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The Institutions of the Union


The European Council


Introduction
Debates in the Convention
General provisions
The President of the European Council
Other provisions
Summary table

INTRODUCTION

The draft Constitution reviews the basic institutional set-up of the European Union (EU). Article I-18 of the draft constitutional Treaty lists the institutions and includes the European Council among them, together with Parliament , the Council of Ministers , the Commission and the Court of Justice .

The European Councils, which were held on an irregular basis from the early 1960s and more consistently from 1974 at the instigation of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, then President of France, have played a key role in European integration. The nature and role of the European Council were gradually established through practical experience. It was first mentioned in the Single Act but not established as an institution. The Treaty on European Union (EU Treaty) defined the European Council's role: "The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political guidelines thereof". In addition, the EU Treaty gave the European Council specific roles in relation to the common foreign and security policy ( CFSP ) and economic and monetary union ( EMU ).

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DEBATES IN THE CONVENTION

The Convention discussed at length, the possibility of establishing a permanent President of the European Council to replace the existing system of rotating Presidencies (a new Presidency every six months). Some members of the Convention were in favour of this because they felt that the current system would no longer be feasible in an enlarged Union of 25 Member States, where each Member State would hold the presidency only once every twelve and a half years. Other members feared, on the other hand, that appointing a permanent President would create a new institution that was too strong and too visible and would jeopardise the institutional balance between the Commission, the Council and Parliament.

The compromise reached within the Convention is based on the appointment of a President, with clearly-defined powers, who will ensure the coherence of the European Council's work and raise its profile without jeopardising the institutional balance within the Union.

The role of the European Council is defined in three Articles of the draft constitutional Treaty: Article I-20 sets out the general arrangements, Article I-21 defines the role of the President of the European Council and Article III-244 lays down more specific arrangements concerning the operation of the institutions.

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GENERAL PROVISIONS

The Convention proposes establishing the European Council as an institution of the Union and giving it a clearly-defined role, distinguishing its work from that of the Council of Ministers . Article I-20 thus repeats the definition of the role of the European Council in the Union's development, but states that it does not exercise legislative functions.

The European Council consists of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The Union Minister for Foreign Affairs takes part in its work. When the agenda so requires, its members may decide to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a European Commissioner. The President of the European Parliament may be invited to be heard by the European Council (Article III-244).

The European Council meets quarterly, convened by its President (Article I-20). When the situation so requires, the President may convene a special meeting of the European Council.
The number of meetings is therefore increased (the Treaty on European Union states that it meets at least twice per year) and brought into line with current practice.
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THE PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN COUNCIL

The Convention proposes appointing a President of the European Council, who would take on the work currently assigned to rotating Presidencies. Article I-21 sets out the tasks assigned to and the arrangements for the election of this new figure in European politics.
He/she will be elected by a qualified majority , for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end his or her mandate according to the same procedure.

He/she will chair the European Council and drive forward its work, and ensure its proper preparation and continuity in cooperation with the President of the Commission, on the basis of the General Affairs Council's work. The President also endeavours to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council and presents a report to the European Parliament after each of its meetings.

The President will also, at his or her level, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy , without prejudice to the responsibilities of the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs .

The Convention also proposes that the President of the European Council may not hold a national mandate at the same time. However, this arrangement does not prevent the President of the European Council from holding another mandate within another European institution. This allows for the possibility, in future, of combining the roles of President of the European Council and President of the Commission, if the Member States so wish.

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OTHER PROVISIONS

Except where the Constitution provides otherwise, decisions of the European Council are taken by consensus. Where the draft Constitution provides for a vote, any member of the European Council may also act on behalf of not more than one other member. An abstention does not prevent the adoption of an act which requires unanimity.

The European Council establishes its procedural rules by a simple majority. It is assisted by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers and therefore does not have its own administration.

The European Council, acting by qualified majority and with the agreement of the President of the Commission, appoints the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs .

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SUMMARY TABLE

Articles Subject Comments
I-18 The Union's institutions Significant changes
I-20 The European Council New provisions
I-21 The President of the European Council New provisions
III-244 Provisions governing the institutions - The European Council New provisions

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The fact sheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Convention.


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