What's an EU Presidency anyway?
For the first time since 2005, Luxembourg will this summer take on a six-month period of presidency for the Council of the European Union (hereafter the council).
The council is an essential EU decision-maker, negotiating and adopting legislative acts, which are usually proposed to them by the European Commission. Depending on the subject at hands, the council is constituted by different ministers of the EU's member states.
For example, if the commission has made a proposal that regulates the use of fertilisers by farmers, the agricultural ministers of all EU member states will get together to negotiate, and vote on the passing of the law.
Depending on the nature of the law, a simple majority, qualified majority or unanimous vote is needed to pass it.
For procedural matters, as well as for requests that the commission should undertake studies or submit proposals, a simple majority is needed. This means that at least 15 council members must vote in favour of the decision.
Qualified majority, the most commonly used decision-making method in the council, is used for voting on proposals from the commission. For such things to be adopted requires the vote of 55 percent of member states, at least 16, but these need also to represent at least 65 percent of the total EU population. Therefore, qualified majority is also referred to as 'double majority'. Furthermore, the proposals can also be blocked by a minority of four or more council members representing at least 35 percent of the population.
Finally, a unanimous vote is required on matters that are regarded as sensitive, such as EU finances and common foreign and security policies. The sanctions imposed on Russia during the ongoing Ukraine conflict is one example of a decision that requires unanimous backup by all member states.
A rotating presidency
The member state holding the presidency is responsible for planning and chairing all council meetings except those for the ministers of foreign affairs. These are held by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Italian commissioner Federica Mogherini, in Brussels.
The presidency rotates between member states working closely in groups of three on a six-month basis. Called trios, these set long-term goals, as well as prepare an agenda of topics to be addressed during a 18-month period.
"Every six months you have a new impetus. You may have a file in stalemate and if you have a fresh team coming in they might have fresh ideas and a new approach for how to deal with this," an EU official explained to wort.lu/en.
The source further described the fact that the presidency is rotating as facilitating compromise in negotiations. "It's difficult for one member state to say no, because when this country assumes presidency, the outcome will depend on the goodwill of all the others."
Only informal meetings held within country of presidency
Only formal council meetings are able to make decisions. Regardless of who is the holder of the presidency these meetings physically take place in Brussels, except for during April, June, and October, when they are held in Luxembourg.
Besides formal meetings, the presidency can also hold informal meetings within its own country. "The informal meetings are means for the presidency to show the beauty of their country, to promote their country," the EU official told wort.lu/en.
"It is a perfect frame for discussing difficult issues in a relaxed environment, to prepare the ground for reaching agreements. It's also a trust-building exercise."
Starting July 1, Luxembourg will be the last member of the current trio to assume presidency, with present holder Latvia being preceded by Italy. This will be the 12th time Luxembourg is given this responsibility, the first being back in 1960.
By Daniel Isaksson
- The Council of the European Union can easily, yet wrongfully, be confused with the European Council. The latter consists of the member states' heads of government, and its meetings are held in Brussels by the President of the European Council, currently Polish Donald Tusk
- The Council of the European Union can also, still wrongfully, be confused with the Council of Europe. Having nothing to do with the EU, this is a Strasbourg based international organisation with 47 member states, promoting co-operation within areas such as human rights, democratic development, and legal standards.
- Stated in the article 13 of the Treaty of the European Union, the union's institutions are:
- The European Parliament (seat in Strasbourg, offices in Brussels and Luxembourg)
- The European Council (Brussels)
- The Council of the European Union (Rotating presidency, seat in Brussels and Luxembourg)
- The European Commission (seat in Brussels, some departments in Luxembourg)
- The Court of Justice of the European Union (Luxembourg)
- The European Central Bank (Frankfurt)
- The Court of Auditors (Luxembourg)
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