We turn to the composition and the tasks of the European Council as laid down in the existing treaties and the European Union’s Treaty of Lisbon.
Article 4 of the existing Treaty on European Union (TEU) lays down the tasks and the composition of the European Council (in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJEU 29.12.2006 C 321 E/12).
The words impetus and guidelines indicate the guiding role of the European Council. The public guidance is summed up in a consensus paper, the Presidency Conclusions formally issued by the member state holding the Council Presidency.
The results are reported to the European Parliament after each meeting by the Council Presidency.
In principle, there is one member from each member state, either the head of state (France and perhaps some other member states with a presidential system) or more commonly the head of government (prime minister).
In some countries the relations are ambiguous or at least contested. Thus, there have been public spats between the president and prime minister of Poland.
Finland is one example of an ambiguous relationship, where the president wants to hold on to a leadership role in foreign policy while the government is responsible for EU affairs. This has led to situations described as the problem of “two plates” (at the dinners). Meanwhile the foreign minister has been exiled from the meeting room.
Article 4 TEU
The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political guidelines thereof.
The European Council shall bring together the Heads of State or Government of the Member States and the President of the Commission. They shall be assisted by the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Member States and by a Member of the Commission. The European Council shall meet at least twice a year, under the chairmanship of the Head of State or Government of the Member State which holds the Presidency of the Council.
The European Council shall submit to the European Parliament a report after each of its meetings and a yearly written report on the progress achieved by the Union.
Article 13 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), as amended by the Lisbon Treaty, would elevate the European Council to the role of an official EU institution, and Article 15 TEU builds on this to give more detailed provisions on this institution.
Still the European Council does not exercise legislative function, but it makes binding decisions on a number of issues.
The basic membership remains the same, although the President is added to the Commission President (both without votes). The second paragraph clarifies that the High Representative participates in the meetings.
Four regular meetings annually (twice every six months) codifies existing practice, where the current treaty says ‘twice a year’.
The real novelties are in paragraphs 5 and 6: the elected President of the European Council (not of the European Union). The office has been unanimously agreed, but the role of the future President is contested.
Here is the text of Article 15 TEU, as presented in the consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty (OJEU 9.5.2008 C 115/23):
Article 15 TEU
1. The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political directions and priorities thereof. It shall not exercise legislative functions.
2. The European Council shall consist of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall take part in its work.
3. The European Council shall meet twice every six months, convened by its President. When the agenda so requires, the members of the European Council may decide each to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission. When the situation so requires, the President shall convene a special meeting of the European Council.
4. Except where the Treaties provide otherwise, decisions of the European Council shall be taken by consensus.
5. The European Council shall elect its President, by a qualified majority, for a term of two and a half years, renewable once. In the event of an impediment or serious misconduct, the European Council can end the President's term of office in accordance with the same procedure.
6. The President of the European Council:
(a) shall chair it and drive forward its work;
(b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council;
(c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council;
(d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council.
The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The President of the European Council shall not hold a national office.
Lisbon Treaty implementation
Preparatory work is needed in case the Treaty of Lisbon enters into force. The role and the perquisites of the President of the European Council need to be hammered out.
Progress reports and (alternative) draft proposals are eagerly awaited.