The 3000th meeting of the Council
The Council of the European Union held its 3000th regular meeting on Monday 8 March 2010.
Photo: Council of the European Union
The meeting, in the Council's "Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs" configuration, was devoted to various matters in the field of employment and social policy, in particular the new European strategy for jobs and growth and the preparation of the Spring European Council.
The current numbering of Council meetings dates back to the entry into force of the "Merger Treaty" on 1 July 1967, which instituted a single Council and a single Commission. Before that date some 460 meetings of the Council of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), since 1952, and of the Councils of the European Economic Community (EEC) and of the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC), since 1958, had already been held.
It took nearly eighteen years (from July 1967 to April 1985) to reach the 1000th meeting, twelve more years to reach the 2000th (April 1997) and a further twelve to reach the 3000th.
Facts and figures about the Council
• The Council - jointly with the European Parliament - exercises legislative and budgetary functions. It carries out policy-making functions, notably in foreign affairs matters, and coordinating functions, notably in economic matters, as laid down in the Treaties. It consists of a representative of each member state at ministerial level, who may commit the government of the member state in question and cast its vote.
• The Council meets in ten different configurations: General Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN); Justice and Home Affairs (JHA); Agriculture and Fisheries; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs; Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry and Research); Transport, Telecommunications and Energy; Environment; and Education, Youth and Culture. The current configurations were defined by the European Council in Seville in June 2002 (General Affairs and Foreign Affairs have been split with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009). Until 1999, there were some 22 Council configurations, which the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999 decided to reduce to 16.
• As a rule, ministers for General Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Economic and Financial Affairs and Agriculture meet each month. Other Council configurations meet from one to three times per semester. The total annual number of Council meetings has increased gradually from 20 in 1967 to a peak in 1993 with 96 meetings. Since then the number has stabilised at around 70-75.
• The Council acts by a qualified majority except where the Treaties provide otherwise. 345 votes are distributed among member states. In cases where the Council acts on a proposal from the Commission, a qualified majority is reached if at least 255 votes in favour are cast by at least 14 Council members. In addition, a Council member may ask for confirmation that the votes in favour represent at least 62% of the EU population. New provisions on qualified majority will apply as from 1 November 2014 under the Lisbon Treaty.
• The Presidency of Council configurations, other than that of Foreign Affairs, is held by member state representatives in the Council on the basis of a six-monthly rotation. The Foreign Affairs Council is presided by the High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
• The Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) of the governments of the member states is responsible for preparing the work of the Council. The work of this Committee is itself prepared by more than 150 committees and working groups consisting of delegates from the member states.
• Increased transparency and openness has been a key trend in the Council in recent years, in terms of both access to documents and publicity of debates. The 1992 Edinburgh European Council launched the "public debates", and this practice has been substantially extended over the years, most recently by the Lisbon Treaty. Under this Treaty, the Council meets in public when it deliberates and votes on a draft legislative act. Public debates and deliberations can be followed on the Council's video streaming portalhttp://video.consilium.europa.eu/.
• The venue for Council meetings is Brussels, and Luxembourg in April, June and October. However meetings have also taken place elsewhere, notably in Geneva in the context of WTO negotiations.
• At the first Council session in 1967, there were only the six founding countries around the table with four languages. The successive enlargements in 1973 (Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom), 1981 (Greece), 1986 (Spain and Portugal), 1995 (Austria, Finland and Sweden) 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) and 2007 (Bulgaria and Romania) brought this number to the current twenty-seven countries and twenty-three official languages.
• Apart from the 3000 regular and formal meetings of the Council held since 1967, a number of informal ministerial meetings are organised in each six-month period by the incumbent presidency in its own country. These meetings do not produce formal conclusions or decisions, but they allow ministers to hold informal exchanges of views, often in order to prepare guidelines for future action.
• The Council is assisted by a General Secretariat, under the responsibility of a Secretary-General, currently Pierre de Boissieu. Some 3.500 officials work in the General Secretariat.
• The General Secretariat of the Council also assists the European Council and its President, Herman Van Rompuy.
• The Council's headquarters are in Brussels, since 1995 in the Justus Lipsius building in the European district, on the city's Rond-point Schuman. The Council was accommodated successively in the Ravenstein building in the centre of Brussels and, from 1971 to 1995, in the Charlemagne building.