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60th anniversary of the Council

60 years ago, from 8 to 10 September 1952, the Council held its very first meeting in Luxembourg. It met as the Special Council of Ministers of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the precursor of the current Council of the European Union. At that time, only the six founding Member States (Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) met in the Council. Twenty-seven countries are now Member States of the EU.

The "Cercle Municipal" in Luxembourg, which hosted
the meetings of the Special Council of the ECSC
from 1952 to 1967
© Johnny Chicago, lb.wikipedia

The Council constituted itself at an inaugural session held in the city hall of Luxembourg on 8 September. Its first president was German Chancellor Adenauer. The first decisions of that September 1952 meeting included the adoption of the Council's rules of procedure and the establishment of the Council's Secretariat, which still supports the work of the Council of the EU today.

On 25 September, the Council held its 3186th meeting in the Agriculture and Fisheries  configuration. The current numbering of Council meetings dates back to the entry into force of the 1967 "Merger Treaty", which instituted a single Council and a single Commission. Before that date some 460 meetings of the Council of the ECSC - since 1952 - and of the Councils of the European Economic Community (EEC) and of the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) - since 1958 - had already been held.


 Background: Facts and figures about the Council

  • The Council is the EU institution where the Member States' government representatives sit. This institution - jointly with the European Parliament - exercises legislative and budgetary functions. It carries out policy-making and coordinating functions, notably in economic matters, as laid down in the Treaties. It consists of a representative of each Member State at ministerial level, who may commit the government of the member state in question and cast its vote.

  • Whilst remaining a single institution, the Council meets in ten different configurations: General Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN); Justice and Home Affairs; Agriculture and Fisheries; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs; Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry, Research and Space); Transport, Telecommunications and Energy; Environment; and Education, Youth, Culture and Sport. The current configurations were defined by the European Council in Seville in June 2002 (General Affairs and Foreign Affairs were split with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009).

  • As a rule, ministers for General Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Economic and Financial Affairs and Agriculture meet each month. Other Council configurations meet from one to three times per semester. The total annual number of Council meetings has increased gradually from 20 in 1967 to a peak of 96 in 1993. Since then the number has stabilised at around 70-75.

  • The Council acts by a qualified majority except where the Treaties provide otherwise. 345 votes are distributed among Member States. In cases where the Council acts on a proposal from the Commission, a qualified majority is reached if at least 255 votes in favour are cast by at least 14 Council members. In addition, a Council member may ask for confirmation that the votes in favour represent at least 62% of the EU population. New provisions on qualified majority will apply as from 1 November 2014 under the Lisbon Treaty.

  • The Presidency of Council configurations, other than that of Foreign Affairs, is held by member state representatives in the Council on the basis of a six-monthly rotation. The Foreign Affairs Council is presided by the High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

  • The Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) of the governments of the Member States is responsible for preparing the work of the Council. The work of this Committee is itself prepared by more than 150 committees and working groups consisting of delegates from the Member States.

  • Increased transparency and openness has been a key trend in the Council in recent years, in terms of both access to documents and publicity of debates. The 1992 Edinburgh European Council launched "public debates", and this practice has been substantially extended over the years, most recently by the Lisbon Treaty. Under this Treaty, the Council meets in public when it deliberates and votes on a draft legislative act. Public debates and deliberations can be followed on the Council's video streaming portal http://video.consilium.europa.eu/.

  • The venue for Council meetings is Brussels, and Luxembourg in April, June and October. However meetings have also taken place elsewhere, notably in Geneva in the context of WTO negotiations.

  • At the first Council session in 1967, there were only the six founding countries around the table with four languages. The successive enlargements in 1973 (Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom), 1981 (Greece), 1986 (Spain and Portugal), 1995 (Austria, Finland and Sweden) 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) and 2007 (Bulgaria and Romania) brought this number to the current twenty-seven countries and twenty-three official languages. Croatia is due to join the European Union in July 2013.

  • Apart from the regular and formal meetings of the Council held since 1967, a number of informal ministerial meetings are organised in each six-month period by the incumbent presidency in its own country. These meetings do not produce formal conclusions or decisions, but they allow ministers to hold informal exchanges of views, often in order to prepare guidelines for future action.

  • The Council is assisted by a General Secretariat, under the responsibility of a Secretary-General, currently Uwe Corsepius. Some 3 000 officials work in the General Secretariat.

  • The General Secretariat of the Council also assists the European Council and its President, Herman Van Rompuy.

  • The Council's headquarters are in Brussels, since 1995 in the Justus Lipsius building in the European district, on the city's Rond-point Schuman. The Council was accommodated successively in the Ravenstein building in the centre of Brussels and, from 1971 to 1995, in the Charlemagne building.


More information:
Press release published after the first meeting of the ECSC Special Council of Ministers (Luxembourg, 10 September 1952)  (pdf, fr) [scan of the original document]
Communiqué de presse publié à l'issue de la première session du Conseil tenue à Luxembourg du 8 au 10 septembre 1952

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