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The European Council

INTRODUCTION

The Treaty of Lisbon clarifies the institutional architecture of the European Union (EU). It finally accords the status of institution to the European Council. This recognition has been a gradual process. The first summits between Heads of State and Government which resulted in the European Council were held informally starting in 1961. In 1974, these meetings became regular and adopted the name of “European Council”. The Single European Act and the Treaty of Maastricht in turn specified the nature of the European Council.

The Treaty of Lisbon therefore marks an important stage in that it clarifies and fully recognises the role and functions of the European Council within the EU. It also changes the composition of the European Council, which is chaired by a permanent President from now on.

ROLE

The Treaty of Lisbon includes the European Council among the institutions of the Union. Its role is to provide political impetus. It does not exercise legislative functions. It defines the priorities for the construction of Europe and indicates the direction to be taken by European policies. The European Council thus defines a schedule and specific objectives for the Council of the EU, the Commission and the European Parliament.

The central role of the European Council in the EU is also illustrated by its power of appointment. It proposes the candidate for the post of President of the European Commission and appoints the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. From now on, it will also elect its President.

COMPOSITION

The European Council is composed of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, the President of the European Council and the President of the Commission. Depending on the agenda, the members of the European Council may decide to call on the assistance of a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, of a Commissioner. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also participates in its work.

FUNCTIONING

Before the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the Treaty on European Union provided that the European Council met at least twice a year. In practice, a European Council takes place at the end of each Presidency, in June and December; two additional Council meetings are also organised in March and June. The Treaty of Lisbon confirms this practice and specifies that, from now on, the European Council must meet twice every six months, convened by its President. In addition, when the situation so requires, the President may convene an extraordinary meeting of the European Council.

THE PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

The creation of the post of President of the European Council is a major innovation of the Treaty of Lisbon. The latter is elected by the European Council by a qualified majority for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. The European Council may end that term in the event of impediment or gross misconduct, in accordance with the same procedure. The Treaty of Lisbon stresses that the President may not hold a national office, but does not rule out potential compatibility with an office within another European institution.

The main role of the President is to improve the cohesion and effectiveness of the work carried out within the European Council. The President therefore assumes the functions which were previously carried out by the rotating Presidencies of the EU, namely:

  • chairing and driving forward the work of the European Council;
  • ensuring the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council;
  • facilitating cohesion and consensus within the European Council.

The President is also required to present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.

Finally, the President of the European Council fulfils a diplomatic function by increasing the visibility of Europe. The President fulfils the latter role without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

SUMMARY TABLE

ArticlesSubject

Treaty on European Union

15

Role and composition of the European Council; appointment and powers of the President of the European Council

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

235 and 236

Functioning and responsibilities of the European Council
Last updated: 29.12.2009
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