Film: 'From fireside chats to key decision-maker'
This documentary traces the history of the European Council from its foundation down to the present day. It shows important milestones from the last decades that have shaped the way EU leaders make decisions.
The story is told through the eyes of those who witnessed the European Council's transformation to the decision-making centre that it is today.
Find out more about the events and treaties which have shaped the roles of the European Council, the Council of the EU, the Eurogroup and the Euro Summit.
The Paris Treaty
The Paris Treaty establishes the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) which creates a common market for coal and steel. This eases distrust and tensions between neighbouring European countries following World War II. The ECSC treaty, which expired in 2002, is the first founding treaty of the European Community.
First meeting of the Special Council of Ministers of the ECSC
The first meeting of the Special Council of Ministers of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was to later become the Council of the European Union, takes place in Luxembourg.
Treaties of Rome
The Rome treaties establish the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Economic Energy Community (Euratom). The first meeting of the Council of the EEC takes place on 25 January 1958 under the chairmanship of Victor Larock, the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister.
Special Committee on Agriculture
The Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) is created to prepare the technical aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy. The Council of the EEC's Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) is divided into Coreper I (Deputies) and Coreper II (Ambassadors). Coreper I and II still exist today and are responsible for preparing the work of the Council of the EU.
Empty chair crisis
In 1965 France announces it will not attend Council meetings due to disagreement with negotiations on the financing of the Common Agricultural Policy. The crisis is later resolved thanks to the 1966 Luxembourg compromise, which implements unanimity voting when major interests are at stake.
The Merger treaties
These two treaties (1967 and 1971) introduce a singe Council, a single Commission and a single budget for the three Communities (ECSC, Euratom and EEC. Coreper is formalised as a preparatory body of the Council.
Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom join the European Communities, raising the number of member states to nine.
Creation of the European Council
Following the Copenhagen summit in December 1973, which made provision for summits to be held whenever necessary, the Paris summit of December 1974, hosted by President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, creates the European Council. It was created with the intention of establishing an informal forum for discussion between heads of state or government.
First meeting of the European Council
The new European Council meets for the first time in March 1975 in Dublin.
Greece joins the EU
Membership of the EU reaches double figures when Greece joins.
The Schengen Agreement on the elimination of border controls is signed by Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in Schengen (Luxembourg).
The Schengen Agreement will gradually allow people to travel without having their passports checked at internal borders. Implementation of the Schengen Agreement starts later, in 1995.
Luxembourg European Council
The European Council reaches a political agreement opening the way for the adoption of the Single European Act.
Spain and Portugal become EU members
Spain and Portugal join the EU, increasing membership of the European Communities to 12.
Single European Act
The Single European Act (SEA) establishes the internal market, which provides for the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. It launches foreign policy cooperation and extends the use of qualified majority voting for decision-making within the Council.
The Single European Act also gives the European Council a legal basis, formalising meetings of the heads of state or government.
The 1992 Edinburgh European Council launches public debates, a practice which has been substantially extended over the years, most recently by the Lisbon Treaty.
The Council's public debates and deliberations can today be followed on the website.
The Maastricht Treaty
The Maastricht Treaty comes into force creating the European Union based on an enlarged 'Community' pillar. It creates the economic and monetary union and sets two new pillars: common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and cooperation in the fields of justice and home affairs (JHA).
The European Council acquires a formal status in the Treaty of Maastricht. It is defined as providing the impetus and general political guidelines for the EU's development.
The Maastricht Treaty also starts the move towards the euro and launches Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
4th EU enlargement
Austria, Finland and Sweden join the EU. The 15 members now cover almost the whole of western Europe.
European Council meets four times a year
Since 1996, the European Council meets at least four times a year. Before that, only two meetings a year were required.
Creation of the Eurogroup
The European Council endorses the creation of the Eurogroup, an informal body that brings together the finance ministers of countries whose currency is the euro. The first Eurogroup meeting is held on 4 June 1998 at the Chateau de Senningen in Luxembourg.
The euro is born as a virtual currency
It is introduced in 11 member states: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.
The Amsterdam Treaty establishes an area of freedom, security and justice, and integrates the Schengen Agreement into EU law. The treaty modifies the role of Secretary-General of the Council, who also becomes High Representative for Common Foreign Security Policy.
Greece joins the euro area
Greece becomes the 12th EU member state to join the euro area.
The euro enters circulation
On 1 January 2002 the euro starts circulation as banknotes and coins, replacing national currencies.
Treaty of Nice
The Treaty of Nice introduces the reform of EU institutions, in preparation for a future enlarged EU of 27 member states. The Council is reformed to extend the use of qualified majority voting, and to introduce the principle of enhanced cooperation between member states.
European Council meetings are held in Brussels
Since October 2003, all formal European Council meetings take place in Brussels.
The 22nd declaration of the Treaty of Nice states that all European Council meetings will be held in Brussels once the EU has 18 member states.
The EU's biggest enlargement
Ten new countries join the EU together: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. This is the EU's largest single enlargement in terms of people and number of countries.
There are now 25 EU member states.
First permanent President of the Eurogroup
The Eurogroup decides to have a permanent president, appointed for a period of two years.
