- European Council
Established 1961 (informally)
Type EU collective presidency President Herman Van Rompuy Seat Justus Lipsius building, Brussels Website european-council.europa.eu
The European Council is an institution of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rompuy. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs, currently Catherine Ashton, takes part in its meetings.
While the European Council has no formal legislative power, it is charged under the Treaty of Lisbon with defining "the general political directions and priorities" of the Union. It is thus the Union's strategic (and crisis solving) body, acting as the collective presidency of the EU.
The meetings of the European Council are chaired by its President and take place at least twice every six months; usually in the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the Council of the European Union in Brussels.
The European Council was established as an informal body in 1961; it became an official EU institution in 2009 when the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force.
The first summits of EU heads of state or government were held in February and July 1961 (in Paris and Bonn respectively). They were informal summits of the leaders of the European Community and were started due to then-French President Charles de Gaulle's resentment at the domination of supranational institutions (e.g. the European Commission) over the integration process, but petered out. The first influential summit held, after the departure of De Gaulle, was The Hague summit of 1969, which reached an agreement on the admittance of the United Kingdom into the Community and initiated foreign policy cooperation (the European Political Cooperation) taking integration beyond economics.
The summits were only formalized in the period between 1974 and 1988. At the December summit in Paris in 1974, following a proposal from then-French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, it was agreed that more high level, political input was needed following the "empty chair crisis" and economic problems. The inaugural European Council, as it became known, was held in Dublin on 3 October and 3 November 1975 during Ireland's first Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In 1987, it was included in the treaties for the first time (the Single European Act) and had a defined role for the first time in the Maastricht Treaty. At first only two meetings per year were required, now there are on average six European Councils each year. The seat of the Council was formalized in 2002, basing it in Brussels. In addition to usual European Councils, there are the occasional extraordinary meetings, as for example in 2001 when the European Council gathered to lead the EU's response to the 11 September attacks.
- 1969, The Hague: Foreign policy and enlargement.
- 1974, Paris: Creation of the Council.
- 1985, Milan: Initiate IGC leading to the Single European Act.
- 1991, Maastricht: Agreement on the Maastricht Treaty.
- 1993, Copenhagen: Leading to the definition of the Copenhagen Criteria.
- 1997, Amsterdam: Agreement on the Amsterdam Treaty.
- 1998, Brussels: Selected member states to adopt the euro.
- 1999; Cologne: Declaration on military forces.
- 1999, Tampere: Institutional reform
- 2000, Lisbon: Lisbon Strategy
- 2002, Copenhagen: Agreement for May 2004 enlargement.
- 2007, Lisbon: Agreement on the Lisbon Treaty.
- 2009, Brussels: Appointment of first President and merged High Representative.
- 2010, European Financial Stability Facility
As such, the European Council had already existed before it gained the status as an institution of the European Union with the entering into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Indeed, Article 214(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community provided (before it was amended by the Treaty of Lisbon) that ‘the Council, meeting in the composition of Heads of State or Government and acting by a qualified majority, shall nominate the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission’ (emphasis added); this may be seen as an early codification of the European Council in the Treaties. In the event, Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union (amended by the Treaty of Lisbon) officially introduces the term European Council as a substitute for the phrase "Council [of the European Union] meeting in the composition of the Heads of State or Government", which was previously sometimes used in the treaties to refer to this body.
The Treaty of Lisbon made the European Council a formal institution distinct from the (ordinary) Council of the EU, and created the present longer term and full-time presidency. As an outgrowth of the Council of the EU, the European Council had previously followed the same Presidency, rotating between each member state. While the Council of the EU retains that system, the European Council established, with no change in powers, a system of appointing an individual (without them being a national leader) for two-and-a-half-years. Following the ratification of the treaty in December 2009, the European Council elected the then-Prime Minister of Belgium Herman Van Rompuy as its first permanent President (resigning from Belgian Prime Minister).
Powers and functions
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Politics and government of
the European Union
The European Council is an official institution of the EU, mentioned by the Lisbon Treaty as a body which "shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development". Essentially it defines the EU's policy agenda and has thus been considered to be the motor of European integration. It does this without any formal powers, only the influence it has being composed of national leaders. Beyond the need to provide "impetus", the Council has developed further roles; to "settle issues outstanding from discussions at a lower level", to lead in foreign policy — acting externally as a "collective Head of State", "formal ratification of important documents" and "involvement in the negotiation of the treaty changes".
