Configurations

Each Member State participates in preparing the work of the Council and in its decision-making.

The Council is made up of the ministers of the Member States. It meets in nine different configurations depending on the subjects under discussion. For example, the “General Affairs and External Relations” configuration is made up of foreign affairs ministers, the “Justice and Home Affairs” configuration of justice and home affairs ministers, etc.

All the work of the Council is prepared or co-ordinated by the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER), made up of the permanent representatives of the Member States working in Brussels and their assistants. The work of this Committee is itself prepared by some 250 committees and working groups consisting of delegates from the Member States.

Among these, certain committees have a specific role of providing co-ordination and expertise in a given area, such as, for example, the Economic and Financial Committee, the Political and Security Committee (in charge of monitoring the international situation in the areas of foreign policy and common security and of providing, under the responsibility of the Council, political supervision and strategic direction in crisis management operations) and the Co-ordinating Committee, responsible for preparing work in the area of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.

  • The Council
  • In the 1990s there were 22 configurations; this was reduced to 16 in June 2000 and then to 9 in June 2002. However, there remains a single Council in that, regardless of the Council configuration that adopts a decision, that decision is always a Council decision and no mention is made of the configuration. The Council's seat is in Brussels, where it meets several times a month (meetings are held in Luxembourg in April, June and October).

    Council decisions are prepared by a structure of some 250 working parties and committees comprising delegates from the Member States. They resolve technical issues and forward the dossier to the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper), made up of the Member States' ambassadors to the European Union, which ensures consistency in the work and resolves technical-political questions before submitting the dossier to the Council.

    The Council takes decisions by a vote of Ministers from the Member States. There are three types of vote depending on the Treaty provisions for the subject being dealt with: simple majority (for procedural decisions), qualified majority (a weighted voting system based on the populations of Member States; used for many decisions concerning the internal market, economic affairs and trade) and unanimity (for foreign policy, defence, judicial and police cooperation, and taxation).

    In a great majority of cases, the Council takes decisions on a proposal from the European Commission and in association with the European Parliament, either through the consultation procedure (e.g. in the areas of agriculture, judicial and police cooperation, and taxation) or through codecision (e.g. the internal market).

    In a great majority of cases, the Council takes decisions on a proposal from the European Commission and in association with the European Parliament, either through the consultation procedure (e.g. in the areas of agriculture, judicial and police cooperation, and taxation) or through codecision (e.g. the internal market).

  • General Affairs and External Relations
  • The General Affairs Council is, together with the Agriculture Council and the Ecofin Council, one of the oldest configurations of the Council. Since June 2002, as the General Affairs and External Relations Council, it holds separate meetings on General Affairs and on External Relations respectively. It meets once a month.

    Meetings bring together the Foreign Ministers of Member States. Ministers responsible for European Affairs, Defence, Development or Trade also participate depending on the items on agenda.

    General Affairs

    At its sessions on General Affairs, the Council deals with dossiers that affect more than one of the Union's policies, such as negotiations on EU enlargement, preparation of the Union's multi–annual budgetary perspective or institutional and administrative issues. It co–ordinates preparation for and follow-up to meetings of the European Council. It also exercises a role in co–ordinating work on different policy areas carried out by the Council's other configurations, and handles any dossier entrusted to it by the European Council.

    External Relations

    At its sessions on External Relations, the Council deals with the whole of the Union's external action, including common foreign and security policy, European security and defence policy, foreign trade and development cooperation. A priority in recent years for the Council, in cooperation with the Commission, has been to ensure coherence in the EU's external action across the range of instruments at the Union's disposal.

  • Economic and Financial Affairs
  • The Economic and Financial Affairs Council is, together with the Agriculture Council and the General Affairs Council, one of the oldest configurations of the Council. It is commonly known as the Ecofin Council, or simply "Ecofin" and is composed of the Economics and Finance Ministers of the Member States, as well as Budget Ministers when budgetary issues are discussed. It meets once a month.

    The Ecofin Council covers EU policy in a number of areas including: economic policy coordination, economic surveillance, monitoring of Member States' budgetary policy and public finances, the euro (legal, practical and international aspects), financial markets and capital movements and economic relations with third countries. It decides mainly by qualified majority, in consultation or codecision with the European Parliament, with the exception of fiscal matters which are decided by unanimity.

    The Ecofin Council also prepares and adopts every year, together with the European Parliament, the budget of the European Union which is about 100 billion euros.

    The Eurogroup, composed of the Member States whose currency is the euro, meets normally the day before the Ecofin meeting and deals with issues relating to the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). It is an informal body which is not a configuration of the Council.

    When the Ecofin Council examines dossiers related to the euro and EMU, the representatives of the Member States whose currency is not the euro do not take part in the vote of the Council.

  • Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy
  • Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Environment
  • The Environment Council is composed of environment ministers who meet about four times a year. It decides by qualified majority in codecision with the European Parliament.

    In this sector, the European Community has the task of fostering the harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities which respects the need, in particular, to ensure a high level of environmental quality.

    To achieve this, it aims to preserve the quality of the environment, human health, the prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources and to promote measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems.

    While taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Community, Community policy on the environment is based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.

  • Education, Youth and Culture
  • The Education, Youth and Culture (EYC) Council brings together education, culture, youth and communication Ministers around three or four times a year. It usually adopts its decisions by a qualified majority (apart from on cultural affairs, where it acts unanimously) and in codecision with the European Parliament.

    The European Community's aim is to contribute to the development of quality education, the implementation of a vocational training policy and the flowering of Member States' cultures, bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for defining the content of teaching and vocational training and organising education and vocational training systems, as well as their national and regional cultural diversity.

    In order to achieve those objectives, the Community's primary role is to provide a framework for cooperation between the Member States, which works by exchanges of information and experience on matters of shared interest. The Community can also use legislative channels where permitted by the Treaty establishing the European Community (for instance, on audiovisual matters and the mutual recognition of diplomas).

  • Competitiveness Council

Source: Council of the European Union



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