At an informal Ecofin meeting in Scheveningen, Jean-Claude Juncker is elected as the first permanent President of the Eurogroup. His term runs from 1 January 2005 until 31 December 2006.
Jean-Claude Juncker is reappointed as President of the Eurogroup
He is elected as President of the Eurogroup for a second term.
Bulgaria and Romania join the EU
Bulgaria and Romania become EU members, bringing the number of member states to 27.
Slovenia joins the euro area
Slovenia becomes the 13th EU member state to adopt the euro as its currency.
Cyprus and Malta join the euro area
There are now 15 members of the euro area.
The Euro Summit is born
The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, proposes a regular meeting of the euro area heads of state or government. The first meeting takes place on 12 October 2008. Subsequent summits take place in May 2010, March 2011, July 2011, and October 2011 in Brussels.
Euro Summit meetings help to coordinate euro area economic policy and are also attended by the Euro Summit President and the President of the European Commission.
Slovakia joins the euro area
Slovakia becomes the 16th member of the euro area.
Herman Van Rompuy is elected president of the European Council
At an informal meeting in Brussels on 19 November 2009, EU heads of state and government unanimously agree to appoint Herman Van Rompuy as the first permanent President of the European Council.
The Treaty of Lisbon enters into force, reforming the structure of the EU and the way in which it functions.
It extends the use of qualify majority voting at the Council.
The European Council becomes a fully-fledged institution with its own President. Previously, the European Council had been an informal body and the head of the European Council was an unofficial position. The role was held by the head of state or government of the member state holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.
Protocol 14 to the Lisbon Treaty
Protocol 14 to the Lisbon Treaty enters into force on 1 December 2009, setting out the role of the Eurogroup. Ministers of the member states with the euro will meet informally to discuss matters related to the single currency and they will elect a president for two and a half years.
The Lisbon Treaty also amends the Council of the EU's rules so that when the full Economic and Financial Affairs Council (Ecofin) votes on matters only affecting the euro area, only Eurogroup members are allowed to vote.
European Council chaired by Fredrik Reinfeldt
For the last time, the European Council meeting is chaired by a president or prime minister of the member state holding the rotating Council presidency.
The December 2009 European Council is chaired by the Prime Minister of Sweden, Fredrik Reinfeldt.
Estonia joins the euro area
Estonia becomes the 17th country to join the euro area.
Election of the President of the Eurogroup Working Group
Since January 2012, the post of President of the Eurogroup Working Group has been held by Thomas Wieser, who is also President of the Economic and Financial Committee.
The Eurogroup Working Group is a preparatory body that brings together Economic and Financial Committee representatives of the euro area member states, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
The Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union
At the European Council meeting on 1-2 March 2012, 25 European leaders sign the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (TSCG).
The treaty enters into force on 1 January 2013 and formalises the Euro Summit. The organisation of the Euro Summit and the role of its President are set out in its article 12.
Re-election of Herman Van Rompuy
Herman Van Rompuy is elected for a second term as President of the European Council, from 1 June 2012 to 30 November 2014.
EU receives the Nobel Peace Prize
The EU receives the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
When awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, the Norwegian Nobel Committee says its decision is based on the stabilising role the EU has played in transforming most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.
Election of the Eurogroup President
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Dutch Finance Minister, is elected President of the Eurogroup. He becomes the second permanent Eurogroup President in the history of the Eurogroup.
Euro Summit rules of procedure
The first Euro Summit since the entry into force of the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union (TSCG) is held on 14 March 2013. At this meeting, rules for the organisation of the Euro Summits are adopted.
Croatia joins the European Union
Croatia becomes the second country from ex-Yugoslavia to join the EU, after Slovenia.
The EU now has 28 member states.
Latvia joins the euro area
Latvia becomes the 18th member of the euro area.
Donald Tusk becomes President of the European Council
Donald Tusk replaces Herman Van Rompuy as President of the European Council. His term runs from 1 December 2014 to 31 May 2017.
Lithuania joins the euro area
The euro area now has 19 members: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
Extraordinary Euro Summit on Greece
EU leaders meet for an exchange of views on Greece on 22 June 2015. The President of the Euro Summit Donald Tusk says the latest proposals made by the Greek government are a positive step forward, but will require further assessment by the EU institutions.
Euro area leaders reach an agreement on Greece
They are ready to start negotiations on an European Stability Mechanism (ESM) financial assistance programme for Greece, but first the agreement must be approved by the Greek parliament and other national parliaments. Following national procedures, the Eurogroup will take forward negotiations.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem elected Eurogroup president for a second term
Jeroen Dijsselbloem is re-appointed as Eurogroup President for a second term of 2.5 years.
Donald Tusk re-elected president of the European Council
Donald Tusk has been re-elected as President of the European Council for a second term of two and a half years, from 1 June 2017 to 30 November 2019.
UK formally triggers Article 50 to leave the EU
After the outcome of the UK referendum on 23 June 2016, in which the UK citizens voted to leave the European Union, the UK formally notified to the European Council its intention to leave the EU.
The European Council adopted a statement on the UK notification.
We regret that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but we are ready for the process that we now will have to follow. (...) In these negotiations the Union will act as one and preserve its interests. Our first priority will be to minimise the uncertainty caused by the decision of the United Kingdom for our citizens, businesses and member states.European Council, 29 March 2017