Main decision-making and legislative body of the European Union (EU). Member states are represented at council meetings by the ministers appropriate to the subject under discussion (for example, ministers of agriculture, environment, education, and so on). The presidency of the Council changes every six months and rotates in turn among the 25 EU member countries. The Council sets the EU's objectives, coordinates the national policies of the member states, resolves differences with the European Commission and the European Parliament, and concludes international agreements on behalf of the EU. European Community law is adopted by the Council, or by the Council and the European Parliament through the co-decision procedure, and may take the form of binding ‘regulations’, ‘directives’, and ‘decisions’.
In Council meetings each member state can vote on legislation proposed by the European Commission. In some cases Council decisions must be made unanimously – for example, on sensitive issues like taxation or social security; in others by qualified majority voting, with either a two-thirds majority of member states or a minimum of 232 votes (out of a total of 321) in favour. Votes are weighted according to a country's population – in 2004 there were 29 each for Germany, France, the UK, and Italy; 27 for Spain and Poland; 13 for the Netherlands; 12 each for Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, and Portugal; 10 each for Austria and Sweden; 7 each for Denmark, Finland, the Republic of Ireland, Lithuania, and the Slovak Republic; 4 for Luxembourg, Cyprus, Estonia, and Slovenia; and 3 for Malta. Qualified majority voting was extended to wider policy areas by the Single European Act (1986) and Amsterdam Treaty (1997), and was further amended by the Treaty of Nice (2000).