In 1949, Western Europeans created the Council of Europe. The Union was the catalyst for eventual cooperation between Germany, England, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Demark and Ireland and several other nations to form a larger free-trade zone.
In 1951, six of those countries signed a treaty to operate their heavy industry (steel and coal) under common management. The treaty put the tools in place that would prevent a country from making their own weapons and then use them against their neighbors.
Due to the success of the Steel and Coal Treaty, six countries expanded their cooperation with each other and they used that positive energy to create other treaties in other economic areas. The Treaty of Rome created a European Economic Community (EEC) so goods and services could cross boarders without an extensive amount of government interference. The EEC started the European Common Market.
The first summits of the European Union were held in Bonn and Paris in 1961. They were informal meetings that included all the members of the Union. Charles de Gaulle initiated the summits because he resented the dominance of the European Commission over the integration process. The Hague Summit of 1969 admitted the United Kingdom into the EEC, and it also initiated the European Political Cooperation, which instigated foreign policy cooperation between the members.
The summits were actually formalized in 1974 at the Paris Summit. Since then, the European Council has evolved into the official institution of the European Union. It is designed to provide the impetus for the Union's expansion. The European Council defines policy agenda and it is the driving force behind the EU. Since the members of the Council hold national positions they are able to gather the executive power to settle outstanding issues as well as influence foreign policy.
European Council meetings take place four times a year in Brussels and usually last for two days, but they have lasted longer when contentious issues are on the table. The Reflection Group, Horizon 2020-2030, was established in 2007 by the European Council. That group focuses on challenges that can impact the EU in the next two decades. There are twelve members in the group. They started work in 2008 and submitted their report in 2010.
Twenty-seven member states have been part of the Council since 2007. Those states include the six core states that founded the EEC. Before a new member joins they must adhere to political and economic conditions known as the Copenhagen Criteria. That criterion includes a democratic and purportedly "free market" form of government with corresponding institutions that respect the rule of law.
The European Council is not directly answerable to any given authority, certainly not voters. As its parent, the European Union has grown more undemocratic and authoritarian, the European Council too has come under more criticism and scrutiny as the Internet reformation roll forward. With the European Union now in dire economic straits, it may be hoped by free-market thinkers that both the European Council and the European Union are eventually unraveled. The authoritarian tendencies of both are driving European nations – especially in Southern Europe – to ruin. The European Council may not have sounded like a bad idea to begin with, but its modern day results are horrific. These days it encourages fascism rather than free markets or free trade.