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European Council
Official emblem of the COR
Established 1961 (informally)
2009 (formally)
Type EU institution
President Herman van Rompuy
Seat Justus Lipsius building, Brussels
The Justus Lipsius building
European Union
Flag of the European Union

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


The European Council is the institution of the European Union (EU) responsible for defining the general political direction and priorities of the Union.[1][1]. It comprises the heads of state or government of EU member states, along with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative takes part in its meetings, which are chaired by its President:[1] currently Herman Van Rompuy.

While the European Council has no formal legislative power, it is an institution that deals with major issues and any decisions made are "a major impetus in defining the general political guidelines of the European Union". The Council meets at least twice every six months;[1] usually in the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the Council of the European Union of Brussels.[2][3][4]



The first Councils 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. The first influential summit was held in 1969 after a series of irregular summits. The Hague summit of 1969 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][5]

The summits were only formalised 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 intergovernmental, political input was needed following the "empty chair crisis" and economic problems. The inaugural Council, as it had become, 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 four European Councils each year (two per presidency). The seat of the Council was formalised in 2002, basing it in Brussels. In addition to usual councils, there are the occasional extraordinary councils as for example in 2001 when the European Council gathered to lead the EU's response to the September 11 attacks.[1][5]

The meetings of the 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. Article 2 of this treaty 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 used in the treaties to refer to this body.[7]

The Treaty of Lisbon made the European Council a formal institution distinct from the Council of the EU, and created the present permanent presidency. As an outgrowth of the Council of the EU, the European Council followed the same Presidency by 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.[8] Following the ratification of the treaty in December 2009, the European Council elected its first President: Herman Van Rompuy, indicating a desire for the post to be an inoffensive consensus broker.[9]

Powers and functions

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][3] 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".[4][5]

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 the some executive powers such as the appointment of its own President, the President of the European Commission, and the High Representative. 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 in the treaties bridging clauses. Although the European Council gains no legislative power, under the "emergency break" 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.[8][10][11] 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".[4][5][8][12]


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

The European Council consist 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 is 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][3][4]

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 as is their deputy; 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][3][4]

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]

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).[13] 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 can 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.[14]



President Herman Van Rompuy took office on 1 December 2009.

The President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rompuy, is elected for a once-renewable term of two and a half years. The role as President-in-Office is in no sense 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. The position offers external representation of the European Council and the EU and reports to the European Parliament after Council meetings as well as at the beginning and end of the Presidency.[4][12]

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.[4][12] The leader of the Council Presidency country does still act as President when the permanent president is absent.

