The Environment Council is composed of environment ministers who meet about four times a year. It decides by qualified majority in codecision with the European Parliament.
In this sector, the EU has the task of fostering the harmonious, balanced and sustainable development of economic activities which respects the need, in particular, to ensure a high level of environmental quality.
To achieve this, it aims to preserve the quality of the environment, human health, the prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources and to promote measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems.
While taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union, EU policy on the environment is based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.
Energy policy is essentially the remit of the Member States. The Treaty contains no specific chapter on energy. However, energy policy is mentioned in the Treaty titles on environment and trans-European networks (which cover, inter alia, energy infrastructures).
The objectives pursued in this area have mainly consisted in guaranteeing an affordable energy supply for all consumers, with due regard for environmental protection and the promotion of healthy competition on the European energy market. In the context of the Kyoto Protocol, now more than ever the improvement of energy efficiency has become an important element of EU strategy.
Against that backdrop, the Council is examining the measures needed to ensure an adequate level of security of gas, oil and electricity supplies in the Union. Other proposals are intended to promote renewable energy sources or specific measures for energy management (buildings, biofuels, etc.).
Furthermore, the Council is working towards the establishment of a legislative framework for ensuring the smooth functioning of a competitive internal market in electricity while preserving the security of supply in electricity and ensuring a sufficient interconnection between Member States via general, transparent and non-discriminatory policies.
Another aspect of the EU's energy policy concerns nuclear energy. This area is a responsibility of the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) established in 1957 by a different Treaty than the one establishing the European Community. EURATOM's main task is to research and develop the peaceful use of nuclear energy, draw up uniform safety standards and establish a common market in nuclear-energy equipment.