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

  • Open letter from the Coalition for Higher Ambition

    A unique gathering of businesses, investor groups, local and regional authorities, trade unions and civil society groups, standing together as the Coalition for Higher Ambition, calls upon EU leaders to ramp up the EU's climate action.
  • Letter to Energy and Environment Ministers on strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy

    February 2019   Clean Planet for all: Strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy   Dear Energy and Environment Ministers, On 4 March and 5 March respectively you will meet in Brussels to discuss the European Commission’s proposed long term strategy vision for a climate neutral economy – A Clean Planet for all.
  • NGO letter on the long term climate strategy ahead of the Competitiveness Council

    In this letter, NGOs Climate Action Network Europe, Carbon Market Watch, E3G - Third Generation Environmentalism, European Environmental Bureau, Sandbag and WWF European Policy Office call upon EU Economy and Industry Ministers to: Endorse the European Commission’s strategic long-term vision for a climate neutral economy and support an EU long-term climate target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040; Call upon the European Commission to present a new and integrated EU industrial climate strategy for energy-intensive industries in support of a competitive, circular and net-zero emission heavy industry transition;  Recognise the immediate need to provide a policy framework which supports and incentivises the full decarbonisation and transformation of resource and energy-intensive industry sectors before 2050. NGO letter on the long term climate strategy ahead of the Competitiveness Council
See All: Climate & Energy Targets