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18 February 2015

What is the Council of the EU?

The Assembly will be hosting the Latvian Ambassador to the EU His Excellency Andris Teikmanis on Monday 23 February 2015 as part of a programme of visits to Northern Ireland to mark Latvia’s Presidency of the Council of the EU.  Latvia holds the Presidency from January to June 2015.

The Council of the EU is essentially governments defending their own national interests.  National ministers meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies. The Council shares the final say on new EU legislation with the Parliament. The Council signs international agreements, e.g. on trade, on the behalf of the EU. The Council is also the main forum for national governments cooperating on the Common Foreign and Security Policy.  There is no fixed membership – for each Council meeting, the member state will send the Minister for the particular policy area being discussed.   Decisions in the Council of the EU are taken by qualified majority as a general rule.  The bigger a country’s population, the more votes it has.

Every member state has a permanent representation of civil servants in Brussels led by their Ambassador to the EU. The  Permanent  Representative  Committee  (COREPER)  prepares  the  work  of  the  Council,  with  the  exception  of agriculture  (which  is  the  role  of  the  Special  Committee  on  Agriculture)  in  advance  of  its  meetings.  COREPER I is composed of the heads of each EU member state’s permanent team in Brussels and COREPER II of the deputy heads.  A large proportion of the work of the Council is done through the working groups.
ECOFIN Council meeting

What does holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU involve?

At the Council meetings, the Presidency of the Council takes charge of the agenda, promotes legislative decisions and encourages compromise between members.  To do this, the Presidency must act as an ‘honest and neutral broker’. 

The Presidency rotates among the EU member states every six months. During this six month period, the Presidency chairs meetings at every level in the Council. Member states holding the Presidency work closely together in groups of three. The trios set long term goals and prepare a common agenda to determine the topics and major issues that will be addressed by the Council over the 18 month period.   Each  of  the  three  countries  will  then  prepare  its  own  more  detailed  six  month programme which will highlight each presidency’s goals to achieve during the six month period.

The current trio is Italy, Latvia and Luxembourg.   The UK next holds the Presidency July to December 2017.   Ireland held the Presidency January to June 2013.

Italian Presidency Outcomes briefing

What are Latvia’s priorities for the Presidency?

The Latvian Presidency Programme will focus on three overarching priorities:

COMPETITIVE EUROPE
  • the Investment Plan – aimed at unlocking public and private investments in the real economy;
  • strengthening the Single Market – make progress on remaining Single Market Act II proposals, launch discussions on the expected Internal Market Strategy for goods and services;
  • enhancing the competitiveness of industry and related service sectors - better regulation will be a guiding principle;
  • establishing an Energy Union - energy policy built on solidarity, trust and security, focus on infrastructure, better governance, energy security and energy diplomacy.
DIGITAL EUROPE
  • building a stronger and more coherent data protection framework – seek agreement on the General Data Protection Regulation and Directive;
  • enhancing cybersecurity – implement the EU Cyber Security Strategy, finalise negotiations on the Network and Information Security Directive (NIS);
  • facilitating initial discussions on the Digital Single Market strategy – eliminate online borders, build trust and confidence, remove restrictions, ensure access and connectivity, build the digital economy;
  • seeking an overall compromise on the Telecommunications market package – find a balance between high-quality services and a reasonable cost for consumers;
  • becoming digital by default – advance the digitalisation of Europe, discuss digital skills, promote e-Government.
ENGAGED EUROPE
  • the European Neighbourhood Policy with its Eastern and Southern dimensions - priority of the EU's external relations, devote particular attention to the Eastern Partnership;
  • strengthening the transatlantic partnership – conclude negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement by the end of 2015, advance EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement
  • the EU-Central Asia Strategy – enhance discussions on security, border management, energy supply, and educational exchange;
  • post-2015 development goals – focus on sustainable development, with an emphasis on gender equality and women’s empowerment issues;
  • to ensure safety of people – deal with the threats posed by the Foreign Fighters phenomenon, new Internal Security strategy, follow-up on management of migratory flows and ensure full support for containing Ebola;
  • remain committed to an EU enlargement policy.