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European Council


European Council

European Council
Formation 1961 (informally)
2009 (formally)
Type EU collective presidency
President Donald Tusk
European Union
Flag of the European Union

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government
of the European Union

The European Council is the institution of the European Union (EU) that comprises the heads of state or government of the member states, along with the council's own president and the president of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in its meetings.[1] Established as an informal body in 1975, the council was formalised as an institution in 2009 upon the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon.

While the European Council has no formal legislative power, it is a strategic (and crisis-solving) body that provides the union with general political directions and priorities, and acts as a collective presidency.[2][3]

The meetings of the European Council, commonly referred to as EU summits, 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]

Decisions of the European Council are taken by consensus, except where the Treaties provide otherwise.[7]

The current president of the European Council is Donald Tusk.


  • History 1
  • Powers and functions 2
  • Composition 3
    • Eurozone summits 3.1
    • President 3.2
    • Members 3.3
    • Political parties 3.4
  • Seat and meetings 4
  • President's cabinet 5
  • Reflection Group "Horizon 2020–2030" 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


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][8]

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 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 10 and 11 March 1975 during Ireland's first Presidency of the Council of Ministers. 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 formalised 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][8]

The European Council at the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007

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.[10]

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.[11] 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).[12]

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][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][8]

Since the institution is composed of national leaders, it gathers the executive power of the member states and has thus a great influence in high profile policy areas as for example 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.[11][13][14] 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][8][11][15]


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, this has been discontinued, as the size of the body had become somewhat large following successive accessions of new Member States to the Union.[1][5][6]

Meetings can also include other invitees, such as the President of the European Central Bank, as required. The President of the European Parliament also 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, President of Poland and the Prime Minister of Poland were of different parties and had a different foreign policy response to the crisis.[17] A similar situation arose in Romania between President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu in 2007–2008 and again in 2012 with Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who both opposed the president.

Eurozone summits

A number of ad hoc meetings of Heads of State or Government of the Euro area countries were held in 2010 and 2011 to discuss the Sovereign Debt crisis. It was agreed in October 2011 that they should meet regularly twice a year (with extra meetings if needed). This will normally be at the end of a European Council meeting and according to the same format (chaired by the President of the European Council and including the President of the Commission), but usually restricted to the (currently 17) Heads of State or Government of countries whose currency is the euro.


The President of the European Council, currently Donald Tusk of Poland, is elected for a once-renewable term of two and a half years. The President must report to the European Parliament after each European Council meeting.[6][15]

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][15] The role of that President-in-Office was 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 was primarily responsible for preparing and chairing the Council meetings, and had no executive powers other than the task of representing the Union externally. Now the leader of the Council Presidency country can still act as president when the permanent president is absent.


