The Council of the EU represents the member states

The Council of the European Union is one of the seven EU institutions. Council meetings are attended by government ministers from the member states. The Council is the co-legislator of the EU together with the European Parliament, and it also wields budgetary power with the EP. During its EU presidency, each member state shoulders the main responsibility for the Council’s work.

Copyright: European Union
Council of the European Union.

How the Council works

Legislative proposals are initially discussed in the working parties and committees of the Council that number about 200. In these preparatory bodies, the member states are represented by experts deployed by the capital or the Permanent Representation in Brussels. The different working groups meet weekly. The Council has also established permanent committees to deal with specific issues. For example, the Political and Security Committee (PSC) was set up in 2000 to discuss and rework positions and decisions in the field of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). As for the Military Committee (EUMC), it is composed of the chiefs of defence of the member states, who are regularly represented by their permanent military representatives.

The next negotiating level is Coreper, which stands for the Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States – in other words, the EU Ambassadors. All matters to be submitted to the meetings of the Council of Ministers are first examined and prepared in Coreper, which meets in Brussels weekly. Its role is to bridge differences of opinion between the member states to the extent possible. If Coreper fails to reach an agreement on a given issue, it will be discussed in a Council meeting among member states’ ministers.

Coreper works in two formations: Coreper I and Coreper II, or Coreper (part 1) and Coreper (part 2) respectively. The meetings of Coreper II are attended by the Permanent Representatives from the member states’ missions to the EU. Finland is represented by Permanent Representative, Ambassador Markku Keinänen. Coreper II covers the following areas:

  • General affairs and External relations
  • Economic and financial affairs
  • Justice and home affairs
  • Preparation of European Council meetings

In the meetings of Coreper I, the member states are represented by their Deputy Permanent Representatives. Finland is represented by Ambassador Tuuli-Maaria Aalto. The Coreper I committee works in the following policy areas:

  • Employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs
  • Competitiveness, including the internal market, industry, and research
  • Transport, telecommunications and energy
  • Agriculture and fisheries
  • Environment
  • Education, youth, culture and sport

Coreper’s decisions will be endorsed in the Council, which meets in ten different configurations on the basis of the issues to be discussed. Which ministers attend a given Council meeting depends on the topic on its agenda. The Council of Ministers takes its decisions either by unanimous vote, qualified majority, or simple majority.

Council configurations:

  • General Affairs Council (GAC)
  • Foreign Affairs Council (FAC)
  • Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin)
  • Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA)
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO)
  • Competitiveness Council (COMPET), including internal market, industry, research and innovation, and space
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (TTE)
  • Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRIFISH)
  • Environment Council (ENVI)
  • Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council (EYCS)

Presidency of the EU

The member states take turns, in a pre-agreed rotation, at chairing all Council meetings. The role of the presidency country is key for the internal functioning of the EU: the country in charge steers the Council’s work at all levels of negotiation, from working parties to ministerial meetings. During its presidency, each member state also enjoys a unique opportunity to have a say in the choice of issues to be brought up and addressed at European level.

Today, however, the Council presidency is less visible outside the EU, for European Council meetings are chaired by a permanent president and those of the Foreign Affairs Council by the High Representative –two tasks that used to belong to the country holding the EU presidency.

European Council meetings

The European Council – also known as the EU Summit – refers to a meeting of the member states’ heads of state or government. The origins of the European Council go back to 1974, when the political leaders of the European Communities began to meet at regular intervals. With the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, the European Council acquired an official status as an EU institution. The Finnish delegation to the European Council is headed by the Prime Minister.

The role of the European Council is to provide overall political guidelines for the further development of the Union. It also settles disagreements that have not been resolved at lower levels. Furthermore, it sets the guidelines for the EU’s economic policy and common foreign and security policy. It is therefore the highest political body of the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty gave the European Council the competence to make legally binding decisions.

The heads of state or government convene at least four times a year, and the presidency country may also call an extraordinary meeting of the European Council. All these meetings are held in Brussels.

Managing EU affairs in Finland

Chief responsibility for monitoring and preparing EU affairs and determining Finland's positions on EU issues lies with the relevant ministries. A coordination system for EU affairs has been set up to ensure that Finland can present, in line with the country’s overall EU policy, a well-coordinated position on any issue under consideration in the European Union, at each stage of preparation. This mechanism covers the competent ministries, the Ministerial Committee on European Union Affairs, and the Committee for EU Affairs together with its sectoral sub-committees. When addressing EU affairs, particular attention is paid to the involvement and timely informing of Parliament and also to the participation and access to information by the Provincial Government of Åland.

Finland’s Permanent Representation in Brussels plays an active role in the preparation of EU affairs. Following instructions from the Government of Finland, it contributes to the drafting of decisions to be submitted to the Council of the European Union. The role of the Permanent Representation is key in carrying out Finland's EU policy. Close cooperation with the capital ensures an efficient distribution of tasks between the Permanent Representation and the government ministries.