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

  • Briefing: How NECPs can set Paris in motion in every country

    EU Member States are, through the new ‘Governance of the Energy Union Regulation’, required to develop ten year Integrated National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs).  With the word ‘integrated’, the NECPs present a new regime in EU Climate and Energy Policy making. The European Union’s credibility in the international climate policy arena depends heavily on its capacity to make a coherent contribution. However, the current EU climate and energy policy regime is not driving transformative change. This biefing paper presents our proposals to improve the current NECPs. Download our briefing here: Briefing Paper: How National Energy and Climate Plans can set Paris in motion in every country (May 2018)
  • Briefing: Assessment of European Commission's proposal for the EU budget 2021-2027

    This briefing describes the main element of the EC proposal for the EU budget 2021-2027, also called Multiannual Financial Framework, assesses its climate performance and develops recommendations for the upcoming legislative proposals.
  • European External Investment Plan: CAN Europe assessment of proposals to mobilise investments in sustainable energy and cities

    Late 2017, the European Commission established specific Investment Windows of the Guarantee fund in the European External Investment Plan. This will be the channel through which investments on specific issues and themes will be made. Together with NGOs, CAN Europe has developed and provided analysis and recommendations to the EU on how the Investment Windows can deliver on climate and sustainable development objectives.
See All: Climate & Energy Targets