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President of the European Council

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President of the European Council
Emblem of European Council
Charles Michel
since 1 December 2019
European Council
StatusPresiding and chief administrative officer
Member ofEuropean Council (non-voting)
ResidenceEuropa building
SeatBrussels, Belgium
AppointerEuropean Council
by qualified majority
Term length2.5 years, renewable once
Constituting instrumentTreaties of the European Union
PrecursorChairman of the European Council
Formation1 December 2009
First holderHerman Van Rompuy

The president of the European Council is the person presiding over and driving forward the work of the European Council on the world stage.[2] This institution comprises the college of heads of state or government of EU member states as well as the president of the European Commission, and provides political direction to the European Union (EU).

From 1975 to 2009, the chair of the European Council was an unofficial position (often referred to as the president-in-office) held by the head of state or government of the member state holding the semiannually rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union at any given time. However, since the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon, article 15 of Treaty on European Union states that the European Council appoints a full-time President for a two-and-a-half-year term, with the possibility of renewal once. Appointments, as well as the removal of incumbents, require a double majority support in the European Council.

On 19 November 2009, the European Council agreed that its first President under the Lisbon Treaty would be Herman Van Rompuy (European People's Party), until then the Belgian Prime Minister. Van Rompuy took office when the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009 with a term stretching until 31 May 2012.[3] His term was later extended with a second period ending on 30 November 2014.

The second holder of the office was (until then) Polish prime minister Donald Tusk. He was originally elected to serve a term from 1 December 2014 to 31 May 2017,[4] and was subsequently re-elected on 9 March 2017 to a second term running from 1 June 2017 until 30 November 2019.[5]

On 2 July 2019 the European Council elected the until then Belgian prime minister Charles Michel as the successor to Donald Tusk as President of the European Council for the period from 1 December 2019 to 31 May 2022.[6] He was re-elected in March 2022 for a second term for period from 1 June 2022 to 30 November 2024.[7]


The first meeting of all European Communities heads of state or government was held in 1961 as an informal summit, but only became formalised in 1974, when it was dubbed "European Council" by the then French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. With the establishment of the European Union in 1993, the presidency of the European Council was based on the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, being hosted by the member state holding the Council presidency, rotating every six months. As the European Council is composed of national leaders, it was chaired by the head of state or government of the presidency state.[8][9][10]

Permanent post[edit]

The European Constitution, drafted by the European Convention, outlined the "president of the European Council" as a longer term and full-time chairmanship.[11] The Constitution was rejected by voters in two Member States during ratification but the changes envisaged to the European Council presidency were retained in the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force on 1 December 2009.

The first president was expected to define the role for future office holders, as there was no clear idea of how the post would evolve.[12] One body of thought was that the president would stick to a quasi-administrative role, a standard bearer who would simply chair meetings and ensure the smooth running of the body and its policies. This would attract semi-retired leaders seeking a fitting climax to their career and would leave most work to the Commission rather than wield power within the institutions.[13] However another opinion envisaged a more pro-active President within the Union and speaking for it abroad. The office would hence be quickly fashioned, according to promoters, into a de facto "president of Europe" and, unlike the first model, would be seen on the world stage as speaking for the EU. Persons connected to this position would be more charismatic leaders.[11] The appointment of Herman Van Rompuy indicated a desire to see the former style of president.

There were in any case a number of practical reasons for having the new style President[14] The previous rotating presidency meant a new chair every second or third meeting. There was no choice as to who it would be. Incumbants had little time to devote to preparing meetings, as they had a national government to run (a growing problem as the number of members to negotiate with expanded with EU enlargemnt). And when representing the EU externally at G7 or G20 summits, they were often simultaneously representing their own country. Allowing the European Council to choose a full time, longer-term President who was not simultaneously a national head of government avoided these problems.

