The Council of Ministers (often simply referred to as The Council) is one of the two legislative bodies in the EU, the other being the European Parliament. It is composed of the relevant ministers from Member States, depending on the issue under discussion. The ministers represent their national government. There are ten formations of the Council – one of them being the Agriculture and Fisheries Council.
The Council of Ministers is not to be confused with the European Council, which is made up of Presidents or Prime Ministers from each member state.
The Council formations meet at intervals throughout the year, either in Brussels or Luxembourg. How decisions are made in the Council is set out in the EU Treaties: for many issues, including agriculture and fisheries, this is by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV), with Member States having different voting weights based on population. This system means that three larger states and a smaller one have the possibility of blocking any decision – the blocking minority.
Although, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, Council meetings on legislative matters are officially open to the public, the Council is the least transparent institution. Much of the preparatory work is carried out behind closed doors with working documents not publicly available.
The General Secretariat of the Council, based in Brussels, provides the continuous infrastructure of the council, carrying out preparation for meetings, draft reports, translation, records, documents, agendas and assisting the presidency
COREPER and Working Groups
The work of the Council is prepared or co-ordinated by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER), made up of the permanent representatives of the Member States based in Brussels. The work of this Committee is itself prepared by more than 150 committees and working groups consisting of delegates from the Member States and specialised technical staff from the Member States’ Permanent Representations.
The Council Presidency
The Council is presided for a period of six months (from January to June, and from July to December) by each Member State in turn, in accordance with a pre-established schedule.
The main responsibility of the Presidency is to organise, set the agenda and chair all meetings of the Council, (apart from the Foreign Affairs Council which is chaired by the Permanent Post of High Representative of the EU) and working groups. The role also includes working out compromises between Member States where policy conflicts arise.
The country holding the Presidency can to some extent guide EU policy development in an indirect way. This is often done through meetings and events. The Member State holding the Presidency has its own website where it profiles its country, posts Presidency press releases, publishes Council agendas (in parallel with Council website).
The Presidency sets out its priorities in a document at the beginning of each term. In order to ensure a measure of continuity, countries work in groups of three to also set a broad common agenda. Spain, Belgium and Hungary form a trio until June 2011.