1st September 2016

European Council

The European Council defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities. It is not one of the EU’s legislating institutions, so does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. Instead, it sets the EU’s policy agenda, traditionally by adopting ‘conclusions’ during  the European Council meetings, which identify issues of concern and actions to take. In this way, the European Council is able to influence the actions of the different Member States. As well as setting the EU’s political priorities through the strategic agenda and its conclusions, The European Council has a formal role to play in the semester processes. It gives policy orientations on fiscal, economic and structural reforms. (Find out more about European Council conclusions)

The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in European Council meetings when foreign affairs issues are discussed.

The European Council mostly takes its decisions by consensus. However, in certain specific cases outlined in the EU treaties, it decides by unanimity or by qualified majority.

If a vote is taken, neither the European Council President nor the Commission President take part. (source: The European Council)

The European Council is one of the 7 EU institutions. However, it is not one of the EU’s legislating bodies, so does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. Instead its main role is to determine the EU’s general political direction and priorities – essentially setting the policy agenda for the EU.

Traditionally, this is done by adopting conclusions during each European Council meeting. These conclusions identify specific issues of concern for the EU and outline particular actions to take or goals to reach. European Council conclusions can also set a deadline for reaching agreement on a particular item or for the presentation of legislative proposal. In this way, the European Council is able to influence and guide the EU’s policy agenda.

The first informal summit between heads of state or government of the European Economic Community took place in the 60s obtaining important results such as the adhesion of United Kingdom to the EEC.

Only in 1974, the European Council was officially set up with the goal of creating a permanent forum for discussions. However, his expertise were only later defined in the Treaties, and its legal basis were formalised for the first time inside the Single European Act in 1986. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council has become a fully-fledged institution of the European Union. (source: Setting the EU’s political agenda).