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You & European Council

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

This blog post is part of the series ‘You&EU Institutions’.

The European Council. The Council of the European Union. The Council of Europe… Do you feel puzzled by these similarly sounding institutions? In this blog post, you will find the differences between these institutions, their relation to the EU and, most importantly, what does the European Council do for you – and how you can have your say in it!

European Council – Council of the EU – Council of Europe ?

First, let’s have a look at the differences between the three afore-mentioned institutions. The European Council is one of the overall seven EU institutions represented mainly by the heads of states and governments of the EU Member States. The Council of the European Union accounts for another EU institution with a legislative power, composed of national ministers from each EU country. However, the third body, the Council of Europe, does not belong to the EU as it is a European international organisation dealing with human rights with 47 member states.

Now you know, you won’t confuse them (hopefully).

Why is there a European Council?

The European Union arose from international agreements between different European governments. It solidified into an formal forum in 1975, where heads of government could negotiate among the European Community (the predecessor of the EU). In 1987, the meetings of the European Council were given a legal basis, revised in 1993 (under the Maastricht Treaty) with the creation of today’s EU. However, only with the Lisbon Treaty, in effect since 2009, has the European Council became a fully-fledged EU institution.

Who exactly is the European Council?

Today, the European Council is represented by the heads of government of the 28 EU Member States, together with the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission. The EU High Representative for foreign affairs (HR of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) also takes part in European Council meetings when foreign affairs issues are discussed. However, the decisive and voting role remains in the hands of the national representatives only.

What about an EU President?

Since the Lisbon Treaty came into effect, the European Council is chaired by a permanent President which substituted the practice of a rotating presidency of the EU Member States in the case of the European Council (however, this practice remained for the Council of the EU). The President is elected by the European Parliament for a two- and half-year term, renewable only once, who chairs the Council’s activities. They are also the representative of the EU to the rest of the world. Up to now, only two European Council Presidents have been in office: Herman van Rompuy (2009-2014) and Donald Tusk (2014-2019).

What does the European Council do for YOU?

The main role of the European Council is providing the EU with a general political direction and setting the policy agenda for the EU. Unlike the Council of the EU, the European Council does not pass laws; it can only officially ask the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. The Council’s representatives gather at least four times per year. When taking a decision, the European Council usually acts in consensus and only in some cases by qualified majority (55 % of member states together with 65 % of the EU population).

YOU & European Council: what impact?

The decisions of the European Council impacts your life substantially. The Council acts almost like a government of the EU, and directs the EU’s policy agenda. Due to the presence of the heads of state or government in the European Council and their decisive role, the voice of your country has its place in the core of the high-level political decisions in the EU.

Yes, even you can influence the affairs in the EU through the European Council. How? Watch the European Council’s public debates online, be an active citizen, vote in the parliamentary elections in your country and vote in your national election. Who you vote for at home will decide who represents you on the European level.

The EU impacts your life. Have a say in how!

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