EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Council of the European Union

Definition

The Council of the European Union (also known as the ‘Council of Ministers’ or the ‘Council’) is the Union’s main decision-making body. It is composed of ministers from the Member States and is therefore the EU institution in which the governments of the Member States are represented. Together with the European Parliament, the Council negotiates and adopts EU laws and budgets. It is also the lead institution for decision-making relating to common foreign and security policies and for coordinating intergovernmental economic policies. The Council’s headquarters are in Brussels, where it meets several times a month (in certain months, the meetings are held in Luxembourg).

Background and status

The Council is made up of 10 different configurations – different Councils of ministers that focus on a specific area of activity, such as transport or energy. The General Affairs Council, for example, deals with external relations plus general policy, while the Economic and Financial Affairs Council focuses on economic and financial matters. Employment and industrial relations are covered by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council.

In accordance with Council Decision 2009/908/EU, the Presidency of the Council of the EU is held by pre-established groups of three Member States (called ‘trios’) for a period of 18 months. Each member of the trio in turn chairs all configurations of the Council for a period of six months, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council.

The Presidency is responsible for arranging meetings, setting the agenda, developing initiatives and liaising with the European Commission and the European Parliament, international bodies and governments around the world. The Presidency of the Council has an important role in determining the priority given to employment and industrial relations matters and what progress is achieved in this policy area. The Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States (Coreper), which is chaired by the Presidency, prepares the agenda for meetings and takes some procedural decisions, assisted by working parties of national government officials.

The Council’s most important role is in legislation, a role it shares with the European Parliament. Not only does the Council adopt legislative proposals put forward by the Commission, but it can also request that the Commission prepare legislative proposals and delegate legislative power to the Commission in areas where specific detailed rules are needed (subject to approval by Council committees). The execution of these powers is a process known as ‘comitology’.

In most cases, the Council – acting on proposals from the European Commission – makes decisions jointly with the European Parliament under the co-decision procedure. Depending on the subject, the Council makes decisions by simple majority, qualified majority or unanimously. In most cases, it acts by a qualified majority, though many areas of social policy (such as the social protection of workers) must be agreed unanimously.

In April 2019, the European Commission published a communication relating to the efficiency of decision-making in social policy, in which it proposed to extend the qualified vote to social policy matters. It suggested the use of the ‘general passerelle’ clause – which allows legislative procedure to be altered without a formal amendment – to facilitate decision-making on non-discrimination and the adoption of recommendations on social security and social protection of workers in the near future. Therefore, Member States could decide unanimously, for some specific matters, to agree that decisions will be taken by a qualified majority.

Regulatory aspects

The Council exercises the powers conferred on it under Article 16 of the Treaty on European Union and Articles 237 to 243 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Related dictionary terms

Co-decision procedure comitology Coreper Council voting procedure Luxembourg compromise qualified majority voting

 

Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.

 

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