The European Council

The European Council was created in 1974 with the intention of establishing an informal forum for discussion between Heads of State or Government. It rapidly developed into the body which fixed goals for the Union and set the course for achieving them, in all fields of EU activity. It acquired a formal status in the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which defined its function as providing the impetus and general political guidelines for the Union's development. On 1 December 2009, with the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, it became one of the seven institutions of the Union.

The European Council defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union. It does not exercise legislative functions.  The European Council elects its permanent President, by qualified majority for two and a half years, renewable once.

The President of the European Council for the current period is Herman Van Rompuy.

The European Council consists of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy takes part in its work.

The European Council meets twice every six months, convened by its President. When the situation so requires, the President will convene a special meeting of the European Council. The European Council usually meets in Brussels, in the Justus Lipsius building. It is assisted by the General Secretariat of the Council.

Except where the Treaties provide otherwise, decisions of the European Council are taken by consensus. In some cases, it adopts decisions by unanimity or by qualified majority, depending on what the Treaty provides for.

The President of the European Council chairs it and drives forward its work; ensures the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council; endeavours to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council; presents a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.

Also, at his level and in that capacity, he ensures the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.