Tiger of the Stripe Blog

Democracy in the EU: The Council of the European Union

The Council of the EU and the European Parliament constitute the legislature of the European Union. Sometimes referred to as the Council of Ministers, the Council of the EU exists in 10 different configurations depending on the subject to be discussed. These are: agriculture and fisheries; competitiveness; economic and financial affairs; education, youth, culture and sport; employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs; environment; foreign affairs; general affairs; justice and home affairs; and transport, telecommunications and energy. http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/council-eu/configurations/

Each configuration consists of a relevant minister from each country. As a result, each country, however large or small its population, has one vote. However, there are some safeguards. A simple majority vote is allowed for non-legislative matters, such as votes on the Council’s own procedures. For most legislative matters, a qualified majority is required, meaning that not only must 55% of member states vote in favour but states representing 65% of the total EU population must vote in favour. Until 31 March 2017, the previous form of qualified majority voting can be requested by the member states. Since this will cease to be an option soon, there is no point in going into details.http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/council-eu/voting-system/qualified-majority/

Certain decisions, such as the following, are considered too sensitive for qualified majority voting and require unanimity:

  • common foreign and security policy (with the exception of certain clearly defined cases which require qualified majority, e.g. appointment of a special representative)
  • citizenship (the granting of new rights to EU citizens)
  • EU membership
  • harmonisation of national legislation on indirect taxation
  • EU finances (own resources, the multiannual financial framework)
  • certain provisions in the field of justice and home affairs (the European prosecutor, family law, operational police cooperation, etc.)
  • harmonisation of national legislation in the field of social security and social protection.


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