The European CouncilMay 1, 2018
It sets the main orientations and gives impulses on the most important subjects. It is composed of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the European Union and the President of the European Commission. It meets at least twice a year in the country holding the Presidency of the European Union. This is rotated every six months.
The meeting of Heads of State or Government
Created in 1974 and institutionalised by the Single European Act in 1986, the European Council brings together the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the European Union at least twice a year for a European Summit. The European Council should not be confused with the Council of the European Union, which brings together the ministers of the Member States and adopts European legal texts with the European Parliament. Nor with the Council of Europe, which is an international organisation outside the European Union, focused on education, culture and the defence of human rights.
The political engine of European construction
Together, the Heads of State or Government define the priorities and timetable for European integration.
Orientation and impulse
The European Council has a major role in providing political, economic, social and foreign policy impetus and direction.
Concertation and conciliation
It intervenes to unblock a crisis situation, to provide a solution in the event of disagreement between Member States. It arbitrates between the institutions of the European Union.
All the major decisions concerning the construction of Europe are taken by the Council: reform of the Treaties and institutions, financing of the European budget, enlargement of the European Union to other countries, Europe’s positions on the international stage, transition to the single currency…
They can take several forms:
directives and guidelines are the most important acts. The directives indicate to the Council of the European Union and the European Commission the priorities of the European Council on the management of the European Union and its common policies;
the declarations solemnly express the position of several heads of government on a specific point, generally on international problems.
The decisions of the European Council have an important political significance since they indicate the will of the Member States but they have no legal value. To be effectively implemented, they must follow the normal procedure of Community legal texts: proposals made by the European Commission, votes of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
The European Council also intervenes on issues relating to intergovernmental policy: in the field of the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), it has adopted numerous diplomatic declarations, some of which have had a major impact (on the Middle East peace process, or the end of the conflict in former Yugoslavia, for example); in the field of Justice and Home Affairs, it has ratified the EUROPOL Convention and the extradition procedure between Member States of the European Union.
Activities and operation
Relations with the European Parliament
Each Summit begins with a statement by the President of the European Parliament. The President of the European Council presents to MEPs the activities of his six-month Presidency and initiates a debate with MEPs.
Relations with the European Commission
The President of the European Commission participates in the meetings of the European Council. At the end of the Summits, the European Council draws conclusions which it addresses to the European Commission.
Relations with the Council of the European Union
The Council (of Ministers) of the European Union prepares the meetings of the European Council and adopts the legal texts which will translate into action the guidelines laid down by the Heads of State or Government.
The European Council is not a permanent body with a meeting place. It meets twice a year, in June and December, at the invitation of and in the country that is concluding its Presidency. It usually lasts two days.
It is prepared and chaired by the Member State that completes its six-month Presidency. An exceptional Council may be organised whenever necessary (e.g. Employment Summit in November 1997).
The European Council brings together all the Heads of State or Government of the Member States of the European Union and the President of the European Commission. France is represented by the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister.
Heads of State or Government are assisted by Foreign Ministers and a member of the European Commission, usually the Commissioner for External Relations. Economic and Finance Ministers participate in the meetings on the single currency. Also present are the Secretary-General of the European Council, the Secretary-General of the European Commission and some officials.
Decisions are taken by consensus following negotiations among Member States, which began well before the Summit.
At the end of each meeting, the Presidency shall publish the Conclusions of the European Summit. At the beginning of each Presidency, the country in charge publishes its priorities. The Presidency of the European Council shall rotate.