Transparency of decision-making in the Council of the European Union Contents

Appendix 1: The dynamics and transparency of decision-making in the Council

The role of the Council

1)The Council of the European Union (the “Council”) is the institution representing the 28 Member State governments of the EU. The Council negotiates and adopts legislation. In most cases, it does so together with the European Parliament (EP) through the ordinary legislative procedure (OLP), formerly ‘codecision’.95

2)Under the OLP, once a Commission proposal for legislation has been received by the Council, the text is examined simultaneously by the Council and the EP, which is known as a ‘reading’. A measure can be adopted at any of up to three readings in the legislative process once agreement has been reached between the Council and the EP. At any stage, informal trilogue discussions can take place between the Council and the EP, with the support of the Commission, with a view to consensus at the next formal legislative stage.

3)The Council usually adopts a ‘general approach’ which acts as a statement of the Council’s informal agreed position on a proposal and can also be a mandate for trilogue negotiations. It is not a formal Council step in the legislative process.

The three levels of decision-making in the Council

4)OLP proposals usually pass through three levels of decision-making within the Council: Working Group, Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) and Council (relevant configuration), set out below.

5)The ‘mechanics’ of decision-making are complex and not necessarily linear. Proposals can go up and down the chain (for example, can be referred back to the Working Group by Coreper for further consideration) until decisions are reached.

Level 1: Working Groups and Committees (technical preparatory bodies)

6)The proposal is, as a general rule, first discussed at a technical level by specialised Working Groups or Committees, comprised of officials from the Member States and the Commission. There are more than 150 Working Groups and Committees. Officials will seek to resolve as many (generally technical) outstanding issues on a file before passing it ‘up the chain’ to the next level of decision-making in the Council. The Presidency of the Working Group decides when to move the file to Coreper and will send proposals to Coreper as ‘I’ or ‘II’ items:

Level 2: Coreper (senior preparatory body)

7)Coreper is the most senior preparatory body, comprised of Permanent Representatives (Ambassadors to the EU and their deputies).

8)Coreper’s main tasks are preparing and coordinating the work of the Council. It has two formats:

9)Coreper combines technical expertise with political considerations and attempts to achieve agreement on dossiers at its level, ‘freeing up’ time for the Council to focus on the most controversial aspects of a dossier. It seeks to resolve remaining differences on proposals that have been presented to it (from Working Groups) as ‘II’ items (for discussion).

10)The Presidency of Coreper decides when to advance dossiers to the Council. It will present proposals as ‘A’ or ‘B’ points on the Council agenda:

11)It has been estimated that most decisions (around 70%) are in practice made before reaching the Council level and are proposed by Coreper for adoption as ‘A’ items. 96

Level 3: Council (Ministers)

12)The Council has various configurations (such as General Affairs, Economic and Financial and Competitiveness), which the responsible Minister from each Member State will attend. Legally speaking, however, it is one entity, meaning that any of its ten configurations can adopt an act.

13)Discussions among Ministers within the Council are limited to the most politically sensitive issues or issues that have not been resolved at ‘lower’ levels, by the preparatory bodies of the Council (see above).

Transparency arrangements at each level of the Council

14)This section summarises what information is made publicly available and when.

Level 1: Working Group (technical preparatory bodies)

Level 2: Coreper (senior preparatory body)

Level 3: Council (Ministers)

95 OLP is used in around 85 policy areas, where the EU has exclusive or shared competence with the Member States, including energy, the environment and consumer protection and the internal market.

96 Bjørn Høyland and Vibeke Wøien Hansen (2010), “Voting in the Consensual Council of Ministers”, June 2010. Other estimates range from two-thirds to 90%.

98 See, as an example, Summary Record of Coreper I meeting on 16 March (published on 5 April).

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24 May 2016