The Council of the EU and its Presidencies

It is important for Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs) to try and influence the content and the priorities of each Presidency. Why are the Presidencies relevant for EDF and what does EDF do?

What is the “Council”?

The Council of the EU is an EU institution, formerly known as „Council of Ministers“, which regularly meets in different policy-related configurations. The Council of the EU has a rotating Presidency, chaired by a different Member State every six months.

Not to be confused with the Council of the EU is the European Council. While it is also an EU institution, it is a high-level meeting of the Member states’ Heads of State and Governments which takes important political decisions. These are summits that discuss urgent political issues such as the “Migration crisis”, Brexit, or the EU Budget. The European Council has a permanent President, which is currently Charles Michel from Belgium. Finally, another “Council” not to be confused with is the Council of Europe. This is not an EU institution, it is an international human rights organisation based in Strasbourg. When discussing the “Council” in our policy work, we usually refer only to the “Council of the EU” unless clearly otherwise stated.

The Council can be considered as the most powerful institution in the decision-making procedure. While the Commission has the power to propose new laws, and the European Parliament has veto power, the Council has the last word and can indefinitely block a legislative procedure if no compromise can be reached. An example is the proposed Horizontal Equal Treatment Directive which is still blocked by some Member States, thus freezing the complete procedure and the adoption of this important piece of legislation.

The Council also has a “special” position among the main EU institutions because it is at the same time an EU-level body but it consists of representatives of the 27 EU Member-States. It has thus a “double hat”, both representing national interests and EU-level interests. Another defining feature is the notorious lack of transparency of the Council. While the Commission and especially the European Parliament have become more transparent to citizens and interest representations over the years, the Council is still far from achieving this. It seems, indeed, like there is not really an interest to change this feature either. Meetings of the different Council working structures have no public minutes or records, they happen behind closed doors. Even if documents are published afterwards, it takes weeks to become public and documents have to be requested individually, often in formats that are not accessible.

But there is nevertheless also an opportunity in trying to influence the agenda of the Council, since it has significant powers as mentioned above and can push for change very effectively. This is what we are trying to do with our policy work.

What are Council Presidencies?

The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months. In order to ensure a long-term political vision, three consecutive Presidencies are grouped together in a “Trio” in which these three Member States work closely together and align their Presidency programmes. This has been in force since the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 as six months are a very short time in the context of EU decision-making, where a legislative file can remain under discussion for several years.

The Member State that holds the Presidency chairs all the meetings of the Council and its preparatory bodies, which can be around 1500 meetings per Presidency where about 200 – 300 legislative files are discussed. This means that the Presidency holds the position of a neutral broker who should strive to seek compromise among the other Member States and with the other EU institutions. The Presidency also represents the Council in relations with other EU institutions and it closely coordinates its work with the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (the EU equivalent of a Foreign Affairs minister).

A full list with the upcoming Presidencies can be found on the website of the Council.

Why are the Presidencies relevant for EDF and what does EDF do?

Since the Presidency also sets the agenda for the work that will be done in the next six months, it is important for Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs) to also try and influence the content and the priorities of each Presidency. This is best done by preparing already input on national level and influencing the national Ministries, as those determine later the Programme of the Presidency. We work closely with our members in the relevant Member States to influence the agenda and the policy outcomes.

We hold regular internal meetings with our members to prepare for upcoming Presidencies. If possible, we also try to hold at least one event or governing body meeting in the Member States which holds the Presidency. This shows to the national governments that disability issues are important and should be included in the activities of the Presidencies. In preparation o the Presidency, we arrange meetings between our members and the EU-ambassadors of the respective Member States, we publish our policy priorities for each Presidency to be used as a lobbying tool, but we also use the leverage of the presidency or example to remind the main airports in the relevant Member States to improve their accessibility since the Presidencies usually see an increased travel volume.


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