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EU Fact Sheet: The European Council

Role: Defining political directions and priorities of the EU

Members: Heads of State or Government from each Member state, the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security

Location: Brussels

President: Donald Tusk (Poland)

The European Council should not be confused with the Council of the European Union or with the Council of Europe.

The European Council brings together the Heads of State or Government (Prime Ministers and Presidents) from all EU Member States, along with its President and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security will be included in the European Council’s meetings when foreign affairs issues are discussed.

This is not a legislating EU institution. Instead, it identifies the main issues of concern and provides a plan of action. The European Council is the highest-level policymaking body in the EU.

The Breakdown

The European Council holds summits at least four times a year to set the main policy orientations of the EU. The President can convene additional meetings to address urgent issues.

The European Council elects the President for a 30-month term, which is only renewable once. As the presidency is a full-time position, it does not allow him to simultaneously hold a national office.

Most decisions made within the European Council are by consensus. In certain instances, such as the election of its President, the appointment of the Commission, and of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, a qualified majority or unanimity applies.

In any other instances if a vote is taken, the President of the European Council and the Commission do not take part.


Functional Role

As of June 2014, the European Council has outlined five priority areas for the EU to work on over the next five years. This has been referred as to the ‘strategic agenda’.

  1. Jobs, growth and competitiveness:Addressing the need to encourage growth, expand investments, and enhance competitiveness by creating more jobs.
  1. Empowering and protecting citizens: Prioritizing the need to drive against youth unemployment by unlocking opportunities for EU citizens, and dealing with issues of poverty and social exclusion by taking action to deal with tax evasion and fraud.
  1. Energy and climate policies:Emphasizing the need to decrease dependency on fuel and gas imports, and to build affordable secure and sustainable energy within the EU. This aims to diversify the EU energy supplies as well as the development of energy infrastructure.
  1. Freedom, security, and justice:Highlights the importance of strong EU cooperation, particularly on security issues such as terrorism, organized crime, corruption, and managing irregular migration flows.
  1. Strong engagement in world affairs:Ensuring that the EU is a strong global actor by ensuring consistency and stability with foreign policy goals, engaging a wide range of issues such as human rights, trade, defence policies, and cyber security with global partners.
Sandra Song
Sandra is a Research Analyst at the NATO Association of Canada. She was the former Editor for the Canadian Armed Forces program, and she was previously a Junior Research Fellow for the Strategic Reserve Program in 2013. Sandra has a BA Bilingual Hons. in International Studies from Glendon College, York University. She recently completed her MA in International Conflict & Security at the University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies. Her dissertation examined the political and legal perspectives of balancing security and liberty in the case of civilian aircraft hijackings that would be used as a weapon for terrorism. Prior to her time at the NAOC, Sandra was contracted as an Ocean Energy Plan Project Consultant for a non-profit organization in Belgium and the Netherlands.