The EU system of Councils is comprised of the European Council, where national leaders meet, and the ten Councils of Ministers which meet to discuss specific sectors. The Eurogroup is not a formal Council but comprises the 19 states which have adopted the currency.
The European Council is the highest political body of the European Union, bringing together the Heads of State or Government of all EU Member States.
It defines the general political guidelines of the EU, establishing strategic priorities and taking the lead in crisis situations.
Usually meeting six times annually, its meetings are led by the President of the Council (since December 2014, Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland). They are attended also by the President of the Commission.
The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, also normally attend these meetings.
Other ministers – for example Ministers for Foreign Affairs – may also participate at European Council meetings if invited to do so.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council became a fully-fledged EU Institution in its own right in December 2009 , with a permanent chair elected for a term of two-and-a-half years, renewable once.
The General Affairs Council coordinates preparation of the European Council. As noted elsewhere, the European Council sets strategic direction of the Union across a wide range of issues. These issues are sometimes called 'horizontal issues' as they cut across the many different areas in which the Union is active, and require close coordination. Ireland is usually represented at GAC by the Minister for European Affairs.
The Foreign Affairs Council is the regular monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers aimed at coordinating the foreign policy activities of national states and of the EU as a whole, to achieve the best possible coherence and effect.
FAC brings together all EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs, generally meeting on a monthly basis. The foreign policy of the EU, known as EU External Relations, encompasses:
The Foreign Affairs Council coordinates Member States' and EU-level efforts to achieve the best possible coherence and effect.
On occasion, depending on the items on the Foreign Affairs Council agenda, Ministers responsible for Defence, Development, European Affairs or Trade can also participate.
The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is also President of the Foreign Affairs Council and, in that capacity, chairs the Foreign Affairs Council and conducts EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Ms Federica Mogherini was appointed EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in November 2014, succeeding the first holder of this office, Catherine Ashton. Drawing from her other capacity as Vice-President of the European Commission, she ensures the consistency and coordination of the EU's external action. (This dual role is commonly referred to as ‘HR/VP’). The HR/VP is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS).
Ecofin is composed of the Economics and Finance Ministers of the Member States, as well as Budget Ministers when budgetary issues are discussed. The Ecofin Council meets, normally, once a month but in addition, in its Budget configuration, it meets bi-annually, in July and November, to prepare and adopt the EU’s Budget in cooperation with the European Parliament.
The Ecofin Council covers EU policy in a number of areas including: economic policy coordination, economic surveillance, monitoring of Member States' budgetary policy and public finances, fiscal issues, various aspects of the euro, financial markets and capital movements and economic relations with third countries. It decides mainly by qualified majority, in consultation or co-decision with the European Parliament, with the exception of fiscal matters which are decided by unanimity.
ECOFIN Council meetings are prepared by the Permanent Representatives meeting in COREPER II.
The Department of Finance Section in the Permanent Representation covers all issues normally dealt with by Ecofin. This Section comprise of the Financial Counsellor, two Financial Services attachés, the Budget attaché, Fiscal attaché, and an attaché with responsibility for work areas covered by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
More broadly, the Department of Finance has a central role in implementing Government policy, and in advising and supporting the Minister for Finance and the Government on the economic and financial management of the State and the overall management and development of the public sector. In formulating this advice the Department is guided by its mission which is:
'To support the achievement of the Government’s economic and social objectives by promoting a sound, sustainable economic and budgetary environment, continuing improvements in the efficiency of public services, and an effective framework for financial services'
Traditionally, on the eve of the normal Ecofin meetings, a meeting of the Eurogroup, composed of the Member States whose currency is the euro, takes place and deals with issues relating to Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). It is an informal body which is not a configuration of the Council.
The Justice and Home Affairs Council discuss cooperation and common policies in the areas of Justice, Freedom and Security.
The Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council develops cooperation and common policies on various matters, with the aim of building an EU-wide area of freedom, security and justice. Policy areas dealt with include guaranteeing fundamental rights, the free movement of citizens, judicial cooperation in both civil and criminal law, asylum and migration, the fight against terrorism and organised crime, and border management.
The JHA Council is made up of Justice and Interior Ministers from all EU member states. It meets 4-6 times a year.
In accordance with the special arrangements agreed under the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland and the UK can decide on a case-by-case basis whether to participate in legislative proposals in the JHA area. Ireland and the UK are not part of the Schengen free-travel area, but do operate their own Common Travel Area.
The Justice and Home Affairs Section in the Permanent Representation, staffed by officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, cover all matters normally dealt with by the JHA Council. Their job, in cooperation with Dublin-based colleagues, is to ensure that Ireland’s position is well-represented in various Council Working Groups and other Brussels-based fora, and to advise and support the Permanent Representative, especially in discussions at COREPER
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRIFISH) deals with European Union policies on agricultural issues, including the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). It is the main legislative forum dealing with issues including:
Comprised of Ministers responsible for these issues, it meets monthly in Brussels; April, June and October meetings are held in Luxembourg. The AGRIFISH Council is prepared by the Special Committee on Agriculture and through the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER I).
The Agriculture and Fisheries Unit of the Permanent Representation works to ensure that Irish interests and policies are pursued as effectively as possible in the EU. In this, the Unit acts as the day-to-day communication link between the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and EU institutions, NGOs and other Brussels-based organisations.
While the core work of the unit revolves around AGRIFISH policy and legislation, cross-cutting legislation in areas such as environment, climate change, finance, research and innovation, which are the main responsibilities of other Government Departments are also pursued to ensure that our agriculture and fisheries interests are protected.
