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European Council

European Council meetings are essentially summits where EU leaders meet to decide on broad political priorities and major initiatives. Typically, there are around 4 meetings a year, chaired by a permanent president.

What does it do?

Its role is twofold – setting the EU's general political direction and priorities, and dealing with complex or sensitive issues that cannot be resolved at a lower level of intergovernmental cooperation.

Though influential in setting the EU political agenda, it has no powers to pass laws.

Who exactly is involved?

The European Council brings together the heads of state or government of every EU country, the Commission President and the European Council President, who chairs the meetings. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part.

Who is the President of the European Council?

Donald Tusk is the President of the European Council. His term of office began on 1 December 2014 and runs until 31 May 2017.

When and where does it meet?

Twice every 6 months, though its president can convene a special meeting if needed. Usually in Brussels.

How are decisions taken?

The European Council decides by consensus, except if the Treaties provide otherwise. In some cases, it adopts decisions by unanimity or by qualified majority, depending on what the Treaty provides for.

The presidents of the European Council and Commission, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy do not have a vote.


The European Council began informally in 1974 as a forum for discussion between EU leaders. It rapidly developed into the body which fixed goals and priorities for the bloc.

Acquiring formal status in 1992, in 2009 it became one of the EU’s 7 official institutions.