The European Council is one of the 7 EU institutions. However, it is not one of the EU's legislating bodies, so does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. Instead its main role is to determine the EU's general political direction and priorities - essentially setting the policy agenda for the EU.
Traditionally, this is done by adopting conclusions during each European Council meeting. These conclusions identify specific issues of concern for the EU and outline particular actions to take or goals to reach. European Council conclusions can also set a deadline for reaching agreement on a particular item or for the presentation of legislative proposal. In this way, the European Council is able to influence and guide the EU's policy agenda.
More recently, the European Council adopted a 'strategic agenda' of priority areas for longer-term EU action and focus.
At its meeting in Brussels on 27 June 2014, the European Council agreed on five priority areas to guide the EU's work over the next five years. These priorities are set out in a document called the 'Strategic agenda for the Union in times of change'. This strategic agenda will be used to plan the work of the European Council and also acts as a basis for the work programmes of other EU institutions.
The European Council outlines the need to encourage growth, increase investments, create more and better jobs, and encourage reform to increase competitiveness. Specific actions include:
The European Council highlights priorities that would unlock opportunities for EU citizens, as well as deal with issues such as poverty and social exclusion. Particular actions include:
The European Council underlines the need to lower dependency on fuel and gas imports and to build affordable, secure and sustainable energy within the EU. The main priorities include:
The European Council emphasises the importance of good EU cooperation on security issues like terrorism and managing migration flows. Specific priorities set by the European Council include:
The European Council calls on the EU to ensure its strong engagement in world affairs, highlighting in particular the following priorities:
The European Semester is a cycle of economic and fiscal policy coordination within the EU
As well as setting the EU's political priorities through the strategic agenda and through its conclusions, the European Council has a formal role to play in the EU's annual European semester process. This is the EU's yearly cycle of economic and fiscal policy coordination.
In its annual March meeting, the European Council assesses both the economic situation in the EU and progress towards the Europe 2020 targets. It then gives policy orientations on fiscal, economic and structural reforms. In its June meeting, the European Council endorses the final country-specific recommendations, which set out priorities for each member state for the next 12-18 months.
These guidelines, adopted by the European Council, define the priorities for the coming years
Under article 68 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU), the European Council is responsible for defining strategic guidelines for the area of freedom, security and justice.
This was put into practice for the first time with the latest guidelines, adopted in June 2014. They have been developed in line with the strategic agenda priorities and cover aspects such as border control, migration and asylum policy, and police and judicial cooperation.