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Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union (“Council of Ministers” or “Council”) is the Union's main decision-making body. Its meetings are attended by Member State ministers, and it is thus the institution which represents the Member States. The Council's headquarters are in Brussels, but some of its meetings are held in Luxembourg. Sessions of the Council are convened by the Presidency, which sets the agenda.

The Council meets in different configurations (ten in all), bringing together the competent Member State ministers: General Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Economic and Financial Affairs; Justice and Internal Affairs; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs; Competitiveness; Transport, Telecommunications and Energy; Agriculture and Fisheries; Environment; Education, Youth and Culture. The “General Affairs” Council is responsible for coordinating the work of the different Council formations, with the Commission’s help.

The presidency of the Council is held by groups of three Member States for a period of eighteen months. Each member of the group holds the presidency for all the Council formations for six months, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs formation which is presided over by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. During this period, the other members of the group assist the President in office with the implementation of the joint programme. Each European Union country holds the presidency of the Council for a period of six months, in rotation. A new system for the presidency of the Council has been in force since January 2007. The three presidents draw up a joint draft programme for their 18-month period in office.

Decisions are prepared by the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States (Coreper), assisted by working groups of national government officials.

The Council, together with the European Parliament, acts in a legislative and budgetary capacity. It is also the lead institution for decision-making on the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), and on the coordination of economic policies (intergovernmental approach), as well as being the holder of executive power, which it generally delegates to the Commission.

In most cases, the Council's decisions, based on proposals from the Commission, are taken jointly with the European Parliament under the codecision procedure. Depending on the subject, the Council takes decisions by simple majority, qualified majority or unanimity, although the qualified majority is more widely used (agriculture, single market, environment, transport, employment, health, etc.).

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