European Council

European Council
Official emblem of the COR
Established 1961 (informally)
2009 (formally)
Type EU collective presidency
President Herman Van Rompuy
Seat Justus Lipsius building, Brussels

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.[1]

While the European Council has no formal legislative power, it is charged under the Treaty of Lisbon[2] 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.[3]

The meetings of the European Council are chaired by its President and take place at least twice every six months;[1] usually in the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the Council of the European Union in Brussels.[4][5][6]

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.



A traditional group photo, here taken at the royal palace in Brussels during Belgium's 1987 Presidency

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.[1][7]

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.[1][7]

The European Council at the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009

Some meetings of the European Council are seen by some as turning points in the history of the European Union. For example:[1]

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.[9]

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.[10] 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).[11]

Powers and functions

European Union
Flag of the European Union

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the European Union

v · d · e

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.[1][5] 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".[6][7]

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.[10][12][13] 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".[6][7][10][14]


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.[1][5][6]

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.[1][5][6]

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.[1]

The European Council meeting in Brussels in March 2011

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).[15] 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.[16]

President Herman Van Rompuy (left), here seen along with Commission President Barroso, took office on 1 December 2009.


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.[6][14]

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.[6][14] 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
Van Rompuy, HermanHerman Van Rompuy Herman Van Rompuy at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 030.jpg European Union President
Non voting position
&0President European People's Party
National: CD&V
02009-12-01 1 December 2009
Faymann, WernerWerner Faymann Werner Faymann Wien08-2008a.jpg  Austria &1Federal Chancellor Party of European Socialists
National: SPÖ
02008-12-02 2 December 2008
Leterme, YvesYves Leterme[a 1] Yves Leterme.jpg  Belgium &1Prime Minister European People's Party
National: CD&V
02009-11-25 25 November 2009
Borisov, BoykoBoyko Borisov Boyko Borisov 3.jpg  Bulgaria &1Prime Minister European People's Party
National: GERB
02009-07-27 27 July 2009
Christofias, DimitrisDimitris Christofias Presitent christofias on 1990 gov pic.png  Cyprus &0President Party of the European Left
National: ΑΚΕΛ[17]
02008-02-28 28 February 2008
Nečas, PetrPetr Nečas Petr Nečas - O2067168633.jpg  Czech Republic &1Prime Minister Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
National: ODS
02010-07-13 13 July 2010
Thorning-Schmidt, HelleHelle Thorning-Schmidt Thorning-Schmidt.jpg  Denmark &1Minister of State[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: SD
02011-10-03 3 October 2011
Ansip, AndrusAndrus Ansip Balticfreedom 1c558 6405.Andrus Ansip.jpg  Estonia &1Prime Minister European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
National: Reformierakond
02005-04-12 12 April 2005
Katainen, JyrkiJyrki Katainen Jyrki Katainen A4.jpeg  Finland &1Prime Minister European People's Party
National: Kansallinen Kokoomus
02011-06-22 22 June 2011
Sarkozy, NicolasNicolas Sarkozy Flickr - europeanpeoplesparty - EPP Summit October 2010 (105).jpg  France &0President European People's Party
National: UMP
02007-05-16 16 May 2007
Merkel, AngelaAngela Merkel AM Juli 2010 - 3zu4 cropped.jpg  Germany &1Federal Chancellor European People's Party
National: CDU
02005-11-22 22 November 2005
Papademos, LucasLucas Papademos Lucas Papademos.jpg  Greece &1Prime Minister Independent 02011-11-11 11 November 2011
Orbán, ViktorViktor Orbán Viktor Orbán cropped.jpg  Hungary &1Minister-President[a 2] European People's Party
National: Fidesz
02010-05-29 29 May 2010
Kenny, EndaEnda Kenny EndaKenny.jpg Republic of Ireland Ireland &1Taoiseach[a 3] European People's Party
National: Fine Gael
02011-03-09 9 March 2011
Monti, MarioMario Monti Mario Monti cropped.jpg  Italy &1President of the Council of Ministers[a 2] Independent 02011-11-16 16 November 2011
Dombrovskis, ValdisValdis Dombrovskis Dombrovskis2.jpg  Latvia &1Minister-President European People's Party
National: JL
02009-03-12 12 March 2009
Grybauskaitė, DaliaDalia Grybauskaitė Dalia Grybauskaite 2009.jpg  Lithuania &1President European People's Party
National: TS–LKD
02009-07-12 12 July 2009
Juncker, Jean-ClaudeJean-Claude Juncker Juncker EPP Summit October 2010.jpg  Luxembourg &1Prime Minister European People's Party
National: CSV
01995-01-20 20 January 1995
Gonzi, LawrenceLawrence Gonzi Lawrence Gonzi 2009.jpg  Malta &1Prime Minister European People's Party
National: PN
02004-05-01 1 May 2004
Rutte, MarkMark Rutte Mark Rutte-6.jpg  Netherlands &1Prime Minister European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
National: VVD
02010-10-14 14 October 2010
Tusk, DonaldDonald Tusk Donald Tusk, Karlspreis 2010-3.JPG  Poland &1President of the Council of Ministers[a 2] European People's Party
National: PO
02007-11-16 16 November 2007
Passos Coelho, PedroPedro Passos Coelho Passos Coelho EPP2011.jpg  Portugal &1Prime Minister European People's Party
National: PSD
02011-06-21 21 June 2011
Boc, EmilEmil Boc BocSpeaking1.jpg  Romania &1Prime Minister European People's Party
National: PD-L
02008-12-22 22 December 2008
Radičová, IvetaIveta Radičová Iveta Radicova (dec. 2010).jpg  Slovakia &1President of the Government[a 2] European People's Party
National: SDKÚ-DS
02010-07-08 8 July 2010
Pahor, BorutBorut Pahor Borut Pahor.jpg  Slovenia &1President of the Government[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: SD
02008-11-21 21 November 2008
Rodríguez Zapatero, José LuisJosé Luis Rodríguez Zapatero José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero - Royal & Zapatero's meeting in Toulouse for the 2007 French presidential election 0205 2007-04-19b.jpg  Spain &1President of the Government[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: PSOE
02004-04-17 17 April 2004
Reinfeldt, FredrikFredrik Reinfeldt Fredrik Reinfeldt during Stockholm Pride 2007.jpg  Sweden &1Minister of State[a 2] European People's Party
National: Moderaterna
02006-10-06 6 October 2006
Cameron, DavidDavid Cameron David Cameron - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2010.jpg  United Kingdom &1Prime Minister Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
National: Conservatives
02010-05-11 11 May 2010
Barroso, José ManuelJosé Manuel Barroso Barroso EPP Summit October 2010.jpg European Union Commission
Non voting representation
&0President European People's Party
National: PSD
02004-11-23 23 November 2004
  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h English media dub the post as Prime Minister.
  3. ^ 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.

