Step 2. The European Council

The main tasks of the European Council include:


Providing political direction. The European Council sets the long-term strategic agenda of the EU both with respect to internal policies and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This agenda-setting role is formulated in Article 15 of the TEU which states that ‘it shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof’.

Problem solver and ultimate arbiter. In this second capacity, the European Council acts as the ultimate intergovernmental decision-making body for issues that cannot be resolved by the Council. For example, the European Council handled the Brexit. It also managed the difficult revision of the Constitutional Treaty, by first calling a period of reflection and then negotiating the major terms for its revision into the Lisbon Treaty.

Treaty revisions. The European Council also has a formal role in revising treaties. For ordinary treaty revisions it decides by a simple majority vote to call a Convention, which will examine treaty amendments and formulate proposals which in turn will be examined by the representatives of the member states via an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC).

Appointments. The European Council is involved in a range of key appointments. It appoints its own President. It moreover appoints the President of the Commission and the Union’s High Representative. Because these two functionaries are also members of the Commission, their appointments need to be confirmed by the EP. Finally it appoints the members of the executive board of the European Central Bank.

(Source: Lelieveldt, Herman and Sebastiaan Princen. 2011. The Politics of the European Union. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 57-58)

Decision-making in the European Council is most often based on consensus. It means that all the EU countries are satisfied with the final decision and that no Member State is feeling omitted or underestimated throughout the process. That is why the European Council decision-making is often burdened with lengthy meetings, and much emphasis is put on the informal part of the negotiations. This is also why its proceedings are not accessible to the general public. Undoubtedly, the consensual decision-making has its advantages, but on the other hand it might lead to a decision, that basically constitutes the lowest common denominator, with which nobody is really happy with. The exemplification of such an outcome is the so-called “Abilene paradox” – see here for more details: