22nd September 2016

Council of the European Union

The Council of European Union is an essential EU decision-maker: the CEU negotiates and adopts legislative acts in most cases together with the European Parliament through the ordinary legislative procedure, also known as “codecision”. Codecision is used in policy areas where the EU has exclusive or shared competences with the member states.

More than 150 working parties and committees help prepare the work of ministers who examine proposals in the different Council configurations. These working parties and committees are comprised of officials from all the member states.

Once a Commission proposal has been received by the Council, the text is examined simultaneously by the Council and the European Parliament. This examination is known as a ‘reading’. There can be up to three readings before the Council and the Parliament agree on or reject a legislative proposal.

The Council may sometimes adopt a political agreement pending first reading position of the Parliament, also known as a‘general approach’. A general approach agreed in the Council can help to speed up the legislative procedure and even facilitate an agreement between the two institutions, as it gives the Parliament an indication of the Council’s position prior to their first reading opinion. The Council’s final position, however, cannot be adopted until the Parliament has delivered its own first reading opinion.

At each reading the proposal passes through three levels at the Council:

  • working party
  • Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper)
  • Council configuration

This ensures that there is technical scrutiny of the proposal at working party level, political responsibility for it at ministers’ level, as well as scrutiny by ambassadors in Coreper, who combine technical expertise with political consideration (source: The decision-making process in the Council).

During RoMEU 2016, participants shall simulate the third level, assuming the previous levels have been carried out already.

The Council of the EU is a single legal entity, but it meets in 10 different ‘configurations’, depending on the subject being discussed.
There is no hierarchy among the Council configurations, although the General Affairs Council has a special coordination role and is responsible for institutional, administrative and horizontal matters. The Foreign Affairs Council  also has a special remit.Any of the Council’s 10 configurations can adopt an act that falls under the remit of another configuration. Therefore, with any legislative act the Council adopts no mention is made of the configuration. (source: Council configurations)The Foreign Affairs Council is responsible for the EU’s external action, which includes foreign policy, defence and security, trade, development cooperation and humanitarian aid.The Foreign Affairs Council is composed of the foreign ministers from all EU member states. Depending on the agenda, the Council also brings together:

  • defence ministers (common security and defence policy)
  • development ministers (development cooperation)
  • trade ministers (common commercial policy)

Meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council are chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Federica Mogherini. The High Representative is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS).However, when the FAC discusses common commercial policy issues, it is presided by the representative of the EU member state holding the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.Together with the European Commission and with the assistance of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council’s main role is to ensure the unity, consistency and effectiveness of the EU’s external action.It also defines and implements the EU’s foreign and security policy, based on guidelines set by the European Council. In particular, the Council can launch EU crisis management actions, both civil and military, in pursuit of the EU’s objectives of peace and security. It can also adopt measures needed to implement the EU’s foreign and security policy, including possible sanctions.As it is an exclusive competence of the EU, the Council adopts measures implementing the EU’s common commercial policy together with the European Parliament. This includes trade and investment relations, intellectual property rights and foreign direct investment. In trade policy, the Commission is responsible for negotiating and managing trade agreements involving tariff amendments, customs and trade provisions and protective measures. However, the Council plays a central role as it mandates the Commission to open negotiations and gives negotiating directives to the Commission.

Priorities of the Estonian presidency

The presidency will continue the process of implementing the objectives of the European neighbourhood policy.In particular, it will seek to strengthen relations with the six partner countries of the Eastern Partnership. The next Eastern Partnership summit will take place during the Estonian presidency on 24 November 2017.

Regarding the EU’s southern neighbourhood, cooperation in the field of the economy and security will be intensified.Close transatlantic relations remain important. The Council will aim for continued dialogue with the United States and Canada on matters of common interest, including the fight against terrorism, cyber threats and trade.The presidency will also promote strategic cooperation with African countries to address socio-economic challenges. Improving security in the African continent is a priority, along with cooperation on migration issues.

Partnerships with African, Latin American and Caribbean countries will be strengthened through summits scheduled until the end of 2017.

Continued cooperation with Turkey and the Western Balkans is another key priority for the presidency, in particular in the area of migration, security, energy and the economy.

Security and defence

The presidency will seek to strengthen the three pillars of the EU common security and defence policy:

  • implementation of the security and defence elements of the EU Global Strategy EU-NATO cooperation
  • implementation of the Commission’s European defence action plan

The presidency will also focus on enhancing member states’ military capabilities. It will also contribute to the discussions on permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) , a coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) and a European defence action plan (EDAP).


The Estonian presidency will promote the use of digital technologies in the implementation of the sustainable development goals. The presidency will also focus on improving coordination between humanitarian aid and development cooperation, in particular in the context of the refugee crisis. Particular attention will also be given to protracted displacement due to humanitarian crises and natural disasters.