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.


1 January

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.


1 January

First enlargement

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.


11 March

First meeting of the European Council

The new European Council meets for the first time in March 1975 in Dublin.


1 January

Greece joins the EU

Membership of the EU reaches double figures when Greece joins.


14 June

Schengen Agreement

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.

2-3 December

Luxembourg European Council

The European Council reaches a political agreement opening the way for the adoption of the Single European Act.


1 January

Spain and Portugal become EU members

Spain and Portugal join the EU, increasing membership of the European Communities to 12.


1 July

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.


11 December

Public sessions

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.


1 November

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). 


1 January

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.


13 December

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.


1 May

Amsterdam Treaty

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.


1 January

The euro enters circulation

On 1 January 2002 the euro starts circulation as banknotes and coins, replacing national currencies.


1 February

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.


1 May

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.


1 January

Bulgaria and Romania join the EU

Bulgaria and Romania become EU members, bringing the number of member states to 27.


19 November

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.

1 December

Lisbon Treaty

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. 

10-11 December

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.


1-2 March

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.

1 March

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.

10 December

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.


1 July

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.


1 December

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.