The European Council is the institution of the European Union (EU) in charge of defining and implementing European external action. Despite the prominent role assigned to it by EU law, studies have proposed two contrasting narratives. On the one hand, legal scholarship and some political scientists assert the relevance of the European Council in the field of the EU’s external action while others, mostly political scientists, downplay its significance. This article seeks to advance the debate by offering a quantitative analysis of the European Council conclusions referred to in subsequent EU binding acts. The data are presented according to different variables in turn: (1) the European Council conclusion mentioned in the act; (2) the subject area of the European Council conclusion mentioned; (3) the year other institutions adopted the act; (4) and the subject per year. The reference period for this study is 1st December 2009 - 31st August 2017. The main finding of the study is a challenge to the orthodoxy in legal scholarship on this institution: the European Council leads European external action mainly on relatively uncontroversial issues; there is no evidence of its leadership in critical situations such as the Arab uprisings and the migration crisis. This result opens up promising avenues for research on agenda-setting strategies in time of crisis.
European Council, Common foreign and security policy, agenda setting, EU Law
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