The Treaty of Lisbon does not define a nomination process for the president of the Council and initially several official and unofficial candidates were proposed. At the final European Council meeting on the treaty in Lisbon, on 19 November 2007, French president Nicolas Sarkozy set off public speculation on candidates by naming Tony Blair, Felipe González and Jean-Claude Juncker, and praising the three as worthy candidates[15] with Blair in particular being a long time front runner for the post. However, he faced large scale opposition for being from a large state outside the eurozone and the Schengen Area as well as being a leader who entered the Iraq War which had split Europe. Minor opposition to other leaders such as Juncker also led to their rejection.[citation needed]

First full-time president[edit]

On 19 November 2009, Herman Van Rompuy, at that time Prime Minister of Belgium, was appointed the first full-time president of the European Council. The formal decision on the appointment was made after the Treaty of Lisbon came into force on 1 December 2009.[16] The British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said that he had unanimous backing from the 27 EU leaders at the summit in Brussels on the evening of 19 November 2009. Brown praised Van Rompuy as "a consensus builder" who had "brought a period of political stability to his country after months of uncertainty".[17] At a press conference after his appointment, Van Rompuy commented: "Every country should emerge victorious from negotiations. A negotiation that ends with a defeated party is never a good negotiation. I will consider everyone's interests and sensitivities. Even if our unity remains our strength, our diversity remains our wealth", he said, stressing the individuality of EU member states.[18]

Van Rompuy's first council meeting was an informal gathering in the Solvay Library in Leopold Park, rather than the more usual formal gathering in the Justus Lipsius building nearby. The meeting was called to reflect on long term structural economic problems facing Europe, but was overtaken by the Greek economic crisis.

Duties and powers[edit]


The role of President-in-Office of the assembled European Council was performed by the head of state or government of the member state currently holding the presidency of the Council of the European Union. This presidency rotated every six months, meaning there was a new president of the European Council twice a year.

The role as President-in-Office was merely a primus inter pares role among other European heads of state or government. However, the president-in-office represented the European Council externally and reported to the European Parliament after its meetings as well as at the beginning and at the end of the presidency.[19][20]


President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy during a visit to the Paranal Observatory.[21]

The president's role is largely political, preparing the work of the European Council, organising and chairing its meetings, seeking to find consensus among its members and reporting to the European Parliament after each meeting; the president will also "at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security".[22] Some overlap between the roles of the president of the European Council, the President of the Commission, and the High Representative—notably in foreign policy—leaves uncertainty about how much influence the President of the European Council will acquire. There is further concern over whether the president will have sufficient personnel and resources to fulfil the duties of the post effectively and that, in lacking a ministry, the president might become a "play ball" between EU leaders.[23]

With the reorganisation of leading EU posts under the Lisbon Treaty, there was some criticism of each post's vague responsibilities. Ukrainian ambassador to the EU Andriy Veselovsky praised the framework and clarified it in his own terms: The president of the European Commission speaks as the EU's "government" while the new president of the European Council is a "strategist". The High Representative specialises in "bilateral relations" while the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy deals in technical matters such as the free trade agreement with Ukraine. The president of the European Parliament meanwhile articulates the EU's values.[24]

The European Council president also extended his influence into financial policy, the most important area left to the rotating Council presidency, with the rotating presidency seeing a greater decrease in power than previously planned.[25] Many of the changes introduced with the Lisbon Treaty need concretion through practical implementation by the current actors. The Spanish presidency unsuccessfully tried to challenge the European Council president's prominent post during the first rotating presidency of 2010,[26] while the second half of the year saw a Belgian rotating presidency marked by a weakened caretaker government which did not challenge Herman van Rompuy, himself a Belgian politician. The Belgian rotating presidency announced it was taking a "backrow seat"[27] with regards to both the European Council president and the high representative, thus fuelling hopes as well as concerns for a more communitarian character in both the council and foreign policy.

