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European Council

The European Council (informally EUCO) is a collective body composed of the national leaders of the 27 countries of the European Union.

Established as an informal summit in 1975, the European Council was formalized as an EU institution in 2009. It meets four times a year to define the Union’s policy agenda and overall political direction. While the European Council holds no formal legislative and executive power, it is often considered to be the most powerful political body of the European Union.

Beyond providing political guidance, the European Council also exercises powers of appointment; for example, it proposes a candidate for President of the European Commission, who must then be approved by the European Parliament by an absolute majority of its members. Other votes are conducted using a system called Qualified Majority Voting, where 55% of member states, representing at least 65% of the EU population, must vote in favour for a proposal to pass.

National law determines whether it is the head of state (president or monarch) or the head of government (prime minister) that represents each EU Member State in the European Council.

In France, Cyprus, Romania and Lithuania, the President, who is directly elected by the people, sits on the European Council. In the other EU Member States, it is the head of government that represents each country in the European Council. The head of government is normally appointed by the national parliament or the head of state from the party or coalition that commands a majority of seats in parliament after a general election.

The European Council appoints a full-time president for a two-and-a-half-year term, with the possibility of renewal once, who coordinates the work of the institution. The current president of the European Council is Charles Michel (MR-RE), former Prime Minister of Belgium.

The following visualizations show how the composition of the European Council changed over the decades.