Since 2009, co-decision between the Council and European Parliament has been extended to agriculture and fisheries legislation. Accordingly, Irish MEP’s and others are regularly updated by the Permanent Representation on the Government position relating to such legislation.
Read more about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Ireland.
EPSCO deals with Employment, Social Policy, Equal Opportunities, Health and Consumer Affairs issues, involving a range of Ministers across numerous areas of activity.
At EU level, employment, social policy, equal opportunities, health and consumer affairs issues are dealt with by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO).
This Council has two distinct parts, which meet on separate days.
Employment, social policy and equal opportunities issues are dealt with by Employment, Social Affairs and Equality Ministers, who generally meet four times a year.
Health and consumer affairs issues are dealt with by Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers, generally meeting twice a year.
Although consumer policy issues can feature on the EPSCO Council, they are more generally dealt with by the Competitiveness Council.
The EPSCO Council approves European rules to harmonize or coordinate national legislation in issues such as working conditions (health and safety of workers, social security, and employee participation in the running of businesses); and reinforcement of national policies that promote health, prevent illness and combat major health scourges and protection of consumers’ rights.
However, since policies on employment and social protection remain the specific responsibility of Member States, the EU contribution is confined to defining common objectives, the analysis of measures taken on a national level, and adoption of recommendations addressed to Member States.
Member States may exchange ideas, information or share the results of the respective national experiences. This is done, in particular, within the framework of the Employment Committee and the Social Protection Committee.
At national level, while a number of different departments deal with the various issues encompassed by the EPSCO Council formation, coordination is ensured by the Dept. Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Within the Irish Permanent Representation, these issues are divided along the following lines:
The Competitiveness Council aims to enhance competitiveness and economic growth in Europe, overseeing the areas of Internal Market, Industry and Research. Responsibility for these three policy areas and competitiveness in Ireland rests with the Department for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
The Council normally meets in formal session four times a year, and once informally, during each six-month Presidency period.
It works across a wide panorama in ensuring an integrated approach to the enhancement of competitiveness and growth in Europe. In that spirit, it reviews on a regular basis both horizontal and sectoral competitiveness issues, based on analysis provided by the Commission and gives its views on how competitiveness issues can be properly taken into account in all policy initiatives affecting enterprises. The Council also deals with legislative proposals in its different fields of activity. Decisions are made by qualified majority, mostly in co-decision with the European Parliament.
Representatives from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI) participate in COMPET Councils and associated working groups. Their role is to lead and coordinate Ireland’s interests in the Internal Market, Single Market, and Research and Innovation. In carrying out this work, the DJEI team liaises with relevant policy units within DJEI and acts as a communications link with the EU institutions and other Member States.
The Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council (TTE) looks at cooperation in these areas to develop coordinated networks and infrastructure which will benefit the internal market and the EU economy as a whole. Member States are represented by the Minister best-placed to deal with the items on the agenda, e.g. Ministers for Transport, Telecommunications or Energy.
At EU level, transport issues are dealt with at the Transport Council which generally takes place four times a year. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport representatives in the Permanent Representation are responsible for matters relating to civil aviation, land transport (including matters relating to road, rail, road and rail safety, and freight) , maritime transport and maritime safety, and Intermodal transport issues (Trans-European Networks, Galileo - Global Navigation Satellite System, Sustainable Transport, Logistics, etc.).
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) is responsible for the formulation of Ireland’s communications, postal, audio-visual and broadcasting policy domestically, and at EU and international level. The DCCAE also has responsibility for energy policy in Ireland. As a result, representatives from the Department participate in Working Party meetings on EU legislation and policy in the areas of Telecoms and Energy, acting as the day–to-day communication link between policy units within the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the EU institutions.
The Environment Council deals with a range of issues, including air quality, waste, water quality and biodiversity.
This Council works to promote a greener Europe through more efficient use of available natural resources, while also debating and working to develop solutions to the environmental challenges faced by Member States. Related EU legislation is decided by qualified majority and in co-decision with the European Parliament.
At the international level, the Council agrees an EU approach which contributes to solving global environmental challenges, including climate change and sustainable development.
The council brings together the responsible Ministers about four times a year, with meetings being chaired by the rotating Presidency.
The Environment Unit in the Permanent Representation works to advance Irish interests and national policy during the development and implementation of policy/legislation agreed at EU level. This includes participating in Working Party meetings on EU legislation and policy. These meetings encompass issues such as Climate Change, Air Quality, Atomic Questions and Waste. In carrying out this work, the Unit acts as the day–to-day communication link between policy units within the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the EU institutions. The Unit also regularly meets with NGOs and other key European stakeholders.
The Education, Youth, Culture and Sport (EYC) Council brings together education, culture, youth and sports Ministers around three or four times a year. It usually adopts its decisions by a qualified majority (apart from on cultural affairs, where it acts unanimously) and in codecision with the European Parliament.
The EU aims to contribute to development of quality education, implementation of a vocational training policy and the flowering of Member States' cultures, bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore; while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for defining the teaching content and vocational training and organising education and vocational training systems, as well as national and regional cultural diversity.
The Community complements Member States' action, especially by means of support programmes, with a view to:
The Permanent Representation's key role in this field is to manage the relationship between the key Irish Departments concerned (the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs; the Department of Education and Skills; Dept. of Transport, Tourism and Sport) and the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and their sub-committees, working parties and management committees and the European Parliament. In particular, the PermRep maintains a broad overview of EU policy developments of relevance to both Departments and assesses the significance and impact of specific EU policies and programmes in relation to education, youth, culture and sport. It transmits information, advice and reports to the respective Departments as appropriate. The relevant attachés also represent Ireland at a broad range of Working Groups, Management and other Committees.