Political parties

The states of the European Union by the European party affiliations of their leaders, as of 16 November 2011

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.[1] However, President Van Rompuy prefers to keep the summit to a single day.[18] 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."[19]

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.[7][20]

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,[7] 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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23][24]

Members are:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union" (PDF). 
  2. ^ Art.13 of the Treaty on European Union
  3. ^ Gilbert, Mark (2003). "Surpassing Realism - The Politics of European Integration since 1945 (page 219: Making Sense of Maastricht)". Rowman & Littlefield. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  4. ^ "European Council". Council of the European Union. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Consolidated versions of the treaty on European Union and of the treaty establishing the European Community" (PDF). Europa (web portal). 7 February 1992. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g "European Council". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Stark, Christine. "Evolution of the European Council: The implications of a permanent seat" (PDF). Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  8. ^ "EU Security Policy & the role of the European Commissio". European Commission. Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2007. 
  9. ^ Wikisource: Article 2, Treaty of Lisbon
  10. ^ a b c "The Union's institutions: The European Council". Europa (web portal). 21 February 2001. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  11. ^ "BBC News — Belgian PM Van Rompuy is named as new EU president". 20 November 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  12. ^ 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. Retrieved 26 September 2007. 
  13. ^ Peers, Steve (2 August 2007). "EU Reform Treaty analysis 1: JHA provisions" (PDF). Statewatch. Retrieved 26 September 2007. 
  14. ^ a b c "How does the EU work". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  15. ^ "Finnish Conservatives name Stubb foreign minister". new Room Finland. 1 April 2008. Retrieved 1 April 2008. 
  16. ^ Phillips, Leigh (29 August 2008). "Spats over who gets to go to EU summit break out in Poland, Finland". EU Observer. Retrieved 1 September 2008. 
  17. ^ Party holds only observer status with the Party of the European Left
  18. ^ Banks, Martin (18 June 2010) Cameron gives 'new style' EU summits thumbs-up, Parliament Magazine
  19. ^ "Treaty of Nice" (PDF). Europa (web portal). 21 February 2001. Archived from the original on 22 November 2006. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  20. ^ "Reconstruction of "Residence Palacel". UIA Architectes. 26 September 2005. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  21. ^ Mahony, Honor (13 December 2007). "EU leaders to sign up to new treaty". EU Observer. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  22. ^ ley Berry, Peter Sain (1 November 2007). "Comment: Travelling circuses are not worth the carbon". EU Observer. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • European Council — a body both within and outside the European Union. The European Council brings together the heads of state or of government of the member states and the President of the Commission of the European Union. They are assisted by the Ministers for… …   Law dictionary

  • European Council — ➔ Council of Ministers …   Financial and business terms

  • European Council — The body comprising the French head of state and the prime ministers of the other EU countries • • • Main Entry: ↑council …   Useful english dictionary

  • European Council —   Established in 1975 as a forum for the leaders of the Member States, meeting twice yearly (three times until 1986), with the Presidency rotating across the Member States every six months. Legally recognized by the Single European Act (SEA), it… …   Glossary of the European Union and European Communities

  • European Council —    At least once every six months there is a ‘summit meeting’ attended by the Prime Ministers/first ministers of all member countries of the European Union. These European Councils are held in the country holding the presidency of the EU at that… …   Glossary of UK Government and Politics

  • European Council on Foreign Relations — Typ Think Tank Gründung 2007 Sitz …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • European Council on Foreign Relations — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda El European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR, Consejo Europeo de Relaciones Exteriores) es un think tank europeo, fundado en octubre de 2007 por cincuenta personajes políticos de toda Europa. Su objetivo es la… …   Wikipedia Español

  • European Council (disambiguation) — The European Council is a meeting of the heads of state or government of the European Union. It should not be confused with the Council of the European Union and the Council of Europe. European Council may also refer to: In politics: European… …   Wikipedia

  • European Council on Refugees and Exiles — Infobox NPO organization name = European Council on Refugees and Exiles organization organization motto = Working together to protect and respect refugees. [ cite web|url= us |title=About Us |publisher=ECRE… …   Wikipedia

  • European Council on Foreign Relations — Infobox Organization name = European Council on Foreign Relations image border = size = 209px caption = map2 = formation = 2007 10 02 extinction = type = Think tank headquarters = Berlin, London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Sofia and Warsaw location =… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.