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Rules of procedure of the Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union (EU), usually referred to simply as ‘the Council’, is a European institution. It is the Union's legislator, together with the European Parliament, and delegates implementation of legislative acts to the Commission. Its decisions are generally adopted by a simple majority of its members. The various Council configurations consist of one ministry representative from each Member State.

ACT

Council Decision 2009/937/EU of 1 December 2009 adopting the Council's Rules of Procedure [See amending act(s)].

SUMMARY

These rules of procedure concern the functioning and organisation of the Council of the EU (the Council), which is granted the power of self-regulation by Article 240(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The current edition of the Rules of Procedure contains 28 articles, accompanied by 6 annexes.

The Council is organised around four structures: the Council configurations, the Presidency, the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) and the Secretary-General.

The Council configurations

The Council meets in different configurations according to the subject matter dealt with. Each configuration consists of a ministry representative from each Member State, who is empowered to commit his/her government. The list of configurations other than those relating to general and foreign affairs is set by a European Council decision. Pending such a decision, the ‘General Affairs’ Council in its Decision 2009/878/EU established the following list of ten configurations:

  • General Affairs;
  • Foreign Affairs;
  • Economic and Financial Affairs;
  • Justice and Home Affairs;
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs;
  • Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry, Research and Space);
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy;
  • Agriculture and Fisheries;
  • Environment;
  • Education, Youth, Culture and Sport.

It is for each Member State to determine the way in which it is represented in the Council. Several Ministers may participate as full members of the same Council configuration.

The General Affairs Council

The General Affairs Council shall:

  • ensure coordination of and consistency in the work of the different Council configurations;
  • prepare and ensure the follow-up to meetings of the European Council.

The other Council configurations must forward their contributions to the proceedings of the European Council to the General Affairs Council no later than two weeks before the meeting.

The Foreign Affairs Council

The Foreign Affairs Council is responsible for the:

  • Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP);
  • European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP);
  • Common Commercial Policy (CCP);
  • development cooperation and humanitarian aid.

The Presidency of the Council of the EU

The Foreign Affairs council is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The Presidency of the other configurations of the Council is held by groups of three Member States alternating every 18 months. Each member of the group holds the presidency on a rotating basis, except in relation to foreign affairs, for a period of six months. The presidency is the driving force in carrying out the Council's work. The group of three Member States and the High Representative that are to hold the Presidency of the Council configurations must present a draft programme of Council activities. The draft must then be approved by the General Affairs Council. The Presidency must also draw up the provisional agenda for the meetings scheduled during its term of office.

The Presidency also ensures that the rules of procedure are properly applied and that discussions are conducted in a businesslike manner. It can also, if necessary, restrict the numbers present, determine the duration of discussions and request common positions and written contributions. It can also represent the Council before the European Parliament.

Coreper, committees and working parties

Coreper, the committee of the permanent representatives of each Member State or their deputies, is responsible for preparing the work of the Council and for carrying out the tasks assigned to it by the Council. It is chaired by the representative of the Member State which holds the Presidency of the Council. It ensures the consistency of the EU's policies and actions and sees to it that the following principles and rules are observed:

  • the principles of legality, subsidiarity, proportionality and providing reasons for acts;
  • the rules establishing the powers of Union institutions and bodies;
  • the budgetary provisions;
  • the rules on procedure, transparency and the quality of drafting (the Council's legal service is responsible for checking the drafting quality of legislative acts).

Coreper:

  • must examine in advance all the items on the agenda for a Council meeting. It must endeavour to reach an agreement, which is then submitted to the Council for adoption. If an agreement is reached, the item is included in Part A of the agenda for approval by the Council without discussion;
  • may set up committees or working groups to carry out preparatory tasks or studies.

The General Secretariat

The General Secretariat assists in organising, coordinating, monitoring and ensuring the coherence of the Council's work, as well as in implementing its programme of activities. It is placed under the responsibility of the Secretary-General, appointed by the Council acting by qualified majority. The Secretary-General also draws up the draft estimate of the Council's expenditure and administers its appropriations.

Functioning of the Council

The Council meets when convened by its President. The dates for meetings are made known by the Presidency seven months before the beginning of its term of office. The Council has its seat in Brussels, but holds its meetings in Luxembourg in April, June and October. Meetings can be held elsewhere by a unanimous decision of the Council or of Coreper.

The provisional agenda for each meeting is drawn up by the President. The final agenda is adopted by the Council at the beginning of the meeting. It is divided into two parts: ‘legislative deliberations’ and ‘non-legislative activities’. It is also sub-divided into Part A and Part B, with Part A containing the items for which approval by the Council is possible without discussion.

The quorum must be checked before a vote is taken. It requires the presence of a majority of members.

The Council votes on the initiative of its President. Voting is in the order laid down by the Council acting unanimously, beginning with the member who, according to that order, follows the member holding the office of President.

Acts of the Council on urgent matters may be adopted by a written vote. It is for the Council or Coreper to decide unanimously to use that procedure. The President may also propose it if all the members of the Council agree.

Publicity for the Council’s proceedings, publication and notification of acts

The Council’s deliberations are public when it makes a decision on a draft legislative act, hence the distinction between the legislative and non-legislative parts of the agenda.

The Council must also meet in public for certain types of deliberations:

  • the public policy debate on the Council’s programme of activities;
  • policy debates held by the other Council configurations on their priorities;
  • the Commission's presentation of its five-year programme, its annual work programme and its annual policy strategy;
  • debates on important issues affecting the interests of the EU and its citizens, if the Council or Coreper so decide by a qualified majority;
  • certain non-legislative proposals judged by the Presidency to be of sufficient importance as long as the Council and Coreper agree.

Legislative acts adopted by the Council must be published in the Official Journal (OJ), as must international agreements concluded by the Union. For other types of acts, it is for the Council or Coreper to decide whether or not to publish them.

REFERENCES

ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Decision 2009/937/EU

1.12.2009

-

OJ L 325, 11.12.2009

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal

Decision 2010/594/EU

16.9.2010

-

OJ L 263, 6.10.2010

Decision 2010/795/EU

23.12.2010

-

OJ L 338, 22.12.2010

Decision 2011/900/EU

31.12.2011

-

OJ L 346, 30.12.2011

This summary is for information only. It is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document, which remains the only binding legal text.

Last updated: 28.03.2013
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