European Council

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Official emblem of the COR[clarification needed]
Established1961 (informally)
2009 (formally)
TypeEU collective presidency
PresidentHerman Van Rompuy
SeatJustus Lipsius building, Brussels
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Official emblem of the COR[clarification needed]
Established1961 (informally)
2009 (formally)
TypeEU collective presidency
PresidentHerman Van Rompuy
SeatJustus Lipsius building, Brussels

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.[1]

While the European Council has no formal legislative power, it is charged under the Treaty of Lisbon[2] 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.[3]

The meetings of the European Council are chaired by its President and take place at least twice every six months;[1] usually in the Justus Lipsius building, the headquarters of the Council of the European Union in Brussels.[4][5][6]

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.



A traditional group photo, here taken at the royal palace in Brussels during Belgium's 1987 Presidency

The first summits of EU heads of state or government were held in February and July 1961 (in Paris and Bonn respectively). They were informal summits of the leaders of the European Community and were started due to then-French President Charles de Gaulle's resentment at the domination of supranational institutions (e.g. the European Commission) over the integration process, but petered out. The first influential summit held, after the departure of De Gaulle, was The Hague summit of 1969, which reached an agreement on the admittance of the United Kingdom into the Community and initiated foreign policy cooperation (the European Political Cooperation) taking integration beyond economics.[1][7]

The summits were only formalized in the period between 1974 and 1988. At the December summit in Paris in 1974, following a proposal from then-French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, it was agreed that more high level, political input was needed following the "empty chair crisis" and economic problems. The inaugural European Council, as it became known, was held in Dublin on 10 and 11 March 1975 during Ireland's first Presidency of the Council of the European Union. In 1987, it was included in the treaties for the first time (the Single European Act) and had a defined role for the first time in the Maastricht Treaty. At first only two meetings per year were required, now there are on average six European Councils each year. The seat of the Council was formalized in 2002, basing it in Brussels. In addition to usual European Councils, there are the occasional extraordinary meetings, as for example in 2001 when the European Council gathered to lead the EU's response to the 11 September attacks.[1][7]

The European Council at the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009

Some meetings of the European Council are seen by some as turning points in the history of the European Union. For example:[1]

As such, the European Council had already existed before it gained the status as an institution of the European Union with the entering into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. Indeed, Article 214(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community provided (before it was amended by the Treaty of Lisbon) that ‘the Council, meeting in the composition of Heads of State or Government and acting by a qualified majority, shall nominate the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission’ (emphasis added); this may be seen as an early codification of the European Council in the Treaties. In the event, Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union (amended by the Treaty of Lisbon) officially introduces the term European Council as a substitute for the phrase "Council [of the European Union] meeting in the composition of the Heads of State or Government", which was previously sometimes used in the treaties to refer to this body.[9]

The Treaty of Lisbon made the European Council a formal institution distinct from the (ordinary) Council of the EU, and created the present longer term and full-time presidency. As an outgrowth of the Council of the EU, the European Council had previously followed the same Presidency, rotating between each member state. While the Council of the EU retains that system, the European Council established, with no change in powers, a system of appointing an individual (without them being a national leader) for two-and-a-half-years.[10] Following the ratification of the treaty in December 2009, the European Council elected the then-Prime Minister of Belgium Herman Van Rompuy as its first permanent President (resigning from Belgian Prime Minister).[11]

Powers and functions

European Union
Flag of the European Union

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the European Union

The European Council is an official institution of the EU, mentioned by the Lisbon Treaty as a body which "shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development". Essentially it defines the EU's policy agenda and has thus been considered to be the motor of European integration. It does this without any formal powers, only the influence it has being composed of national leaders.[1][5] Beyond the need to provide "impetus", the Council has developed further roles; to "settle issues outstanding from discussions at a lower level", to lead in foreign policy — acting externally as a "collective Head of State", "formal ratification of important documents" and "involvement in the negotiation of the treaty changes".[6][7]

