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Council of the EU and European Council: Functions and Differences

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

By Winona Kamphausen

In the news, the European Council and the Council of the European Union are regularly mentioned, especially since Sweden recently took over the Presidency. The European Union is a multi-layered organisation comprised of numerous bodies and institutions that cooperate to make decisions and define policy for the EU. The European Council and the Council of the EU are two of the most important ones.

What is the European Council?

The European Council is a platform, in which heads of governments of each EU member state gather and address critical issues confronting the EU. The European Council is not a legislative body and does not adopt laws, but it is critical in determining the EU's overall direction and priorities.

The European Council meets at least twice a year and is presided over by a president who is elected by the member states for a two-and-a-half-year term. The current European Council president is Charles Michel.

One of the most essential functions of the European Council is to set the agenda for the EU and to make decisions on significant problems that cannot be resolved at the level of the EU Council. The European Council, for example, may decide to establish a new initiative or focus on a specific subject, such as climate change or migration.

The European Council is also influential in appointing key EU officials, such as the President of the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The European Council is crucial in the EU's decision-making process because it is in charge of determining the EU's general direction and priorities.

The European Council can also be a bridge builder between member states and EU institutions, facilitating compromise and consensus on critical topics. In addition to these functions, the European Council is crucial in the EU's interactions with the rest of the world.

It has the authority to make decisions on the EU's foreign and security policy, as well as to serve as a venue for discussing international issues and making decisions on the EU's ties with other countries.

What is the Council of the European Union?

The Council of the EU (CoEU), typically known as the Council of Ministers comprises members from each EU member state's government. The CoEU makes decisions and passes legislation on a broad range of issues. These include economic and monetary policy, justice and home affairs, and foreign and security policy.

Depending on the topic under consideration, the Council meets in various configurations. There is, for example, a separate Council for Justice and Home Affairs and an Economic and Financial Affairs Council.

The CoEU will comprise the finance ministers of the member countries when debating economic and financial problems. This enables the involvement of the necessary expertise in the decision-making process for each individual case.

Adopting EU regulations and coordinating member states' actions is one of the CoEU's primary duties. The CoEU closely collaborates with the European Parliament, the EU's directly elected representative body.

The Council and the European Parliament are jointly responsible for approving EU laws and the EU budget. The Council also plays an essential role in creating EU foreign policy, collaborating with the European External Action Service (EEAS) to maintain consistency and coordination of the EU's external relations.

The presidency of the CoEU rotates every six months, with the presidency responsible for setting the Council's agenda and chairing its meetings. Currently, Sweden holds the presidency.

The Presidency is expected to work towards finding common ground between the member states and advancing the EU's legislative and policy goals. The country holding the presidency represents the Council in negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The presidency comprises so-called ‘trios’ who are preparing an overall programme for an 18-month period, which will be the basis for the individual 6-month presidency. The current trio consists of France, the Czech Republic and Sweden, which Spain, Belgium and Hungary will follow.

As one of the two leading EU legislative organisations, the CoEU plays an essential part in the EU's decision-making process. The CoEU, together with the European Parliament, is in charge of approving EU legislation and the EU budget.


The European Council and the Council of the EU are two of the most vital bodies in the European Union. The EU Council, comprised of members from each member state's government, is in charge of making decisions and passing laws on a wide range of problems.

The European Council, on the other hand, is a platform for each member state's head of government to gather and address critical issues confronting the EU. Both of these institutions play an essential part in the EU's decision-making process, determining the EU's general direction and priorities.

Sources: European Council, Council of the EU

Written by Winona Kamphausen

February 2023

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