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Rules of procedure of the Council of the European Union

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The Council of the European Union, usually referred to simply as "the Council", is a Community institution. It is the Union's legislator, together with the European Parliament, and delegates implementation of legislative acts to the Commission. The Council also coordinates the Member States' general economic policies. 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. The Presidency of the Council is held for six months by each Member State on a rotating basis. The Council's rules of procedure contain the provisions necessary for its organisation and functioning.

ACT

Council Decision (2004/338/EC, Euratom) of 22 March 2004 adopting the Council's Rules of Procedure [See amending acts].

SUMMARY

These rules of procedure concern the functioning and organisation of the Council of the European Union, which is granted the power of self-regulation by Article 207(3) of the EC Treaty. The current edition of the Rules of Procedure, which came into force on 23 March 2004, contains 28 articles, accompanied by 5 annexes.

ORGANISATION OF THE COUNCIL

The Council is organised around four structures: the Council configurations, the presidency, Coreper (the Permanent Representatives Committee) and the secretary-general with the general secretariat.

From a legal standpoint, the European Council is also a Council configuration. It does not have any rules of procedure since it does not have the status of a Community institution. One of the proposals in the European Constitution, currently being ratified, is to give the European Council this status.

The European Council

The European Council is the meeting of the Heads of State or Government of the EU Member States. Its purpose is to give the Union the necessary impetus for development and to establish broad policy guidelines. It meets at least twice a year under the same presidency as that of the Council of the EU. The president of the European Commission attends ex officio.

The Council configurations

The Council may meet 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 government in respect of the decisions taken. The list of configurations is drawn up by the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the only one that is established by the rules of procedure. There are currently nine configurations, which are listed in Annex to the Rules of Procedure:

  • General Affairs and External Relations, including European Security and Defence Policy and development cooperation;
  • Economic and Financial Affairs, including the budget;
  • Justice and Home Affairs, including civil protection;
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs;
  • Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry and Research), including tourism;
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy;
  • Agriculture and Fisheries;
  • Environment;
  • Education, Youth and Culture, including audiovisual policy

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. In the case of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, each government is represented by the Minister or State Secretary of its choice.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council covers the following two areas of activity, for which it holds separate meetings, with separate agendas and sometimes on different dates:

  • The General Affairs Council meeting deals with preparation for and follow-up to the European Council meetings, including coordination of the preparatory work, overall coordination of policies, institutional and administrative questions, horizontal dossiers and any dossier entrusted to it by the European Council. At this meeting the General Affairs Council proposes a three-year strategic programme to the European Council, based on a joint proposal drawn up by the Presidencies concerned in consultation with the Commission. The draft agenda for the European Council is also drawn up at this meeting.
  • The External Relations Council meeting deals with common foreign and security policy (CFSP), European security and defence policy (ESDP), foreign trade, development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Generally speaking, no other configuration or preparatory committee may meet between this meeting and the European Council meeting.

The other Council configurations must submit their contributions for the European Council to the General Affairs Council not later than two weeks before the meeting.

The Presidency of the Council of the EU

The Presidency of the Council is held for six months by each Member State on a rotating basis. It is the driving force in carrying out the Council's work. In December of each year the two countries that are to hold the Presidency in the following year must jointly present a draft annual programme. The incoming 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.

The Presidency can also represent the Council before the European Parliament. With the Presidency's agreement, the Council may also be represented by the Secretary-General.

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 (see "Agenda"). Coreper may set up committees or working groups to carry out preparatory tasks or studies.

Coreper may also adopt certain procedural decisions, provided that the related item is included on its agenda. These include the decision on the venue for a meeting, the decision to hold a public debate, the decision to make the results of votes public, the decision to use the written procedure, the decision to publish a text in the Official Journal or to consult an institution or body.

The Secretary-General and 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 annual programme. It is placed under the responsibility of the Secretary-General, who is also the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy , and of the deputy Secretary-General, both of whom are appointed by the Council acting by qualified majority. They also draw up the draft estimate of the Council's expenditure and administer its appropriations.

FUNCTIONING OF THE COUNCIL

Some of the Rules of Procedure deal with its internal functioning: notice of meetings, seat, agenda, meetings, quorum and voting procedures. The Rules of Procedure also provide for use of the written procedure for urgent matters and notification of acts.

Notice of meetings and seat

The Council meets when convened by its President. The provisional 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.

Sessions

Meetings of the Council are not public except in the cases provided for in the Rules of Procedure (see "Deliberations open to the public"). The Commission is invited to take part in meetings, as is the European Central Bank (ECB) in cases where it exercises its right of initiative. The Council may, however, decide to deliberate without the presence of the Commission or of the European Central Bank.