Since the institution is composed of national leaders, it gathers the executive power of the member states and has thus a great influence in high profile policy areas as for example foreign policy. It also exercises powers of appointment, such as appointment of its own President, the President of the European Commission, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the President of the European Central Bank. Moreover, the European Council influences police and justice planning, the composition of the Commission, matters relating to the organisation of the rotating Council presidency, the suspension of membership rights, and changing the voting systems through the Passerelle Clause. Although the European Council has no direct legislative power, under the "emergency brake" procedure, a state outvoted in the Council of Ministers may refer contentious legislation to the European Council. However, the state may still be outvoted in the European Council.[10][12][13] Hence with powers over the supranational executive of the EU, in addition to its other powers, the European Council has been described by some as the Union's "supreme political authority".[6][7][10][14]


The European Council consists of the heads of state or government of the member states, alongside its own President and the Commission President (non-voting). The meetings used to be regularly attended by the national foreign minister as well, and the Commission President likewise accompanied by another member of the Commission. However, since the Treaty of Lisbon, this has been discontinued, as the size of the body had become somewhat large following successive accessions of new Member States to the Union.[1][5][6]

Meetings can also include other invitees, such as the President of the European Central Bank, as required. The Secretary-General of the Council attends, and is responsible for organisational matters, including minutes. The President of the European Parliament also attends to give an opening speech outlining the European Parliament's position before talks begin.[1][5][6]

Additionally, the negotiations involve a large number of other people working behind the scenes. Most of those people, however, are not allowed to the conference room, except for two delegates per state to relay messages. At the push of a button members can also call for advice from a Permanent Representative via the "Antici Group" in an adjacent room. The group is composed of diplomats and assistants who convey information and requests. Interpreters are also required for meetings as members are permitted to speak in their own languages.[1]

The European Council meeting in Brussels in March 2011

As the composition is not precisely defined, some states which have a considerable division of executive power can find it difficult to decide who should attend the meetings. While an MEP, Alexander Stubb argued that there was no need for the President of Finland to attend Council meetings with or instead of the Prime Minister of Finland (who was head of European foreign policy).[15] In 2008, having become Finnish Foreign Minister, Stubb was forced out of the Finnish delegation to the emergency council meeting on the Georgian crisis because the President wanted to attend the high profile summit as well as the Prime Minister (only two people from each country could attend the meetings). This was despite Stubb being head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe at the time which was heavily involved in the crisis. Problems also occurred in Poland where the President of Poland and the Prime Minister of Poland were of different parties and had a different foreign policy response to the crisis.[16] A similar situation arose in Romania between President Traian Băsescu and Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu in 2007-2008 and again in 2012 with Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who both opposed the president.

President Herman Van Rompuy (left), here seen along with Commission President Barroso, took office on 1 December 2009.

Eurozone summits

A number of ad hoc meetings of Heads of State or Government of the Euro area countries were held in 2010 and 2011 to discuss the Sovereign Debt crisis. It was agreed in October 2011 that they should meet regularly twice a year (with extra meetings if needed). This will normally be at the end of a European Council meeting and according to the same format (chaired by the President of the European Council and including the President of the Commission), but usually restricted to the (currently 17) Heads of State or Government of countries whose currency is the euro.


The President of the European Council, currently Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium, is elected for a once-renewable term of two and a half years. The role as President-in-Office is in no sense (other than protocol) equivalent to an office of a head of state, merely a primus inter pares (first among equals) role among other European heads of government. The President-in-Office is primarily responsible for preparing and chairing the Council meetings, and has no executive powers other than the task of representing the Union externally. The President must report to the European Parliament after each European Council meeting.[6][14]

The post was created by the Treaty of Lisbon and was subject to a debate over its exact role. Prior to Lisbon, the Presidency rotated in accordance with the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.[6][14] The leader of the Council Presidency country can still act as President when the permanent president is absent.


