The European Council

  • The European Council (informally EUCO) is a collective body that defines the European Union's overall political direction and priorities. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission (both non-voting). The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in its meetings. The European Council, established as an informal summit in 1975 and was formalised as an institution in 2009 upon the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Its current president is Charles Michel, former Prime Minister of Belgium.

    The European Council has no legislative power. Though, it is a strategic (and crisis-solving) body that provides the union with general political directions and priorities and acts as a collective presidency. The European Commission remains the sole initiator of legislation, but the European Council is able to provide an impetus to guide legislative policy

    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, usually in the Europa building in Brussels. Decisions of the European Council are taken by consensus, except where the Treaties provide otherwise. Meetings can also include other invitees, such as the President of the European Central Bank, as required. The Secretary-General of the Council attends and is responsible for organizational matters, including minutes. The President of the European Parliament also attends to give an opening speech outlining the European Parliament's position before talks begin.

    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.

    Beyond its main scope, the Council has developed further roles such as to

    • "settle issues outstanding from discussions at a lower level"
    • lead in foreign policy
    • acting externally as a "collective Head of State"
    • "formal ratification of important documents"
    • "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 in high-profile policy areas as for example foreign policy.

    It also exercises powers of appointment, such as appointment of its own Presidentthe High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the President of the European Central Bank.

    It proposes, to the European Parliament, a candidate for President of the European Commission.

    Moreover, the European Council influences police and justice planning, the composition of the Commissionmatters relating to the organisation of the rotating Council presidencythe 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".