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What happens at meetings of the European Council?

The European Council lays down the EU’s general political guidelines. The Council also takes fundamental decisions on the future of the EU, adopts amendments to the Treaties and discusses more problematic decisions.

The general political guidelines which the European Council arrives at are set out in the conclusions from the meeting. These conclusions are a political agreement and have no legal status, but will often form the basis for practical implementation of the policies by the Council, the European Parliament and the Commission. 

As the European Council comprises the Heads of State or Government of the Member States as well as the President of the Commission, it often plays a central role in connection with mediating in and resolving issues on which the ministers responsible for a specific policy field have not been able to reach agreement at the ordinary Council meetings. 

Although the European Council deals with high-level policy, this does not necessarily mean that its discussions are dry and boring. At the Laeken summit in December 2001, the EU leaders discussed, among other things, the issue of the countries in which various EU agencies would be located. The European Food Safety Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency were much sought after by the Member States: Portugal and France were both very keen to have the Maritime Safety Agency, while Finland, Italy and France , again, laid claim to the Food Safety Agency.

According to the Reuters news agency, some notes were allegedly leaked from the meeting which provide an insight into the final exchange of words between the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, the Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, the Swedish Prime Minister, Göran Persson, the Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt (Chair), the French President, Jacques Chirac and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.

According to the Reuters news agency, the following exchange took place at the Laeken European Council, December 2001

Berlusconi: Parma is synonymous with good cuisine. The Finns don’t even know what prosciutto is. I cannot accept this.
Schüssel: I am not satisfied. We got nothing.
Persson: This is no easy task. We had the problem during the Swedish Presidency at Gothenburg. But it’s strange that the IT agency should go to Spain.
Verhofstadt: The gastronomic attraction of a region is no argument for the allocation of an EU agency.
Chirac: How would it be if Sweden got an agency for training models, since you have such pretty women?
Berlusconi: I already accepted the (European arrest) warrant. My final word is (shouts) No!
Schröder: I love Parma, but you’ll never get it if you argue like that.
Chirac: Lille is also a candidate. It lies in the heart of the (EU) political landscape.
Schüssel: The (EU) observatory on racism (in Vienna) has only 19 civil servants. Others have thousands.
Verhofstadt: That’s it. (Closes summit)