With the exception for the Presidential states, German speaking states and EU offices, most European Council members are titled or referred to in English speaking media as "Prime Minister" due to the dominance of parliamentary democracy in Europe. However, in their native countries the formal and informal titles differ: for example President of the Government or Minister of State. The President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission are members of the Council, but do not take part in votes. According to the treaties, the High Representative takes part in the European Council's work and attends most meetings, but is not formally a member of the Council and likewise does not vote.

RepresentativePictureMember StateTitlePolitical partyMember sinceElectionsVotes[a 1]Share in the total
population[a 1]
Van Rompuy, HermanHerman Van RompuyVan Rompuy.jpgEuropean Union President
Non voting position
&0PresidentEuropean People's Party
National: Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V)
02009-12-011 December 2009
Barroso, José ManuelJosé Manuel BarrosoBarroso.jpgEuropean Union Commission
Non voting representation
&0PresidentEuropean People's Party
National: Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD)
02004-11-2323 November 200420092014
Faymann, WernerWerner FaymannFaymann.jpg Austria&1Federal ChancellorParty of European Socialists
National: Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ)
02008-12-022 December 200820082013?101.67%
Di Rupo, ElioElio Di RupoElioDiRupo.jpg Belgium&1First Minister /
Prime Minister
Party of European Socialists
National: Socialist Party (PS)
02011-12-066 December 201120102014?122.17%
Borisov, BoykoBoyko Borisov
Cyrillic script: Бойко Борисов
Boyko Borisov 3.jpg Bulgaria&1Minister-President[a 2]European People's Party
National: Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (ГЕРБ)
02009-07-2727 July 200920092013?101.49%
Milanović, ZoranZoran MilanovićMilanović.jpg Croatia
&1President of the Government[a 2]Party of European Socialists
National: Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP)
02011-12-2323 December 201120112016?
Christofias, DemetrisDemetris Christofias
Greek script: Δημήτρης Χριστόφιας
Christofias.jpg Cyprus&0PresidentParty of the European Left
National: Progressive Party of Working People (Α.Κ.Ε.Λ.)[a 3]
02008-02-2828 February 200820082013?40.16%
Nečas, PetrPetr NečasNečas.jpg Czech Republic&1President of the Government[a 2]Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
National: Civic Democratic Party (ODS)
02010-07-1313 July 201020102014?122.10%
Thorning-Schmidt, HelleHelle Thorning-SchmidtThorning-Schmidt.jpg Denmark&1Minister of State[a 2]Party of European Socialists
National: Social Democrats (A)
02011-10-033 October 201120112015?71.11%
Ansip, AndrusAndrus AnsipBalticfreedom 1c558 6405.Andrus Ansip.jpg Estonia&1Head Minister[a 2]European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
National: Estonian Reform Party (RE)
02005-04-1212 April 200520112015?40.27%
Katainen, JyrkiJyrki KatainenKatainen.jpg Finland&1Head Minister/
Minister of the State
[a 2]
European People's Party
National: National Coalition Party (Kok. / Saml.)
02011-06-2222 June 201120112015?71.07%
Hollande, FrançoisFrançois HollandeHollande.jpg France&0PresidentParty of European Socialists
National: Socialist Party (PS)
02012-05-1515 May 201220122017?2912.95%
Merkel, AngelaAngela MerkelAngela Merkel (2008) (cropped).jpg Germany&1Federal ChancellorEuropean People's Party
National: Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU)
02005-11-2222 November 200520092013?2916.27%
Samaras, AntonisAntonis Samaras
Greek script: Αντώνης Σαμαράς
Samaras.jpg Greece&1Prime MinisterEuropean People's Party
National: New Democracy (Ν.Δ.)
02012-06-2020 June 201220122016?122.25%
Orbán, ViktorViktor Orbán
Eastern name order, as used in Hungary: Orbán Viktor
Viktor Orbán cropped.jpg Hungary&1Minister-President[a 2]European People's Party
National: Fidesz – Hungarian Civic Union (Fidesz)
02010-05-2929 May 2010
(also in office: 1998-2002; note that Hungary has been a member state of the EU from 2004)
Kenny, EndaEnda Kenny