Since the institution is composed of national leaders, it gathers the executive power of the member states and has thus a great influence outside established areas as for example foreign policy. It also exercises some executive powers such as the appointment of its own President, the President of the European Commission, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the President of the European Central Bank. Moreover, the European Council influences police and justice planning, the composition of the Commission, matters relating to the rotating presidency, the suspension of membership rights, and changing the voting systems through the Passerelle Clause. Although the European Council has no direct legislative power, under the "emergency brake" procedure, a state outvoted in the Council of Ministers may refer contentious legislation to the European Council. However, the state may still be outvoted in the European Council. Hence with powers over the supranational executive of the EU, in addition to its other powers, the European Council has been described by some as the Union's "supreme political authority".
The European Council consists of the heads of state or government of the member states, alongside its own President and the Commission President (non-voting). The meetings used to be regularly attended by the national foreign minister as well, and the Commission President likewise accompanied by another member of the Commission. However, since the Treaty of Lisbon reclassified inter-member state relations as domestic rather than international politics, foreign ministers are no longer regular attendees. When present though, these are the attendants seen in the "family photo" taken at each Council.
Meetings can also include other leading national positions (e.g., the French Prime Minister), as required. The Secretary-General of the Council is also a regular attendee; the position had become highly important due to its regular role in organising the meetings while also (before the Lisbon treaty took effect) acting as the High Representative. The President of the European Parliament usually attends to give an opening speech outlining the European Parliament's position before talks begin.
Additionally, the negotiations involve a large number of other people working behind the scenes. Most of those people, however, are not allowed to the conference room, except for two delegates per state to relay messages. At the push of a button members can also call for advice from a Permanent Representative via the "Antici Group" in an adjacent room. The group is composed of diplomats and assistants who convey information and requests. Interpreters are also required for meetings as members are permitted to speak in their own languages.
As the composition is not precisely defined, some states which have a considerable division of executive power can find it difficult to decide who should attend the meetings. While an MEP, Alexander Stubb argued that there was no need for the President of Finland to attend Council meetings with or instead of the Prime Minister of Finland (who was head of European foreign policy). In 2008, having become Finnish Foreign Minister, Stubb was forced out of the Finnish delegation to the emergency council meeting on the Georgian crisis because the President wanted to attend the high profile summit as well as the Prime Minister (only two people from each country could attend the meetings). This was despite Stubb being head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe at the time which was heavily involved in the crisis. Problems also occurred in Poland where the President of Poland and the Prime Minister of Poland were of different parties and had a different foreign policy response to the crisis.
The President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium, is elected for a once-renewable term of two and a half years. The role as President-in-Office is in no sense (other than protocol) equivalent to an office of a head of state, merely a primus inter pares (first among equals) role among other European heads of government. The President-in-Office is primarily responsible for preparing and chairing the Council meetings, and has no executive powers other than the task of representing the Union externally. The President must report to the European Parliament after each European Council meeting.
The post was created by the Treaty of Lisbon and was subject to a debate over its exact role. Prior to Lisbon, the Presidency rotated in accordance with the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The leader of the Council Presidency country can still act as President when the permanent president is absent.
With the exception for the Presidential states, German speaking states and EU offices, most European Council members are titled or referred to in English speaking media as "Prime Minister" due to the dominance of parliamentary democracy in Europe. However, in their native countries the formal and informal titles differ: for example President of the Government or Minister of State. The President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission are members of the Council, but do not take part in votes. According to the treaties, the High Representative takes part in the European Council's work and attends most meetings, but is not formally a member of the Council and likewise does not vote.
