Council of the European Union

Its main job is to decide on laws

Made up of ministers from member states

Separate meetings for different subjects, e.g.

    Justice and home affairs
    Consumer affairs

Votes by Qualified Majority Vote
Entrance to the atrium of the European Council

What it does

The Council of the European Union, commonly known as the Council of Ministers, is one of the two groups that consider ideas for new laws put forward by the Commission and decide what should be made law.

The other group is the Parliament.

The Council of Ministers is made up of elected politicians from the member states who hold senior jobs in the government back home. They are called ministers and they take the most important decisions in the EU.

Other less important decisions are taken by officials who work full time at the Council of Ministers’ offices. 

The President of the Council is Donald Tusk, former prime minister of Poland, who was appointed for a two and a half year term on December 1, 2014.

There are separate meetings of the Council to deal with the separate matters, or portfolios, that the European Union is concerned with.  These include agriculture, finance, the environment, foreign affairs, justice and home affairs, consumer affairs.

The ministers who attend the meetings are those who look after the relevant matters back home.

So for example, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, attends meetings of the Council of Ministers that deals with finances. That meeting has its own special name: Ecofin.


The Council of Ministers, like the Parliament, conducts its business in all the 24 official languages of the EU.

How it votes

When they debate new laws ministers usually agree without having to vote.

Each country has a number of votes, largely in accordance with size of population with some weighting in favour of the smaller countries. The countries have a total number of 345 votes between them. The UK has 29 votes.

If it does come to a vote, in a few cases a decision is taken by a simple majority. In most other cases it is by qualified majority (QMV). 

Qualified majority vote is reached :

   if the measure is approved by a majority of the member states (on some issues a two-thirds majority is needed), and ...

    a minimum of 255 votes has been cast in favour.
A member state may also ask for confirmation that the votes in favour represent at least 62% of the total population of the Union. If this is not so, the decision cannot be adopted. 

In a few other matters such as amending the Treaties of the Union or allowing a new country to join, everyone has to agree.

When the Council of Ministers meets to decide on new laws, its proceedings take place in public. When it meets to discuss sensitive matters such as relations with countries outside the EU, it meets behind closed doors.

Behind the scenes

When ideas for new laws are put forward by the Commission, they are first discussed by committees of officials.

There are specialist committees for each of the subjects that the EU deals with.

In their discussions the officials take note of the point of view of each of the member states.

So for example if it’s about agriculture, the committee will pay particular attention to the views of countries such as France and Poland that have lots of farmers.  

The most senior committee is the Committee of Permanent Representatives. The officials who make up this committee are the ambassadors of the member countries.

This committee, unlike other committees, can take decisions itself on some proposals. If it can’t agree it will leave it to the General Affairs Council that is composed of Ministers from the member states.

At least four times a year there is a meeting of heads of government. The meeting is called the European Council.

Its job is to agree long term matters and decide things that have not been settled by officials or other meeting of ministers.


You can look at a chart showing how proposals for new laws have to be considered by all three main institutions.  As they go through the system they can be amended, approved or thrown out.  All three institutions must agree.
Click for the chart and then come back to this page

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