Irish language: Éanna
Ó Coinnigh
Kenny 2011.jpg Ireland&1Taoiseach[a 4]European People's Party
National: Tribe of the Irish (Fine Gael)
02011-03-099 March 201120112016?71.07%
Monti, MarioMario MontiMarioMonti.jpg Italy&1President of the Council of Ministers[a 2]Independent02011-11-1616 November 201120082013?2912.07%
Dombrovskis, ValdisValdis DombrovskisValdis Dombrovskis.jpg Latvia&1Minister-President[a 2]European People's Party
National: Unity (V)
02009-03-1212 March 200920112015?40.44%
Grybauskaitė, DaliaDalia GrybauskaitėGrybauskaitė.jpg Lithuania&1PresidentIndependent02009-07-1212 July 200920092014?70.65%
Juncker, Jean-ClaudeJean-Claude JunckerJuncker 2010.jpg Luxembourg&1Prime MinisterEuropean People's Party
National: Christian Social People's Party (CSV / PCS)
01995-01-2020 January 199520092014?40.10%
Gonzi, LawrenceLawrence GonziLawrence Gonzi 2009.jpg Malta&1Prime MinisterEuropean People's Party
National: Nationalist Party (PN)
02004-05-011 May 2004
(in office since 23 March 2004; note that Malta has been a member state of the EU from 1st of May 2004)
Rutte, MarkMark RutteRutte.jpg Netherlands&1Minister-President[a 2]European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party
National: People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
02010-10-1414 October 201020122016?133.31%
Tusk, DonaldDonald TuskDonald Tusk 3.jpg Poland&1President of the Council of Ministers[a 2]European People's Party
National: Civic Platform (PO)
02007-11-1616 November 200720112015?277.60%
Passos Coelho, PedroPedro Passos CoelhoPassosCoelho.jpg Portugal&1Prime MinisterEuropean People's Party
National: Social Democratic Party (PPD/PSD)
02011-06-2121 June 201120112015?122.12%
Băsescu, TraianTraian BăsescuBasescu.jpg Romania&1PresidentEuropean People's Party[a 5]
National: Officially independent[a 6]
02012-08-2727 August 2012
(also in office: 2004-2007, 2007-2012; note that Romania has been a member state of the EU from 1st of January 2007)
Fico, RobertRobert FicoRobert Fico (2010).jpg Slovakia&1President of the Government[a 2]Party of European Socialists
National: Direction – Social Democracy (Smer-SD)
02012-04-044 April 2012
(also in office:
Janša, JanezJanez JanšaJanez Janša.jpg Slovenia&1President of the Government[a 2]European People's Party
National: Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS)
02012-02-1010 February 2012
(also in office:
Rajoy, MarianoMariano RajoyRajoy2011.jpg Spain&1President of the Government[a 2]European People's Party
National: People's Party (PP)
02011-12-2121 December 201120112015?279.18%
Reinfeldt, FredrikFredrik ReinfeldtFredrik Reinfeldt on January 28, 2011.jpg Sweden&1Minister of the State[a 2]European People's Party
National: Moderate Party (M)
02006-10-066 October 200620102014?101.87%
Cameron, DavidDavid CameronDavidCameron.jpg United Kingdom&1Prime MinisterAlliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
National: Conservative and Unionist Party (Conservative)
02010-05-1111 May 201020102015?2912.43%
  1. ^ a b Used in the calculation of the qualified majority voting in cases when this voting rule applies to the European Council. The share of the total population is based on the decision of the Council of the European Union on Member States populations for 2012
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o English media dub the post as Prime Minister.
  3. ^ Party holds only observer status with the Party of the European Left
  4. ^ The Irish Prime Minister is commonly referred to as the Taoiseach in both Irish and English. See: Article 28.5.1° of the Constitution of Ireland.
  5. ^ Member of the EPP Congress in quality of EPP Head of State although officially not member of PD-L. See for instance the EPP webpage Heads of State and Government, or press releases from EPP congresses, such as the EPP press release "President Sarkozy and most European leaders to meet in Marseille", Marseille, 5 December 2011.
  6. ^ Previously Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L); supported by the PD-L during the 2009 presidential campaign; officially not affiliated during presidency according to the Constitution