Representative Picture Member State Title Political party Member since Herman Van Rompuy President
Non voting position
President European People's Party
1 December 2009 Werner Faymann Austria Federal Chancellor Party of European Socialists
2 December 2008 Yves Leterme[a 1] Belgium Prime Minister European People's Party
25 November 2009 Boyko Borisov Bulgaria Prime Minister European People's Party
27 July 2009 Dimitris Christofias Cyprus President Party of the European Left
28 February 2008 Petr Nečas Czech Republic Prime Minister Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
13 July 2010 Helle Thorning-Schmidt Denmark Minister of State[a 2] Party of European Socialists
3 October 2011 Andrus Ansip Estonia Prime Minister European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
12 April 2005 Jyrki Katainen Finland Prime Minister European People's Party
National: Kansallinen Kokoomus
22 June 2011 Nicolas Sarkozy France President European People's Party
16 May 2007 Angela Merkel Germany Federal Chancellor European People's Party
22 November 2005 Lucas Papademos Greece Prime Minister Independent 11 November 2011 Viktor Orbán Hungary [a 2]Minister-President European People's Party
29 May 2010 Enda Kenny Ireland Taoiseach[a 3] European People's Party
National: Fine Gael
9 March 2011 Mario Monti Italy [a 2]President of the Council of Ministers Independent 16 November 2011 Valdis Dombrovskis Latvia Minister-President European People's Party
12 March 2009 Dalia Grybauskaitė Lithuania President European People's Party
12 July 2009 Jean-Claude Juncker Luxembourg Prime Minister European People's Party
20 January 1995 Lawrence Gonzi Malta Prime Minister European People's Party
1 May 2004 Mark Rutte Netherlands Prime Minister European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
14 October 2010 Donald Tusk Poland [a 2]President of the Council of Ministers European People's Party
16 November 2007 Pedro Passos Coelho Portugal Prime Minister European People's Party
21 June 2011 Emil Boc Romania Prime Minister European People's Party
22 December 2008 Iveta Radičová Slovakia [a 2]President of the Government European People's Party
8 July 2010 Borut Pahor Slovenia President of the Government[a 2] Party of European Socialists
21 November 2008 José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero Spain [a 2]President of the Government Party of European Socialists
17 April 2004 Fredrik Reinfeldt Sweden Minister of State[a 2] European People's Party
6 October 2006 David Cameron United Kingdom Prime Minister Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
11 May 2010 José Manuel Barroso Commission
Non voting representation
President European People's Party
23 November 2004
- ^ In post-election coalition negotiations as of June 2010. Office holder may change rapidly as new government is formed. Expected to be Elio Di Rupo.
- ^ a b c d e f g h English media dub the post as Prime Minister.
- ^ The Irish Prime Minister is commonly referred to as the Taoiseach in both Irish and English. See: Article 28.5.1° of the Constitution of Ireland.
Almost all members of the European Council are members of a political party at national level, and most of these are members of a European-level political party. These frequently hold pre-meetings of their European Council members, prior to its meetings. However, the European Council is composed in order to represent the EU's states rather than political parties and decisions are generally made on these lines, though ideological alignment can colour their political agreements and their choice of appointments (such as their President).
The table below outlines the number of leaders affiliated to each party and their total voting weight. The map to the right indicates the alignment of each individual country.
Party # QMV European People's Party 16 194 Party of European Socialists 4 48 Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists 2 41 Independent 2 41 European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party 2 17 Party of the European Left 1 4 Total 27 345
Seat and meetings
Meetings of the European Council usually take place four times a year in Brussels. Meetings traditionally last for two days, sometimes even longer when contentious issues were on the agenda. However, President Van Rompuy prefers to keep the summit to a single day. Until 2002, the venue of the council meeting rotated between member states, as its location was decided by the country holding the rotating presidency. However, the 22nd declaration attached to the Treaty of Nice stated that; "As from 2002, one European Council meeting per Presidency will be held in Brussels. When the Union comprises 18 members, all European Council meetings will be held in Brussels."
Between 2002 and 2004, half the councils were held in Brussels and, after the 2004 enlargement, all were. The European Council uses the same building as the Council of the European Union, i.e., the Justus Lipsius building. However, some extraordinary councils have taken place in the member state holding the Presidency, e.g., 2003 in Rome or 2005 in Hampton Court Palace. Résidence Palace is currently being rebuilt for use as a purpose built summit building by the European Council and the Council. It is due to be completed in 2013.
The choice of a single seat was due to a number of factors, mostly logistical (organising the meetings became ever more onerous with the enlargement of the EU, especially for smaller countries) and security (the experience of the Belgian police in dealing with protesters (a protester in Gothenburg was shot by police)) as well as Brussels having fixed facilities for the Council and journalists at every meeting. Having a permanent seat in Brussels also emphasised that the European Council is an EU institution rather than a summit of sovereign States in the maner of the G20. Some have argued it is the de facto EU government, while others underline that it is the Commission that is the EU's day-to-day government and the European Council can best be compared to a collective head of state.
