These three institutions are sometimes confused in translation, Consejo Europeo often being mistranslated as “Council of Europe,” rather than as “European Council,” even in academic publications. Examples I have encountered include mistranslating Directiva xxxx/xx CE del Parlamento Europeo y del Consejo Europeo as “EC Directive xxxx/xx of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe,” or rendering the expression “cuando el Consejo Europeo empiece a adoptar medidas en codecisión con el Parlamento…” incorrectly as “when the Council of Europe begins to adopt codecision procedures with the Parliament…”.
Likewise, in the other direction, “Council of Europe” has often been confused with Consejo Europeo when translating, for example, “Council of Europe Committee of Ministers” as Comité de Ministros del Consejo Europeo (rather than Comité de Ministros del Consejo de Europa) or rendering “Publication of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg” as Publicación del Consejo Europeo de Estrasburgo. And an article entitled “The Limited Powers of the European Parliament and the Council of Europe” most likely intended to address the limited powers of the European Parliament and the European Council.
So, to sort this out…
The European Council (Consejo Europeo) and the Council of the European Union (Consejo de la Unión Europea) are both institutions of the European Union; the Council of Europe (Consejo de Europa) is not.
Briefly, the European Council (Consejo Europeo) is composed of the heads of state or government of all EU member states, together with its president (currently Mr. Donald Tusk) and the president of the European Commission (at the time of this writing, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker). At its quarterly summits the EU Council defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union, setting its policy agenda and adopting conclusions identifying issues to be addressed and actions to be taken.
At meetings of the Council of the European Union (Consejo de la Unión Europea) ministers of the governments of EU member states adopt laws and coordinate policies in their respective policy areas. As the main decision-making body (together with the European Parliament), the Council negotiates and passes EU laws (based on proposals from the EU Commission), develops foreign and security policy, concludes international agreements and adopts the EU budget. The Council’s presidency rotates among member states every six months. Austria currently holds the presidency until December 31, 2018.
European Council summits and Council of the European Union meetings are generally held in Brussels. Since these “councils” are easily confused, the former may be thought of as a summit of heads of state, while the latter is a meeting of government ministers in their respective areas.
In contrast to the above, the Council of Europe (Consejo de Europa) is a totally separate international organization located in Strasbourg, France, devoted to working toward European integration and protecting human rights since its founding in 1949. The principal achievement of the Council of Europe (CoE) is the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (Convenio Europeo de Derechos Humanos, not to be confused with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union—Carta de los Derechos Fundamentales de la Unión Europea). In close relation with the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR (Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos, TEDH) rules on applications concerning alleged human rights violations in the 47 Council of Europe member states. All European Union member states are likewise members of the Council of Europe. Negotiations for the EU to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights are ongoing.
Perhaps two additional minor points of confusion are the fact that the EU Parliament’s seat is in Strasbourg where the Council of Europe is located, and both the Council of Europe and the European Union share the same flag (a circle of twelve gold stars on a sky blue background).
Further evidence that that these institutions are often confused, even by legal professionals, is evidenced in the fact that in a Duke University Law Library research guide on the Council of Europe, the librarians thought it necessary to warn students that “although it has a close relationship with the European Union, the Council of Europe (Conseil de l’Europe, Consejo de Europa, Europarat, Consiglio d’Europa) is not part of the EU. Be especially careful not to confuse it with an EU institution called the European Council (Conseil européen, Consejo Europeo, Europäisher Rat, Consiglio europeo).”
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