Quick guide to the EU | Step 3: The Council of the European Union

Whether you’re pro or anti EU, there’s one thing we can all agree on: whoever named the institutions was not the creative type. That’s because in Europe we have:

  • The European Council (think Macron, Merkel and all other heads of state)
  • The Council of the European Union (we’ll talk about that one in a minute)
  • The Council of Europe (which has nothing to do with the European Union and is a separate institution).

Today we’re looking at the Council of the European Union or the Council. If you’ve read our previous articles about the European Commission and the European Parliament, you know that law making in the EU involves 3 actors:

  • The European Commission drafting the legislation
  • The European Parliament making changes to the proposal from the Commission and voting on it
  • And the Council that has an equal role with the European Parliament – they can make changes to the proposal and need to agree with the Parliament for a proposal to become EU law.

Who’s on the Council?

Many people. That’s because there is no single Council. The Council actually has 10 configurations. Wait a bit, it does make sense in the end.

Each configuration brings together 28 national ministers in a particular field. So, for example, when discussing environmental policy, 28 ministers of the environment from the 28 member states meet, discuss and vote on the proposal from the European Commission.

But for a proposal to become law, both the Parliament and the Council need to agree. How does that work?

Introducing the ordinary legislative procedure

So the Commission comes up with a proposal. The first step is to send it to both Parliament and Council. The Parliament has a look and can propose some amendments or changes to the proposal. If the Council is okay with the changes, the proposal becomes law.

If the Council is not okay with the changes, the proposal moves back and forward between the Council and the Parliament until they can agree on something or drop the proposal altogether.

Why does this matter?

The important thing here is that the Parliament (people you elect directly) and the Council (ministers from your national government that you’ve also elected) have equal power in making EU law (and adopting the EU budget).

This myth of the pesky Brussels bureaucrat that nobody elected and who makes all the decisions for you is pretty much bs. The Commission does indeed have a lot of power in drafting the legislation but it can’t actually make it law without support from the Parliament and the Council.

Could the EU be more democratic and allow for direct elections of the Commission President? Absolutely! But that’s up to the member states to decide if they want to change the treaties.

In the meantime, your vote in national and European elections matters a lot in how the EU works. So, get informed and #GiveAVote.

If you want to find out more about the work of the Council, visit the official website.

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