The European Council was established in 1974 as an informal forum for discussion between EU leaders. In 1992 it was given a formal status and with the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009 it became one of the seven official EU institutions. Following the Treaty of Lisbon, a new position as President of the European Council was created. Herman Van Rompuy, who served as Prime Minister of Belgium, was elected for this position in 2009.
Who participates in the meetings of the European Council?
The European Council brings together the Heads of State or Government of all the EU Member States, i.e. Prime Ministers or Presidents, as well as the President of the European Council and the President of the Commission.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Cathrine Ashton, is invited to participate in the meetings, and the meetings normally also include a short session with the President of the European Parliament.
The European Council is convened twice every six months, typically in March, June, October and December. However, the President of the European Council can also convene extraordinary meetings. Over the last couple of years, three-four meetings have taken place every six months.
What does the European Council do?
Generally, the European Council has two main tasks. Setting the EU’s general political direction and dealing with complex or difficult issues which cannot be resolved at a lower political level. As a general rule, the European Council decides by consensus, unless the Treaty specifies otherwise. The decisions made by the European Council are published after the meetings in the form of a set of conclusions.
Which issues does the European Council deal with?
The European Council handles a broad range of issues. In recent years, the European Council has had a special focus on the financial and economic situation in Europe. Thematic meetings, however, are also held.
In September 2010 an extraordinary thematic meeting was held regarding the EU’s relations with its strategic partners such as China, India, Brazil, Russia and the USA.
In February 2011 a meeting was held on energy and innovation.
In March 2011 an extraordinary meeting was convened at short notice on the situation in the EU’s southern neighbourhood, including Libya, Tunisia and Egypt.
What is the relation between the rotating presidency and the European Council?
With the creation of the position of President of the European Council, the rotating presidency, which rotates among the EU Member States, no longer chairs the European Council.
The rotating presidency, however, cooperates closely with the President of the European Council in order to ensure the best possible preparation of the European Council meetings. Many of the issues that are dealt with in the European Council are first handled in the Council of the EU, which is chaired by the rotating presidency. Hence, there is a need for close coordination and cooperation. Therefore, the President of the European Council meets on a regular basis with the Prime Minister or the President of the rotating presidency.