In 2007, the new situation for locating meetings became a source of contention with the Portuguese government wanting to sign the Lisbon Treaty in Lisbon, Portugal. The Belgian government, however, was keen not to set a precedent and insisted that the regular end of year summit took place in Brussels as usual. This meant that after the signing, photo suit, and formal dinner, the attendees of the summit were transferred from Lisbon to Brussels. Mirrored with the "travelling circus" of the European Parliament, this garnered protests from environmental groups describing the hypocrisy of demanding lower carbon emissions while flying across Europe for the same summit for political reasons.
There are no current plans to hold meetings outside of Brussels.
Reflection Group “Horizon 2020–2030”
The European Council of December 2007 established the Reflection Group “Horizon 2020–2030” to assist the European Union in effectively anticipating and meeting challenges in the longer term horizon of 2020 to 2030 . The group of 12 is chaired by Felipe Gonzalez. It started the work in December 2008 and shall present its report to the European Council by June 2010.
- Felipe Gonzalez (Chair)
- Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Vice-Chair)
- Jorma Ollila (Vice Chair)
- Lykke Friis
- Rem Koolhaas
- Richard Lambert
- Mario Monti
- Rainer Münz, head of Research & Development at Erste Group Bank AG and Senior Fellow at the German National Library of Economics (HWWI)
- Kalypso Nicolaïdis
- Nicole Notat, ex secretary-general of the trade union CFDT and she is currently chief executive officer of Vigeo.
- Wolfgang Schuster
- Lech Walesa
- Laeken indicators
- Euro summit
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- ^ Wikisource: Article 2, Treaty of Lisbon
- ^ a b c "The Union's institutions: The European Council". Europa (web portal). 21 February 2001. http://europa.eu/scadplus/constitution/europeancouncil_en.htm. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
- ^ "BBC News — Belgian PM Van Rompuy is named as new EU president". 20 November 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8367589.stm. Retrieved 20 November 2009.
- ^ Peers, Steve (2 August 2007). "EU Reform Treaty Analysis no. 2.2: Foreign policy provisions of the revised text of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU)" (PDF). Statewatch. http://www.statewatch.org/news/2007/aug/eu-reform%20treaty-csfp1-2-2.pdf. Retrieved 26 September 2007.
- ^ Peers, Steve (2 August 2007). "EU Reform Treaty analysis 1: JHA provisions" (PDF). Statewatch. http://www.statewatch.org/news/2007/aug/eu-reform-treaty-jha-analysis-1.pdf. Retrieved 26 September 2007.
- ^ a b c "How does the EU work". Europa (web portal). http://europa.eu/abc/12lessons/lesson_4/index_en.htm. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
- ^ "Finnish Conservatives name Stubb foreign minister". new Room Finland. 1 April 2008. http://newsroom.finland.fi/stt/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=18391&group=Politics. Retrieved 1 April 2008.
- ^ Phillips, Leigh (29 August 2008). "Spats over who gets to go to EU summit break out in Poland, Finland". EU Observer. http://euobserver.com/9/26658. Retrieved 1 September 2008.
- ^ Party holds only observer status with the Party of the European Left
- ^ Banks, Martin (18 June 2010) Cameron gives 'new style' EU summits thumbs-up, Parliament Magazine
- ^ "Treaty of Nice" (PDF). Europa (web portal). 21 February 2001. Archived from the original on 22 November 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20061122035947/http://europa.eu/eur-lex/en/treaties/dat/nice_treaty_en.pdf. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
- ^ "Reconstruction of "Residence Palacel". UIA Architectes. 26 September 2005. http://www.uia-architectes.org/texte/england/Residence/2-results.html. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
- ^ Mahony, Honor (13 December 2007). "EU leaders to sign up to new treaty". EU Observer. http://euobserver.com/?aid=25320. Retrieved 22 November 2010.
- ^ ley Berry, Peter Sain (1 November 2007). "Comment: Travelling circuses are not worth the carbon". EU Observer. http://euobserver.com/9/25073. Retrieved 1 November 2007.
- ^ Reflectiongroup.eu
- ^ Europa.eu
- ^ HWWI.org
- Official website
- Archive of European Integration – Summit Guide
- European Council (European Navigator)
- Reflection Group +established by the European Council
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