The European Council defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, it became an official institution. It provides the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and defines the general political directions and priorities thereof. It does not exercise legislative functions.
There are ten Council configurations, covering the whole range of EU policies. The General Affairs Council, which is usually attended by foreign ministers or European affairs ministers, makes sure that the various Council configurations are working consistently with one another and makes the preparations for European Council meetings. The European Council meets twice every six months, convened by its President. When the situation so requires, the President will convene a special meeting of the European Council.
The European Council consists of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President (currently Herman Van Rompuy) and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Catherine Ashton) takes part in its work. When the agenda so requires, the members of the European Council may decide each to be assisted by a minister and, in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission.