29 December 1995

Council has last say

THE Council of Ministers is the main decision-making body of the EU. But it can only act on proposals submitted to it by the commission.

It has powers to adopt legislation and it gives final approval to laws to be applied throughout the EU. It can also ask the commission to undertake studies and to submit legislation.

Councils exist for each major policy area, including agriculture, and they comprise one minister from each of the 15 member states. Meetings are chaired by the president of the council with member states holding the presidency for six months.

The majority needed to adopt a proposal – simple majority, qualified majority or unanimity, depends on the legal basis for the proposal.

Under simple majority each member state has one vote. Qualified majority voting gives each member state a vote roughly proportional to its size and economic strength. The UK has the maximum 10 votes, as do France, Germany and Italy.

A qualified majority prevents the smaller member states from being consistently outvoted and eliminates the risk of two of the larger member states constituting a blocking minority. A qualified majority is 62 votes out of a total of 87. A blocking minority is 26 votes.