Council members

Member State Representative Title Political party Member since Photo
European Union President
Non voting position
Rompuy, Herman vanHerman van Rompuy &0President EPP
National: CD&V
02009-12-01 1 December 2009 Herman Van Rompuy portrait.jpg
 Austria Faymann, WernerWerner Faymann &1Chancellor PES
National: SPÖ
02008-12-02 2 December 2008 Werner Faymann Wien08-2008a.jpg
 Belgium Leterme, YvesYves Leterme &1Prime Minister EPP
National: CD&V
02009-11-25 25 November 2009 Yves Leterme 01.jpg
 Bulgaria Borisov, BoykoBoyko Borisov &1Prime Minister EPP
National: GERB
02009-07-27 27 July 2009 Boyko Borisov 3.jpg
 Cyprus Christofias, DimitrisDimitris Christofias &0President PEL
National: ΑΚΕΛ[15]
02008-02-28 28 February 2008 Dimitris Christofias.jpg
 Czech Republic Jan Fischer &1Prime Minister Independent 02009-05-08 8 May 2009 Jan Fischer KVIFF-2.jpg
 Denmark Rasmussen, Lars LøkkeLars Løkke Rasmussen &1Prime Minister ELDR
National: Venstre
02009-04-05 5 April 2009 Lars Løkke Rasmussen foran Amalienborg 7 april 2009.JPG
 Estonia Ansip, AndrusAndrus Ansip &1Prime Minister ELDR
National: Reformierakond
02005-04-12 12 April 2005 Ansip, Andrus (2007) crop.jpg
 Finland Vanhanen, MattiMatti Vanhanen &1Prime Minister ELDR
National: Keskusta
02003-06-24 24 June 2003 Matti Vanhanen(2008).JPG
 France Sarkozy, NicolasNicolas Sarkozy &0President EPP
National: UMP
02007-05-16 16 May 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy MEDEF.jpg
 Germany Merkel, AngelaAngela Merkel &1Chancellor EPP
National: CDU
02005-11-22 22 November 2005 Angela Merkel 24092007.jpg
 Greece George Papandreou &1Prime Minister PES
National: PASOK
02009-10-06 6 October 2009 Γεώργιος Παπανδρέου.jpg
 Hungary Bajnai, GordonGordon Bajnai &1Prime Minister Independent 02009-04-14 14 April 2009 Bajnai Jerusalem.jpg
Republic of Ireland Ireland Cowen, BrianBrian Cowen &1Taoiseach[16] ELDR
National: FF
02008-05-07 7 May 2008 Brian Cowennoflag.jpg
 Italy Berlusconi, SilvioSilvio Berlusconi &1President of the Council of Ministers[16] EPP
National: PdL
02008-05-08 8 May 2008 Silvio Berlusconi 29-01-2008.jpg
 Latvia Dombrovskis, ValdisValdis Dombrovskis &1Prime Minister EPP
National: JL
02009-03-12 12 March 2009 Valdis Dombrovskis.jpg
 Lithuania Kubilius, AndriusAndrius Kubilius &1Prime Minister EPP
National: TS–LKD
02008-12-09 9 December 2008 Andrius Kubilius.jpg
 Luxembourg Juncker, Jean-ClaudeJean-Claude Juncker &1Prime Minister EPP
National: CSV
01995-01-20 20 January 1995 Jean-Claude Juncker (2006).jpg
 Malta Gonzi, LawrenceLawrence Gonzi &1Prime Minister EPP
National: PN
02004-05-01 1 May 2004 Lawrence Gonzi 2009.jpg
 Netherlands Balkenende, Jan PeterJan Peter Balkenende &1Prime Minister EPP
National: CDA
02002-07-22 22 July 2002 Balkenende Dutch politician kabinet Balkenende IV.jpg
 Poland Donald Tusk &1Prime Minister EPP
National: PO
02007-11-16 16 November 2007 Donald Tusk.jpg
 Portugal Sócrates, JoséJosé Sócrates &1Prime Minister PES
National: PS
02005-03-12 12 March 2005 Josesocrates09082006.jpg
 Romania Boc , EmilEmil Boc &1Prime Minister EPP
National: PD-L
02008-12-22 22 December 2008 BocSpeaking1.jpg
 Slovakia Fico, RobertRobert Fico &1Prime Minister PES
National: Smer
02006-07-04 4 July 2006 Robert Fico crop.jpg
 Slovenia Pahor, BorutBorut Pahor &1Prime Minister PES
National: SD
02008-11-21 21 November 2008 Borut Pahor.jpg
 Spain Rodríguez Zapatero, José LuisJosé Luis Rodríguez Zapatero &1President of the Spanish Government[16] PES
National: PSOE
02004-04-17 17 April 2004 José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero - Royal & Zapatero's meeting in Toulouse for the 2007 French presidential election 0205 2007-04-19b.jpg
 Sweden Reinfeldt, FredrikFredrik Reinfeldt &1Prime Minister EPP
National: Moderaterna
02006-10-06 6 October 2006 Fredrik Reinfeldt during Stockholm Pride 2007.jpg
 United Kingdom Brown, GordonGordon Brown &1Prime Minister PES
National: Labour
02007-06-27 27 June 2007 GordonBrown2004.JPG
European Union Commission
Non voting representation
Barroso, José ManuelJosé Manuel Barroso &0President EPP
National: PSD
02004-11-23 23 November 2004 José Manuel Barroso MEDEF 2.jpg

Political parties

States by the European party affiliations of their leaders as of 6 October 2009

Almost all members of the Council are members of a political party at national level, and most of these are members of a European-level political party. However the Council is composed in order to represent the EU's states rather than political parties and decisions are generally made on these lines. However their ideological alignment does 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 13 191
Party of European Socialists 7 101
European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party 4 25
Independent 2 24
Party of the European Left 1 4
Total 27 345

Seat and meetings

The Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the European Council in Brussels.

