The institutions of the European Union offer a framework for pursuing the interests of the EU, those of its citizens and those of its Member States in a concrete and balanced way. At the initiative of the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, which is also called the Council of Ministers, acts as the EU’s legislative body together with the European Parliament. The Council and the European Parliament also jointly exercise the EU’s budgetary powers. The Council is an essential EU decision-maker and it coordinates policies based on the EU’s treaties. Depending on the subject matter in question, the Council meets in ten different configurations. On the website of the Council of the European Union you can learn more about its work.
The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of the European Union, EPSCO for short, is one of these ten configurations. The EPSCO Council’s goal is to improve the living standard and the quality of life of EU citizens, especially through quality jobs and high social, health and consumer-protection standards. The EPSCO Council is made up of the national EU ministers responsible for these policy fields.
The Council is chaired by one of the Member States on a six-month rotating basis. The General Secretariat of the Council assists the Presidency in the exercise of its functions. The Council usually meets four times a year. If necessary, the Presidency can convene additional or informal ministers’ meetings. The Committee of Permanent Representatives and the working groups prepare the Council’s decisions. Moreover, the Social Protection Committee and the Employment Committee also do important preparatory work in the areas for which the EPSCO Council is responsible. These meetings are attended by representatives from the Member States and from the European Commission.
In the area of employment and social policies, it is one of the tasks of the Council to draw up annual employment guidelines which the Member States must take into account for their national policies (see also European Employment Policy/legal framework). In addition, the Council adopts legal provisions aiming at improving working conditions, social inclusion and gender equality (see also Eurpean Social Policy: the legal framework).
The design of health policies, the organisation of health care systems and medical care are the domains of the Member States. The EU’s activities complement the policies of the Member States. The Council and the European Parliament can adopt legislation in order to take account of shared protection concerns. Examples include rules on the quality and safety of human organs and human blood and on the quality and safety of medicine and medical products.
In the area of consumer protection, the Council adopts EU-wide rules together with the European Parliament to protect the health and safety of consumers as well as their financial interests.