Composition and structure
The Council of the European Union (better-known as Council of Ministers) represents the member states governments at the European institutional level. It is composed of 27 members (one per state) at ministerial level, even if the exact configuration depends on the issues on the agenda. Indeed, Council meetings are attended by the competent ministers responsible for the subject to be discussed. Then, for example, in case of civil protection issues on the agenda, the Council is made up of the national justice ministers that group together in the Justice and Home Affair Council (JHA). The Council can number 10 different configurations, although only the 3 main configurations meet regularly once a month: General Affairs (Genaff), Foreign Affairs (Foraff), Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN). These configurations take important political decisions, even if they could not operate without the fundamental preparatory work performed by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER). It is composed of national head or deputy head of mission, prepares the agenda for the Council meetings and takes some procedural decisions.
The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months between the member states according to a rota pre-established by a Council decision. Concerning its tasks, the Presidency ensures the setting of the daily agenda and the good performance of the meeting, being the driving force of the political decision-making process. Moreover, it plays the crucial role of mediator between the different national demands because the configurations are chaired by the ministers of the state that holds the Presidency, except the “Foraff” which has been chaired by the High Representative of the Union since the Lisbon Treaty has come into effect.
Concerning the voting system within the Council, the treaty revisions have reduced the cases in which the unanimity is required to adopt legislation. Indeed, many acts are adopted using a Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). According to QMV, every member state is represented in the Council but the number of votes allocated to the countries depends upon the size of their population. Currently, 2 criteria must be respected in order to reach the qualified majority: a) 50% (in presence of an European Commission's proposal) or 67% (in all other cases) of the member states; b) 74% of the voting weights. Moreover, upon request of a member state, a third criteria can be activated: the qualified majority must cover the 62% of the European Union in terms of population. With the approval of the Lisbon Treat, new criteria have been introduced and the will come into force from 1 November 2014: a) 55% (with the European Commission's proposal) or 72% (in all other cases) of the member states (15 at least): b) 65% of the European population.
Role in the EU
According to the Treaties, the Council has legislative and executive powers shared with the other institutions. Indeed, in most cases the Council shares the legislative function with the European Commission (for the proposal) and with the European Parliament (in the adoption). Only in some issues, very reduced by the treaty revisions, the Council still maintains a great power of decision, being able to adopt legislative acts alone (with the consultation or assent of the EP). On the other hand, the executive power is exerted by the Council, European Commission, European Parliament and national states. As a matter of fact, the EP and the Council can empower the Commission to adopt delegate acts: “a legislative act may delegate to the Commission the power to adopt non-legislative acts of general application to supplement or amend certain non-essential elements of the legislative act” (art. 290 TFEU). Moreover, the Council coordinates the general economic policies of the member states, has a general power of decision and exercises special responsibilities for the management and the development of the foreign relations of the EU.