• The Council of the European Union is one of the two main lawmaking bodies of the EU. It is sometimes referred to as the Council of Ministers.
  • In loose terms, the Council of the European Union can be thought of as representing the EU’s member states in the EU lawmaking process (whilst the European Parliament represents the people of the EU and the European Commission represents the EU overall).

"The Council of the EU represents member states in the EU lawmaking process. Both the Council and the European Parliament must agree to a proposal before it can become EU law."

  • It comprises representatives of government of each member state (for example the UK government would send a representative to meetings of the Council of the EU), but the exact composition varies according to the topic under discussion.
  • For example if discussing EU farming policy, the UK would send the Cabinet minister responsible for this area. If it was financial policy, the UK Chancellor would attend.
  • Presidency of the EU Council rotates every six months among the governments of the member states although the UK recently missed its turn to chair the Council as this was mutually decided to be inappropriate after the UK had declared its intention to leave the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
  • The EU Council normally votes by qualified majority voting: at least 55% of member states must vote in favour of a proposal (or 72% if the proposal has not come from the European Commission) and those states must represent a 65% majority of the EU population. There are however additional rules to prevent 3 populous member states from blocking a decision against the wishes of the other 25, so the requirement for 65% of the population of the EU is not always met.
  • Some areas require unanimous agreement in the EU Council. These include admitting new member states to the EU, taxation, EU finances, social security and social protection harmonisation, some areas of policing and home affairs, common security and common defence measures (“an EU army”).
  • Like the European Parliament, the EU Council can only make decisions (i.e. pass EU laws) in areas that the Treaties governing the formation and functioning of the EU allow it to. These treaties were themselves unanimously agreed to by the EU’s member states.

"Between 1999 and 2016, the UK was on the winning side of 98% of votes in the Council. Along with France and Germany the UK was one of the 'big three' in the EU - very little happended without our informed knowledge and consent up to 2016 and the referendum result."

  • Consent of both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union is required before a proposed law (e.g. from the Commission) may be adopted. See “How is an EU law made?”
  • In the period 1999 to 2016, the UK was on the winning side 98% of the time, having lost 56 votes and won 2466 votes in the Council.
  • Along with France and Germany, the UK is one of the “big three” in the EU. Very little happened in the EU without our informed knowledge and consent, at least before the 2016 referendum and subsequent developments.
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