Meetings of the council usually take place four times a year (two per Presidency) in Brussels and last for two days, although this can sometimes be longer if contentious issues are on the agenda.[1] Up 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."[17]

So between 2002 and 2004 half the councils were held in Brussels, and from the 2004 enlargement, all were. The European Council uses the same building as the Council of the European Union (the Justus Lipsius building). However some extraordinary councils still take place outside of the city in the member holding the Presidency; (Rome, 2003 or Hampton Court Palace in 2005). The European Council is due to move with the Council of the European Union to a new building, Résidence Palace, next to the existing building.[5][18]

The choice of a single seat was due to a number of factors, such as 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. By having a permanent seat (that's the same as the Council), particularly since enlargement, it was expected the Council would integrate further into the Community framework, rather than continuing under heavy national influence, developing as a governmental body (some have argued it is already the de facto EU government).[5]

In 2007 the new situation became a source of contention with the European Council wanting to sign the Lisbon Treaty in Lisbon. However the Belgian government, keen not to set a precedent, insisted that the actual meeting take place in Brussels as usual. This would mean that after the signing, photo suit and formal dinner the entire summit would transfer from Lisbon to Brussels to continue with normal business. The idea of such an eventuality, mirrored with the "travelling circus" of the European Parliament, garnered protests from environmental groups describing the hypocrisy of demanding lower carbon emissions while flying across Europe for the same summit for political reasons.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Spanish Presidency Website". 
  2. ^ "European Council". Council of the European Union. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Consolidated versions of the treaty on European Union and of the treaty establishing the European Community" (PDF). Europa (web portal). 1992-02-07. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "European Council". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Stark, Christine. "Evolution of the European Council: The implications of a permanent seat" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  6. ^ "EU Security Policy & the role of the European Commissio". European Commission. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  7. ^ Wikisource: Article 2, Treaty of Lisbon
  8. ^ a b c "The Union's institutions: The European Council". Europa (web portal). 2001-02-21. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  9. ^ "BBC News - Belgian PM Van Rompuy is named as new EU president". Retrieved 2009-11-20. 
  10. ^ Peers, Steve (2007-08-02). "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 2007-09-26. 
  11. ^ Peers, Steve (2007-08-02). "EU Reform Treaty analysis 1: JHA provisions" (PDF). Statewatch. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  12. ^ a b c "How does the EU work". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  13. ^ "Finnish Conservatives name Stubb foreign minister". new Room Finland. 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2008-04-01. 
  14. ^ Phillips, Leigh (2008-08-29). "Spats over who gets to go to EU summit break out in Poland, Finland". EU Observer. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  15. ^ Party holds only observer status with the Party of the European Left
  16. ^ a b c English media dub the post as Prime Minister
  17. ^ "Treaty of Nice" (PDF). Europa (web portal). 2001-02-21. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  18. ^ "Reconstruction of "Residence Palacel". UIA Architectes. 2005-09-26. Retrieved 2007-07-12. 
  19. ^ ley Berry, Peter Sain (2007-11-01). "Comment: Travelling circuses are not worth the carbon". EU Observer. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 

External links

Simple English

The European Council (referred to as a European Summit) is the highest political body of the European Union.[1] It is made of all the heads of state or government of the Union's member states and with the President of the European Commission. The country which holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.[2] also leads its assemblies.

The Council has no formal executive or legislative powers. It is an institution that deals with very important issues and any decisions made are "a major impetus in defining the general political guidelines of the European Union". The Council meets at least twice a year; usually in the Justus Lipsius building, the quarters of the Council of the European Union (Consilium) of Brussels.[3][4][5]



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