What is the European Council or the Council of the European Union?

The difference between the three different Councils can be confusing. Here a short clarification.

European Council: The big shots


Role: Defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union
e.g. 2014 Council Decision on the EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework
Members: Heads of state or government of EU countries, European Commission President, High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy
President: Donald Tusk (former Prime Minister of Poland). His term 2014 - 2017.
Established in: 1974 (informal forum), 1992 (formal status), 2009 (official EU institution) 

Council of the European Union: Making laws


Role:  Adopting EU laws and coordinating EU policies. Together with the European Parliament, the EU’s main legislative body.
Members: Government ministers from each EU country, according to the policy area to be discussed
President: 28 member states take turns, for six months each. The presidency organises and chairs meetings in the Council and its preparatory bodies, and draws up compromises that can pave the way for Council decisions.   

  • Malta: January-June 2017,  Estonia: July-December 2017
  • Bulgaria: January-June 2018,  Austria: July-December 2018
  • Romania: January-June 2019, Finland: July-December 2019
  • Croatia: January-June 2020, Germany: July-December 2020

Established in: 1958 (as Council of the European Economic Community)  


Council of Europe: not an EU institution

The Council of Europe is the continent's leading human rights organisation. Best known for the European Convention on Human Rights. It includes 47 member states, 28 of which are EU members of the European Union.


More information on the European Institutions:
And here a nice video that gives a good summary:


Latest Publications

  • Letter from UN Secretary General urging EU leaders to ramp up climate action

    In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk leaked by the media last week, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged EU leaders to adopt a long-term vision for a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 and commit to increasing the EU's 2030 climate target to 55 percent reductions in emissions.
  • Letter to EU ministers on climate and environmental action in development funding

    Ahead of Foreign Affairs Council on 16 May, Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, Oxfam EU, ACT Alliance EU, Conservation International and Wetlands International write to EU ministers to highlight how the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) can support developing countries to scale up climate and environmental action and support biodiversity, fostering sustainable development.
See All: Climate & Energy Targets