Privileges of office[edit]

Formal negotiations on the salary and privileges of the permanent presidency began in April 2008 as part of the draft of the 2009 EU budget. The outcome was that the president should enjoy the same conditions as the president of the Commission, with a basic salary of 138% of the highest civil service grade: that would be €24,874.62 per month (not including family and other allowances).[28][29][30][needs update]

The president receives a chauffeured car and around 20 dedicated staff members. He also has a housing allowance, rather than an official residence which was considered "too symbolic". Likewise, the idea of a private jet was also rejected for being symbolic and, as one diplomat pointed out, a discrepancy in privileges between the European Council and Commission presidents may only fuel rivalry between the two.[31]

The possibility of there being greater perks for the European Council president than Commission president prompted Parliament to threaten a rejection of the 2009 budget. It saw a large salary and extras as a symbolic signal that the post is intended to become more powerful, increasing intergovernmentalism at the Parliament's expense. With some in the Council suggesting a staff of up to 60, one MEP has argued in 2008 that the Committee on Constitutional Affairs ought to drop the gentlemen's agreement that Parliament and Council will not interfere in each other's budget.[32]

President's office[edit]

Although the European Council is, under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, a separate institution of the EU, it does not have its own administration. The administrative support for both the European Council and its President is provided by the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union. The president does have, however, his own private office (cabinet) of close advisers. Van Rompuy chose as his first chief of staff (chef de cabinet) Baron Frans van Daele, formerly Belgian ambassador to, variously, the US, the UN, the EU and NATO and chief of staff of several Belgian foreign ministers. Upon his retirement in the autumn of 2012, Didier Seeuws, former Deputy Perm Rep of Belgium to the EU and former spokesman for Belgian PM Verhofstadt, replaced him. Also in his team were the former UK Labour MEP Richard Corbett and Van Rompuy's long standing press officer Dirk De Backer.

Democratic mandate[edit]

The President of the European Council is elected by its members through a qualified majority vote for a once-renewable term of two and a half years. Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) identifies his duties. It is the Heads of State or Government who vote for this office.[33]

The lack of accountability to MEPs or national parliamentarians has also cast doubt as to whether national leaders will in practice stand behind the president on major issues.[23] Under the rotational system, the presidents simply had the mandate of their member states, while the new permanent president is chosen by the members of the European Council.[34]

There have been calls by some, such as former German interior minister and former head of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble,[35] for direct elections to take place to give the President a mandate, this would strengthen the post within the European Council allowing for stronger leadership in addition to addressing the question of democratic legitimacy in the EU. However, this might cause conflict with Parliament's democratic mandate or a potential mandate for the Commission (see section below). To give a mandate to the European Council's president would signify a development of the Union's governance towards a presidential system, rather than a parliamentary system.[34]

Relationship with Commission[edit]

There had been disagreement and concern over competition between the former president of the European Council Van Rompuy and the former Commission president Barroso, due to the vague language of the treaty. Some clarifications saw Van Rompuy as the "strategist" and Barroso as a head of government. In terms of economic policy, Van Rompuy saw the European Council as dealing with overall strategy and the Commission as dealing with the implementation. Despite weekly breakfasts together, there was a certain extent of rivalry between the two yet-defined posts.[36][24][37]

Although the president of the European Council may not hold a national office, such as a prime minister of a member state, there is no such restraint on European offices. For example, the president may be an MEP, or more significantly the Commission president (who already sits in the European Council). This would allow the European Council to concurrently appoint one person to the roles and powers of both president of the European Council and president of the European Commission, thus creating a single presidential position for the union as a whole.[11]

Since the creation of the European Council presidency, former president Van Rompuy and former Commission President Barroso had begun to compete with each other as Van Rompuy had benefited from the general shift in power from the Commission to the European Council yet with Barroso still holding the real powers. At international summits they continued previous practice of both going at the same time. The complicated situation had renewed some calls to merge the posts, possibly at the end of Barroso's term in 2014. However some member states had expected to oppose the creation of such a high-profile post.[36][37]