Representative Picture Member State Title Political party Member since Elections % population[a 1]
Tusk, DonaldDonald Tusk President
Non voting position
President European People's Party
National: Civic Platform of the Republic of Poland (PO)
1 December 2014
(Prime Minister of Poland:
Juncker, Jean-ClaudeJean-Claude Juncker Commission
Non voting representation
President European People's Party
National: Christian Social People's Party (CSV)
1 November 2014
(Prime Minister of Luxembourg:
2014 2019 0.0%
Faymann, WernerWerner Faymann  Austria Federal Chancellor Party of European Socialists
National: Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ)
2 December 2008 2013 2018? 1.67%
Michel, CharlesCharles Michel  Belgium First Minister /
Prime Minister
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party
National: Reformist Movement (MR)
11 October 2014 2014 2019? 2.21%
Borisov, BoykoBoyko Borisov
Cyrillic script: Бойко Борисов
 Bulgaria Minister-Chairman[a 2] European People's Party
National: GERB (ГЕРБ)
7 November 2014
(also in office:
2014 2018? 1.44%
Milanović, ZoranZoran Milanović  Croatia President of the Government[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP)
1 July 2013
(in office since 23 December 2011; note that Croatia has been a member state of the EU from 1st of July 2013)
2011 2016? 0.84%
Anastasiades, NicosNicos Anastasiades
Greek script: Νίκος Αναστασιάδης
 Cyprus President European People's Party
National: Democratic Rally (ΔΗ.ΣΥ.)
28 February 2013 2013 2018? 0.17%
Sobotka, BohuslavBohuslav Sobotka  Czech Republic Chairman of the Government[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD)
29 January 2014 2013 2017? 2.08%
Thorning-Schmidt, HelleHelle Thorning-Schmidt  Denmark Minister of State[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: Social Democrats (A)
3 October 2011 2011 2015? 1.11%
Rõivas, TaaviTaavi Rõivas  Estonia Head Minister[a 2] Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party
National: Estonian Reform Party (RE)
26 March 2014 2011 2015? 0.26%
Stubb, AlexanderAlexander Stubb  Finland Head Minister / Minister of the State[a 2] European People's Party
National: National Coalition Party (Kok. / Saml.)
24 June 2014 2011 2015? 1.07%
Hollande, FrançoisFrançois Hollande  France President Party of European Socialists
National: Socialist Party (PS)
15 May 2012 2012 2017? 12.98%
Merkel, AngelaAngela Merkel
née Kasner
 Germany Federal Chancellor European People's Party
National: Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU)
22 November 2005 2013 2017? 15.93%
Samaras, AntonisAntonis Samaras
Greek script: Αντώνης Σαμαράς
 Greece Prime Minister European People's Party
National: New Democracy (Ν.Δ.)
20 June 2012 2012 2016? 2.19%
Orbán, ViktorViktor Orbán
Eastern name order, as used in Hungary: Orbán Viktor
 Hungary Minister-President[a 2] European People's Party
National: Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz)
29 May 2010
(also in office: 1998-2002; note that Hungary has been a member state of the EU from 1st of May 2004)
2014 2018? 1.96%
Kenny, EndaEnda Kenny
Irish language: Éanna
Ó Coinnigh
 Ireland Taoiseach[a 3] European People's Party
National: Fine Gael (FG)
9 March 2011 2011 2016? 0.91%
Renzi, MatteoMatteo Renzi  Italy President of the Council of Ministers[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: Democratic Party (PD)
22 February 2014 2013 2018? 11.81%
Straujuma, LaimdotaLaimdota Straujuma  Latvia Minister-President[a 2] European People's Party
National: Party ‘UNITY’ (V)
22 January 2014 2014 2018? 0.40%
Grybauskaitė, DaliaDalia Grybauskaitė  Lithuania President Independent 12 July 2009 2014 2019? 0.59%
Bettel, XavierXavier Bettel  Luxembourg Prime Minister Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party
National: Democratic Party (DP)
4 December 2013 2013 2019? 0.11%
Muscat, JosephJoseph Muscat  Malta Prime Minister Party of European Socialists
National: Labour Party (PL)
11 March 2013
2013 2018? 0.08%
Rutte, MarkMark Rutte  Netherlands Minister-President[a 2] Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party
National: People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
14 October 2010 2012 2017? 3.32%
Kopacz, EwaEwa Kopacz  Poland President of the Council of Ministers[a 2] European People's Party
National: Civic Platform of the Republic of Poland (PO)
22 September 2014 2011 2015? 7.62%
Passos Coelho, PedroPedro Passos Coelho  Portugal Prime Minister European People's Party
National: Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD)
21 June 2011 2011 2015? 2.07%
Băsescu, TraianTraian Băsescu  Romania President European People's Party[a 4]
National: Independent[a 5]
27 August 2012
(also in office: 2004-2007, 2007-2012; note that Romania has been a member state of the EU from 1st of January 2007)
2014 2019? 3.97%
Fico, RobertRobert Fico  Slovakia Chairman of the Government[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: DIRECTION – Social Democracy (SMER-SD)
4 April 2012
(also in office:
2012 2016? 1.07%
Cerar, MiroMiro Cerar  Slovenia President of the Government[a 2] Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party
National: Party of Miro Cerar (SMC)
18 September 2014 2014 2018? 0.41%
Rajoy, MarianoMariano Rajoy  Spain President of the Government[a 2] European People's Party
National: People's Party (PP)
21 December 2011 2011 2015? 9.24%
Löfven, StefanStefan Löfven  Sweden Minister of the State[a 2] Party of European Socialists
National: Social Democratic Workers' Party of Sweden (S)
3 October 2014 2014 2015 1.89%
Cameron, DavidDavid Cameron  United Kingdom Prime Minister Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
National: Conservative Party (Con)
11 May 2010 2010 2015? 12.61%
  1. ^ Used in the calculation of the qualified majority voting. The share of the total population is based on the decision of the Council of the European Union on Member States populations for 2014
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o 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.
  4. ^ Member of the EPP Congress in quality of EPP Head of State although officially not member of PD-L. See for instance the EPP webpage [1], or press releases from EPP congresses, such as the EPP Summit discusses the situation in Ukraine, banking union; adopts declaration on Industrial Competitiveness in Europe", Brussels, 20 March 2014.
  5. ^ Previously Democratic Party (PD); supported by the PD-L during the 2009 presidential campaign; officially not affiliated during presidency according to the Constitution.

