According to Article 4 of the EU Treaty, the European Council “… shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and define the general political guidelines thereof.” In practical terms, this means that the European Council cannot enact any binding legislation, but the guidelines it lays down must be taken into account in Council decisions. The European Council can also call upon the European Commission and the Council to take action and can itself initiate activities, as well as set specific timetables. Last but not least, the European Council regularly examines progress made, makes important decisions on personnel appointments, decides on common strategies and sets the course for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In exceptional cases, it also seeks to settle issues on which agreement cannot be reached at ministerial level.
The members of the European Council are supported in their work by the Foreign Ministers of the Member States and by a member of the Commission. As a rule, each meeting of the European Council includes an exchange of views with the President of the European Parliament. Furthermore, in accordance with the Treaty, the European Council reports to the European Parliament after each session and also submits an annual written report on the progress achieved by the European Union.
The European Council has a special position (in both political and legal terms) in the decision-making structure of the European Union. While at the end of the 1960s the meetings of the Heads of State and Government were still held at irregular intervals, it was decided in Paris in 1974 to organise the meetings on a regular basis and to call this body the “European Council”. The European Council was first mentioned in the Treaty in 1987 when the Single European Act entered into force.
The themes of the European Council meetings also derive from progress made in the individual Council configurations. The meetings of the European Council are in practice prepared by the General Affairs and External Relations Council which coordinates all the preparatory work and establishes the agenda. At least four weeks before the European Council meeting, an annotated draft agenda is compiled on the basis of a Presidency proposal.
The European Council does not make “conventional” Council decisions. It relies more on consensus to reach political agreement and has to reach compromises in order to formulate its results. The goals agreed by the European Council are then summarised in the “Presidency conclusions”. This text briefly outlines the political guidelines and decisions adopted by the European Council. The factual background is briefly presented and the procedure for further action explained.
The formal meetings of the European Council are generally held in the Justus Lipsius Building in Brussels and are not open to the public. The Presidency can, however, convene additional informal European Council meetings at other venues.
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