Written by Joséphine Vanden Broucke, Stanislas De Finance (both European Council Oversight unit) and Eva-Maria Poptcheva (Members’ Research Service)
The European Council has brought together EU Heads of State or Government in regular summit meetings since March 1975. An initiative of the then French President, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who sought to convert the periodic holding of occasional Community summit meetings into a more formalised system, the existence of the European Council was first recognised in law in the Single European Act (1986) and its role was reinforced by the Maastricht Treaty (1992).
Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, the European Council has enjoyed the status of an EU institution in its own right, with a full-time or ‘permanent’ (non-rotating) President, appointed for a 30-month term, which is renewable once. The President is elected on the basis of qualified majority voting in the European Council; he or she can be dismissed on the same basis (Article 15(5) TEU). The Treaties establish no eligibility conditions for the President (such as nationality, residence or age), stipulating only that the President cannot hold any national office at the same time (Article 15(6) TEU).
Herman Van Rompuy was the first President of the European Council, serving two 30- month terms, from 1 December 2009 to 30 November 2014. On 30 August 2014, the European Council elected the serving Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, as his successor; Mr Tusk’s mandate began on 1 December 2014. In addition to its President, the members of the institution are the Heads of State or Government of the 28 EU Member States and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also ‘takes part’ in its work, but is not a member in his or her own right.