If the posts are not to be combined, some believe that the dual-presidential system could lead to "cohabitation" and infighting between the two offices. While it is comparable to the French model, where there is a president (the European Council president) and prime minister (the Commission president), the Council president does not hold formal powers such as the ability to directly appoint and sack the Commission president, or the ability to dissolve Parliament. The European Council president has prestige, but lacks power. The Commission president has power, but lacks the prestige of the European Council president.[38] Some believe this problem would be increased further if the Council president were to be strengthened by a democratic mandate, as mentioned above.[34]

List of presidents of the European Council[edit]

Rotating presidency[edit]

Year Period President-in-Office European party Presidency
1975 Jan–Jun Liam Cosgrave European People's Party  Ireland
Jul–Dec Aldo Moro European People's Party  Italy
1976 Jan–Jun Gaston Thorn Liberal and Democratic Group  Luxembourg
Jul–Dec Joop den Uyl Party of European Socialists  Netherlands
1977 Jan–Jun James Callaghan Party of European Socialists  United Kingdom
Jul–Dec Leo Tindemans European People's Party  Belgium
1978 Jan–Jun Anker Jørgensen Party of European Socialists  Denmark
Jul–Dec Helmut Schmidt Party of European Socialists  West Germany
1979 Jan–Jun Valéry Giscard d'Estaing European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party  France
Jul–Dec Jack Lynch European Progressive Democrats  Ireland
Dec Charles Haughey European Progressive Democrats
1980 Jan–Jun Francesco Cossiga European People's Party  Italy
Jul–Dec Pierre Werner European People's Party  Luxembourg
1981 Jan–Jun Dries van Agt European People's Party  Netherlands
Jul–Dec Margaret Thatcher Independent  United Kingdom
1982 Jan–Jun Wilfried Martens European People's Party  Belgium
Jul–Sep Anker Jørgensen Party of European Socialists  Denmark
Sep–Dec Poul Schlüter European People's Party
1983 Jan–Jun Helmut Kohl European People's Party  West Germany
Jul–Dec Andreas Papandreou Party of European Socialists  Greece
1984 Jan–Jun François Mitterrand Party of European Socialists  France
Jul–Dec Garret FitzGerald European People's Party  Ireland
1985 Jan–Jun Bettino Craxi Party of European Socialists  Italy
Jul–Dec Jacques Santer European People's Party  Luxembourg
1986 Jan–Jun Ruud Lubbers European People's Party  Netherlands
Jul–Dec Margaret Thatcher Independent  United Kingdom
1987 Jan–Jun Wilfried Martens European People's Party  Belgium
Jul–Dec Poul Schlüter European People's Party  Denmark
1988 Jan–Jun Helmut Kohl European People's Party  West Germany
Jul–Dec Andreas Papandreou Party of European Socialists  Greece
1989 Jan–Jun Felipe González Party of European Socialists  Spain
Jul–Dec François Mitterrand Party of European Socialists  France
