The European Council is an institution of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rompuy. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs, currently Catherine Ashton, takes part in its meetings.
While the European Council has no formal legislative power, it is charged under the Treaty of Lisbon with defining "the general political directions and priorities" of the Union. It is thus the Union's strategic (and crisis solving) body, acting as the collective presidency of the EU.
The meetings of the European Council, commonly referred to as EU summits, are chaired by its president and take place at least twice every six months; usually in the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the Council of the European Union in Brussels.
The European Council was established as an informal body in 1975; it became an official EU institution in 2009 when the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force.