Political parties

The states of the European Union by the European party affiliations of their leaders, as of 24 January 2015
Does not account for coalitions. Key to colours is as follows;

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 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 # Share
of pop.
European People's Party 12 46.97%
Party of European Socialists 9 34.33%
Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists 1 12.61%
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party 5 6.30%
Independent 1 0.59%
Total 28 100%

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, former President Van Rompuy preferred 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. A new building (the "Europa building") is currently being built at the northern end of the adjacent historical Résidence Palace complex for use as a purpose built summit building by the European Council and the Council. It is due to be completed in 2013.[8][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 manner of the G20. Some have argued it is the de facto EU government,[8] 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, except for force majeure (for instance a strike by air traffic controllers nearly caused the January 2012 informal meeting to be switched to Luxembourg).

President's cabinet

Although the European Council is, under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, a separate institution of the EU, it does not have its own administration. The administrative support for both the European Council and its president is provided by the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union. The president does have, however, his own private office (cabinet) of close advisers. Van Rompuy chose as his chief of staff (chef de cabinet) Baron Frans van Daele, formerly Belgian ambassador to, variously, the USA, the UN, the EU and NATO and chief of staff of several Belgian foreign ministers. Also in his team are the former UK Labour MEP Richard Corbett, former Hungarian Ambassador to NATO Zoltán Martinusz, former head of the EU's economic & financial committee Odile Renaud-Basso, and Van Rompuy's long standing press officer Dirk De Backer.

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 González. It started the work in December 2008 and presented its report to the European Council in May 2010.[6][23]

Its Members were:

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 et seq 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".  
  5. ^ a b c d "Consolidated versions of the treaty on European Union and of the treaty establishing the European Community" (PDF).  
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "EUROPA – The European Council: Presidency Conclusions". European Commission. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  7. ^ Art. 15(4) of the Treaty on European Union
  8. ^ a b c d e f Stark, Christine. "Evolution of the European Council: The implications of a permanent seat" (PDF). Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  9. ^ "EU Security Policy & the role of the European Commissio".  
  10. ^ Wikisource: Article 2, Treaty of Lisbon
  11. ^ a b c "The Union's institutions: The European Council".  
  12. ^ "BBC News — Belgian PM Van Rompuy is named as new EU president". 20 November 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  13. ^ 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).  
  14. ^ Peers, Steve (2 August 2007). "EU Reform Treaty analysis 1: JHA provisions" (PDF).  
  15. ^ a b c "How does the EU work".  
  16. ^ "Finnish Conservatives name Stubb foreign minister". new Room Finland. 1 April 2008. Retrieved 1 April 2008. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Banks, Martin (18 June 2010) Cameron gives 'new style' EU summits thumbs-up, Parliament Magazine
  19. ^ "Treaty of Nice" (PDF).  
  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".  
  22. ^  
  23. ^ "PROJECT EUROPE 2030: Challenges and Opportunities: A report to the European Council by the Reflection Group on the Future of the EU 2030". European Council. May 2010. Archived from the original on 1 June 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  24. ^ "". 13 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-11. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Archive of European Integration – Summit Guide
  • European Council Collection of documents - CVCE
  • Reflection Group established by the European Council
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