1990 Jan–Jun Charles Haughey European Democratic Alliance  Ireland
Jul–Dec Giulio Andreotti European People's Party  Italy
1991 Jan–Jun Jacques Santer European People's Party  Luxembourg
Jul–Dec Ruud Lubbers European People's Party  Netherlands
1992 Jan–Jun Aníbal Cavaco Silva European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party  Portugal
Jul–Dec John Major Independent  United Kingdom
1993 Jan Poul Schlüter European People's Party  Denmark
Jan–Jun Poul Nyrup Rasmussen Party of European Socialists
Jul–Dec Jean-Luc Dehaene European People's Party  Belgium
1994 Jan–Jun Andreas Papandreou Party of European Socialists  Greece
Jul–Dec Helmut Kohl European People's Party  Germany
1995 Jan–May François Mitterrand Party of European Socialists  France
May–Jun Jacques Chirac Independent
Jul–Dec Felipe González Party of European Socialists  Spain
1996 Jan–May Lamberto Dini European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party  Italy
May–Jun Romano Prodi European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
Jul–Dec John Bruton European People's Party  Ireland
1997 Jan–Jun Wim Kok Party of European Socialists  Netherlands
Jul–Dec Jean-Claude Juncker European People's Party  Luxembourg
1998 Jan–Jun Tony Blair Party of European Socialists  United Kingdom
Jul–Dec Viktor Klima Party of European Socialists  Austria
1999 Jan–Jun Gerhard Schröder Party of European Socialists  Germany
Jul–Dec Paavo Lipponen Party of European Socialists  Finland
2000 Jan–Jun António Guterres Party of European Socialists  Portugal
Jul–Dec Jacques Chirac European People's Party  France
2001 Jan–Jun Göran Persson Party of European Socialists  Sweden
Jul–Dec Guy Verhofstadt European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party  Belgium
2002 Jan–Jun José María Aznar European People's Party  Spain
Jul–Dec Anders Fogh Rasmussen European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party  Denmark
2003 Jan–Jun Costas Simitis Party of European Socialists  Greece
Jul–Dec Silvio Berlusconi European People's Party  Italy
2004 Jan–Jun Bertie Ahern Union for Europe of the Nations  Ireland
Jul–Dec Jan Peter Balkenende European People's Party  Netherlands
2005 Jan–Jun Jean-Claude Juncker European People's Party  Luxembourg
Jul–Dec Tony Blair Party of European Socialists  United Kingdom
2006 Jan–Jun Wolfgang Schüssel European People's Party  Austria
Jul–Dec Matti Vanhanen European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party  Finland
2007 Jan–Jun Angela Merkel European People's Party  Germany
Jul–Dec José Sócrates Party of European Socialists  Portugal
2008 Jan–Jun Janez Janša European People's Party  Slovenia
Jul–Dec Nicolas Sarkozy European People's Party  France
2009 Jan–May Mirek Topolánek Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists  Czech Republic
May–Jun Jan Fischer Independent
Jul–Nov Fredrik Reinfeldt European People's Party  Sweden