Agenda

The provisional agenda for each meeting is drawn up by the President and sent to the members at least 14 days before the meeting. Each item must be accompanied by the necessary documentation. If this documentation is not ready, the item is not entered on the provisional agenda. The agenda is adopted by the Council at the beginning of the meeting. Votes may be taken only on items identified by an asterisk.

The agenda is divided into Part A and Part B. Part A contains the items for which approval by the Council is possible without discussion. However, statements may still be made for entry in the minutes. If a position taken on an A item might lead to further discussion or if a member of the Council or the Commission so requests, this item is withdrawn from the agenda.

Items relating to police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters may not be placed on the agenda for adoption unless six weeks have elapsed since the proposal was sent to the national parliaments.

Quorum and voting procedure

The quorum must be checked before a vote is taken. It requires the presence of a majority of members. Decision 2004/701/EC adds that where a decision requires a qualified majority, a member of the Council may request a check that this majority represents at least 62% of the EU population.

The Council votes on the initiative of its President, who is bound to open a voting procedure if a member of the Council or the Commission proposes, provided that a majority of the members agree. 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.

Written procedure

Acts of the Council on urgent matters may be adopted by a written vote. It is for Coreper to decide unanimously to use that procedure. The President may also propose that it be used, and all the members of the Council must agree. The Council may also act, on the initiative of the Presidency, by simplified written procedure (COREU) in areas covered by the CFSP. In that case the proposal is deemed adopted if, after a given period, no member has objected.

Notification of acts

Directives and decisions not published in the Official Journal (OJ) are notified to their addressees by the Secretary-General or the Deputy Secretary-General, as are:

  • recommendations;
  • common strategies, joint actions and common positions under the CFSP;
  • common positions in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
  • measures implementing acts under the CFSP and in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

PUBLICITY FOR THE COUNCIL'S PROCEEDINGS

Deliberations open to the public

In principle, the deliberations of the Council are covered by the obligation of professional secrecy; they are not public. However, when it is deliberating on acts to be adopted in accordance with the codecision procedure, the discussion is open to the public as follows:

  • for the presentation by the Commission of its most important legislative proposals and the ensuing debate in the Council;
  • for the final Council deliberations leading to the vote, the vote itself and the accompanying explanations.

In addition the General Affairs and External Relations Council in its general affairs configuration holds a public policy debate once a year on the Council's operational programme or, if appropriate, on the Commission's work programme. These public sessions are also broadcast by audiovisual means. At least once a year the Council must hold a public debate on important new legislative proposals.

Making public votes, explanations and statements

Results of votes, explanations of votes and statements are made public in connection with:

  • the Council's legislative activity;
  • the adoption of common positions;
  • the meeting of a conciliation committee;
  • the establishment of a convention in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

Only the results of votes are made public where:

  • the Council acts in the CFSP field and the Council or Coreper has so decided unanimously;
  • the Council adopts a common position in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, by a unanimous Council or Coreper decision;
  • the Council or Coreper so decides in other cases.

Publication of acts in the Official Journal

Not all Council acts are public. The following are published in the Official Journal:

  • regulations, directives and decisions;
  • Council common positions and the reasons underlying them;
  • framework decisions and decisions adopted unanimously in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
  • conventions which it recommends that Member States adopt in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. Reference to the entry into force of such conventions is also made in the OJ;
  • conventions signed between Member States;
  • international agreements concluded by the Community. Reference to their entry into force is also made in the OJ;
  • international agreements concluded under the CFSP, with a reference to their date of entry into force.

Unless the Council or Coreper decides otherwise, the following are also published in the OJ:

  • initiatives presented to the Council by a Member State in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
  • common positions in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
  • directives and decisions not adopted by the codecision procedure, recommendations and opinions.

For common strategies, joint actions and common positions under the CFSP, the Council or Coreper decide unanimously on a case-by-case basis whether they should be published in the OJ. Decisions are also taken on a case-by-case basis as regards the publication of:

  • measures implementing joint actions under the CFSP;
  • joint actions, common positions or any other decision adopted on the basis of a common strategy (CFSP);
  • any measures implementing decisions and any measures implementing conventions in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters;
  • other Council acts such as sui generis decisions and resolutions.

Access to Council documents

The specific provisions on public access to Council documents are contained in Annex II to the rules of procedure.

REFERENCES

Act

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Council Decision 2004/338/EC and rules of procedure

23.3.2004

-

OJ L 106 of 15.4.2004

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Decision 2004/701/EC

1.11.2004

-

OJ L 319 of 20.10.2004

This fact sheet is not legally binding on the European Commission. It does not claim to be exhaustive and does not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Treaty.

Last updated: 27.04.2005
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