The Council of the European Union

The Council of the EU is the institution where all the EU Member States’ governments are represented.

In ten different configurations, national ministers from all Member States meet to coordinate policies. The most relevant configuration when it comes to promoting human rights in the world is the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) where foreign ministers of the Member States discuss with a view to adopting a common line on EU’s external action.

Chaired by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, the FAC takes positions on human rights violations in non-EU countries and agrees on measures the EU should take.

In the FAC, decisions are taken by consensus or unanimity and not by majority voting, which means one Member State can block EU action, watering down EU positions.

The Political and Security Committee (PSC) prepares the work of the FAC. Composed of the Member State Ambassadors to the EU, chaired by the European External Action Service (EEAS), the PSC provides coordination and expertise in foreign policy. It is supported by several geographic and thematic working groups, notably the Maghreb/Mashreq Working Party (MAMA).

Those working parties prepare EU’s positions relating to their mandates and deal with bilateral relations with non-EU countries.

Another relevant Working Party is COHOM, which deals with Human Rights in foreign policy. Responsible for shaping EU’s positions and policies in that area, COHOM monitors the implementation of related instruments.

The Council of the European Union should not be confused with the Council of Europe.

Composed of 47 European member countries, the Council of Europe promotes common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights. If it works in close cooperation with the EU, it is not institutionally linked to it.