The Council of the EU meets in ten different thematic configurations, as shown in the graphic below, comprised of government ministers from each Member State responsible for the policy area concerned. In these configurations, Member States negotiate with each other to agree the Council’s position. On legislative proposals from the European Commission, the Council, normally represented by its presidency, then negotiates with the European Parliament to agree a compromise text that can then be formally adopted by each institution.
Discussions at ministerial level are prepared by the permanent representatives of the Member States and their deputies – Brussels-based diplomats at ambassador level – who meet in the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the governments of the Member States to the European Union. This body is known by the acronym ‘Coreper’, after its title in French. In fact, there are two parallel divisions, Coreper I, the deputy permanent representatives, covering the more technical Council formations; and Coreper II, the permanent representatives, who deal with the most politically sensitive issues. Below the ambassadors, a large number of working parties discuss legislative proposals in detail and prepare other work for the Council. Member States are represented on these working parties either by specialist officials, who travel from national ministries, or by staff in their Brussels permanent representations. The graphic above shows the number of preparatory bodies under each thematic Council configuration.