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European Council

The European Council, sometimes informally called the European Summit, is a meeting of the heads of state or government of the European Union, and the President of the European Commission (not to be confused with the Council of the European Union, or the Council of Europe). On average four European Councils are held every year in which discussion is held on the matters of key issues and direction of the EU.



Traditionally the summits of the European Councils have been held in the country currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. However, in late 2000 it was agreed at the Nice European Council that in the future half the European Councils would be held in Brussels and eventually all would be held there.

Two factors prompted this decision. Firstly, with the impending enlargement of the European Union to 25 or more members, rotating the site of the Council meeting between member states was going to become more difficult. Secondly, Belgium was threatening to hold up the Treaty of Nice, unhappy with the way larger states were going to hold more power in European institutions. Holding the summits in Brussels was meant to encourage Belgium to accept the deal.

The decision was further justified by the increasing violence at European Council meetings, which culminated in the shooting of a protester at the Gothenburg European Council in Sweden. It was felt that the Belgian government had more experience at dealing with anti-EU protests, and that putting them in one location would enable increased security.

The proposal has since been strongly criticised by many European Union member states, principally the smaller states and those furthest from Brussels, who have argued that it would in practice be impossible for their leaders to fulfil all the functions of the presidency in Brussels and govern effectively in their own states, the suspicion being that the idea was designed to reduce the practical control exercised by the state nominally holding the presidency, with the day-to-day running of the presidency resting permanently in Brussels among Eurocrats . New members of the EU were particularly opposed and were seeking to overturn the Nice decision.

As the proposed new Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe now proposes to switch the rotating presidency to a 2˝-year chair (see below) and all member states' governments have supported the draft, this issue now seems to be off the political agenda.

List of summits

  • Brussels, June 1987
  • Corfu, June 1994 . Signing of the Treaty of the 1995 Accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden (and Norway which later fails to ratify and stays out of the EU).
  • Essen, December 1994


The role of President of the assembled European Council is performed by the head of government or head of state of the member state currently holding the Presidency of Council the European Union. The role as president is in no sense equivalent to a head of stateship, merely a primus inter pares (first among equals) role with other European heads of government. The President is primarily responsible for preparing and chairing Council meetings, and has no executive powers.

Under the provisions contained in the proposed Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, which has yet to be ratified by all member states, the rotating Presidency will be replaced by a permanent 2˝-year chair, chosen by the heads of government themselves. The role and responsibilities of the President will be the same as at present, i.e. administrative and non-executive.

See also

List of presidents

Last updated: 10-11-2005 10:23:24
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