Permanent presidents[edit]

N. Portrait President
State Took office Left office Party European party Refs
1 Herman Van Rompuy
(born 1947)
 Belgium 1 December
30 November
CD&V European People's Party [39]
4 years, 364 days
2 Donald Tusk
(born 1957)
 Poland 1 December
30 November
PO European People's Party [40]
4 years, 364 days
3 Charles Michel
(born 1975)
 Belgium 1 December
Incumbent MR Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe [41]
4 years, 202 days


Charles MichelDonald TuskHerman Van Rompuy

See also[edit]


  1. ^ English Style Guide: A handbook for authors and translators in the European Commission (PDF) (8 ed.). European Commission. October 2019. p. 119. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
  2. ^ Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, Article 9 B
  3. ^ "European Council statement on the measures taken regarding the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon" (PDF). Consilium.
  4. ^ "Italy's Mogherini and Poland's Tusk get top EU jobs". BBC News. 30 August 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  5. ^ Herszenhorn, David M. (9 March 2017). "EU leaders defy Warsaw to reappoint Donald Tusk". Politico. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  6. ^ "Special meeting of the European Council (30 June, 1 and 2 July 2019) – Conclusions" (PDF).
  7. ^ "Charles Michel re-elected president of the European Council". www.consilium.europa.eu. Retrieved 19 October 2022.
  8. ^ Stark, Christine. "Evolution of the European Council: The implications of a permanent chair" (PDF). Dragoman.org. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
  9. ^ van Grinsven, Peter (September 2003). "The European Council under Construction" (PDF). Netherlands Institution for international Relations. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 16 August 2007.
  10. ^ Europa. "Consolidated EU Treaties" (PDF). Retrieved 27 June 2007.
  11. ^ a b c "SCADPlus: The Institutions of the Union: European Council". Europa. Archived from the original on 21 December 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2007.
  12. ^ Goldirova, Renata (22 October 2007). "First names floated for top new EU jobs". EU Observer. Retrieved 22 October 2007.
  13. ^ Iey Berry, Peter Sain (16 November 2007). "[Comment] The new EU president" standard bearer or shaker?". EU Observer. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  14. ^ Corbett, Richard. ‘President of the European Council, new kid on the block: asset or complication?'. In 'The European Union after the Lisbon Treaty, Maastricht Centre for European Governance, Maastricht Monnet Lecture Series Vol. 3 (2011).
  15. ^ "CONFERENCE DE PRESSE DU PRESIDENT DE LA REPUBLIQUE, M. NICOLAS SARKOZY". France diplomatie. 19 October 2007. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 18 February 2008.
  16. ^ "New leadership team for Europe". Council of the European Union. Retrieved 24 November 2009. The formal decisions on these appointments will be taken once the Treaty of Lisbon has entered into force, on 1 December 2009.
  17. ^ "Belgian PM Van Rompuy is named as new EU president". The Daily Telegraph. 19 November 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2009.
  18. ^ Henry Chu: European Union settles on a Belgian and a Briton for top posts. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 November 2009.
  19. ^ "How does the EU work". Europa. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
  20. ^ "European Council". Europa. Retrieved 12 July 2007.
  21. ^ "European High-level Delegations visit Paranal". ESO Press Release. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  22. ^ "President of the European Council" (PDF). General Secretariat of the Council of the EU. 24 November 2009. Retrieved 24 November 2009.
  23. ^ a b Mahony, Honor (28 November 2007). "Unclear EU treaty provisions causing 'nervousness'". EU Observer. Retrieved 28 November 2007.
  24. ^ a b Rettman, Andrew, (15 March 2010) Ukraine gives positive appraisal of new-model EU, EU Observer
  25. ^ "Poland to showcase its EU credentials in Brussels extravaganza". EUobserver. 8 June 2010.
  26. ^ "Spain ends invisible EU presidency". EUobserver. 30 June 2010.
  27. ^ "Belgian presidency sets parliament in its sights". EUobserver. July 2010.
  28. ^ "COUNCIL DECISION of 1 December 2009 laying down the conditions of employment of the President of the European Council" (PDF). EurLex. European Commission. Retrieved 20 June 2010. The basic monthly salary of the President of the European Council shall be equal to the amount resulting from application of 138% to the basic salary of an official of the European Union at grade 16 third step.
  29. ^ Basic salary of grade 16, third step is €18,025.09. 138% of €18,025.09 = €24,874,62
    "Table: officials, Article 66" (PDF). European Commission Civil Service. 1 July 2009. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  30. ^ "Regulation No 422/67/EEC, 5/67/Euratom of the Council" (pdf). EurLex. European Commission. 25 July 1967. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  31. ^ Mahony, Honor (14 April 2008). "Member states consider perks and staff for new EU president". EU Observer. Retrieved 15 April 2008.
  32. ^ Mahony, Honor (22 April 2008). "MEPs to use budget power over EU president perks". EU Observer. Retrieved 22 April 2008.
  33. ^ "European Council: The President's role". Retrieved 21 March 2015. The President the European Council is elected by the European Council by a qualified majority. He is elected for a 2.5-year term, which is renewable once.
  34. ^ a b c Leinen, Jo. "A President of Europe is not Utopian, it's practical politics". Europe's World. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  35. ^ "British Conservatives call for EU to return powers". EUobserver. 2 June 2009. Retrieved 2 June 2009.
  36. ^ a b Duff, Andrew (23 February 2010) Who is Herman Van Rompuy?
  37. ^ a b "A Van Barroso?". EU Observer. 15 April 2010. Archived from the original on 17 April 2010. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  38. ^ Hix, Simon; Roland, Gérard. "Why the Franco-German Plan would institutionalise 'cohabitation' for Europe". Foreign Policy Centre. Retrieved 1 October 2007.
  39. ^ Former President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, European Council
  40. ^ Former President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, European Council
  41. ^ Charles Michel, President of the European Council, European Council

External links[edit]