How do EU institutions work?

How the European Council works

The Council of Ministers is where member states have their say. It is a many-headed creature - it may bring together government ministers from each country, ambassadors, or merely government officials.

A meeting of ambassadors to the EU (or permanent representatives, as they are termed) goes under the name of Coreper.

Many decisions are made by officials meeting in technical committees and are then merely rubber-stamped by ministers.

The Council of Ministers (or, to give it its formal name, the Council of the European Union) should not be confused with the European Council, which is the name given to the regular meetings - sometimes called summits - of the EU heads of state or government.

Under the Lisbon Treaty the EU now has, for the first time, a full-time President of the European Council - Herman Van Rompuy, from Belgium. He will serve for two-and-a-half years, renewable once.

The member states still take it in turns as presidency holder, on a six-monthly rotation basis, but Mr Van Rompuy's role has reduced the rotating presidency's powers.

Lisbon also gives the EU a new foreign policy supremo - the High Representative. Baroness Catherine Ashton from the UK has got that job and will serve for five years. She is also a vice-president of the European Commission.

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