The European Council (referred to as a European Summit) is the highest political body of the European Union. It is made of all the heads of state or government of the Union’s member states presided by the President of the European Commission. The country which holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union also leads its assemblies.

The Council has no formal executive or legislative powers. It is an institution that deals with very important issues and any decisions made are “a major impetus in defining the general political guidelines of the European Union”. The Council meets at least twice a year; usually in the Justus Lipsius building, the district of the Council of the European Union (Consilium) of Brussels

Currently, the president of the European Council is Herman Van Rompuy.

The Council of the European Union (sometimes just called the Council and sometimes still referred to as the Council of Ministers) is the third of the seven institutions of the European Union as listed in the Treaty on the European Union.

It is part of the essentially bicameral EU legislature, representing the executives of the EU member states, the other legislative body being the European Parliament. The Council is composed of several configurations of twenty-eight national ministers (one per state). The exact membership of the configuration depends upon the topic; for example, when discussing agricultural policy the Council is formed by the twenty-eight national ministers whose portfolio includes this policy area (with the related European Commissioner contributing but not voting).

The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months among the governments of EU member states, with the relevant ministers of the respective country holding the Presidency at any given time ensuring the smooth running of the meetings and setting the daily agenda. The continuity between presidencies is provided by an arrangement under which three successive presidencies, known as Presidency trios, share common political programmes. The Foreign Affairs Council (national foreign ministers) is however chaired by the Union’s High Representative. The Council is administered by the Council’s General Secretary.

Its decisions are made by qualified majority voting in most areas, unanimity in others. Usually when it operates unanimously, it only needs to consult the Parliament. However, in most areas the ordinary legislative procedure applies meaning both Council and Parliament share legislative and budgetary powers equally, meaning both have to agree for a proposal to be passed. In a few limited areas the Council may initiate new EU law itself.

 

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