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What does the European Council do?

The European Council defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities. It is not one of the EU's legislating institutions, so does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. Instead it sets the EU's policy agenda, traditionally by adopting 'conclusions' during European Council meetings which identify issues of concern and actions to take. 

More recently, the European Council adopted a 'strategic agenda' of priority areas for longer-term EU action and focus.

How does the European Council work?

Members

The members of the European Council are the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in European Council meetings when foreign affairs issues are discussed.

Decision-making

The European Council mostly takes its decisions by consensus. However, in certain specific cases outlined in the EU treaties, it decides by unanimity or by qualified majority.

If a vote is taken, neither the European Council President nor the Commission President take part.

European Council meetings 

The European Council meets at least twice every 6 months. Its meetings, often referred to as 'EU summits' are held in Brussels, in the Justus Lipsius building.

Meetings are chaired by the European Council President. The President can also convene extraordinary European Council meetings when needed.

The President of the European Parliament attends the start of each meeting, to outline the European Parliament's views. Other people, such as the President of the European Central Bank, may be invited to attend meetings, depending on the issues being discussed.

History of the European Council

The European Council was created in 1974 as an informal forum for discussion between heads of state or government of the EU member states.  It soon developed a role as the body responsible for fixing EU goals and priorities.

Under the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, the European Council acquired a formal status and role - to provide the impetus and general political guidelines for the EU.

In 2009, following the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council became one of the 7 EU institutions.