ref group="a" name="QMV">Used in the calculation of the qualified majority voting in cases when this voting rule applies to the European Council. The share of the total population is based on the decision of the Council of the European Union on Member States populations for 2012

Political parties

The states of the European Union by the European party affiliations of their leaders, as of 27 August 2012
Does not account for coalitions. Key to colours is as follows;

[[File:Party affiliations in the European Council (20 June 2012).svg|thumb|400px|The states of the European Union by the European party affiliations of their leaders, as of 27 August 2012 Almost all members of the European Council are members of a political party at national level, and most of these are members of a European-level political party. These frequently hold pre-meetings of their European Council members, prior to its meetings. However, the European Council is composed in order to represent the EU's states rather than political parties and decisions are generally made on these lines, though ideological alignment can colour their political agreements and their choice of appointments (such as their President).

The table below outlines the number of leaders affiliated to each party and their total voting weight. The map to the right indicates the alignment of each individual country.

of pop.
European People's Party1518249.75%
Party of European Socialists56519.05%
Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists24114.5%
European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party2173.6%
Party of the European Left140.2%

Seat and meetings

Meetings of the European Council usually take place four times a year in Brussels. Meetings traditionally last for two days, sometimes even longer when contentious issues were on the agenda.[1] However, President Van Rompuy prefers to keep the summit to a single day.[17] Until 2002, the venue of the council meeting rotated between member states, as its location was decided by the country holding the rotating presidency. However, the 22nd declaration attached to the Treaty of Nice stated that; "As from 2002, one European Council meeting per Presidency will be held in Brussels. When the Union comprises 18 members, all European Council meetings will be held in Brussels."[18]

Between 2002 and 2004, half the councils were held in Brussels and, after the 2004 enlargement, all were. The European Council uses the same building as the Council of the European Union, i.e., the Justus Lipsius building. However, some extraordinary councils have taken place in the member state holding the Presidency, e.g., 2003 in Rome or 2005 in Hampton Court Palace. A new building (the "Europa building") is currently being built at the northern end of the adjacent historical Résidence Palace complex for use as a purpose built summit building by the European Council and the Council. It is due to be completed in 2013.[7][19]

The choice of a single seat was due to a number of factors, mostly logistical (organising the meetings became ever more onerous with the enlargement of the EU, especially for smaller countries) and security (the experience of the Belgian police in dealing with protesters (a protester in Gothenburg was shot by police)) as well as Brussels having fixed facilities for the Council and journalists at every meeting. Having a permanent seat in Brussels also emphasised that the European Council is an EU institution rather than a summit of sovereign States in the maner of the G20. Some have argued it is the de facto EU government,[7] while others underline that it is the Commission that is the EU's day-to-day government and the European Council can best be compared to a collective head of state.

In 2007, the new situation for locating meetings became a source of contention with the Portuguese government wanting to sign the Lisbon Treaty in Lisbon, Portugal. The Belgian government, however, was keen not to set a precedent and insisted that the regular end of year summit took place in Brussels as usual. This meant that after the signing, photo suit, and formal dinner, the attendees of the summit were transferred from Lisbon to Brussels.[20] Mirrored with the "travelling circus" of the European Parliament, this garnered protests from environmental groups describing the hypocrisy of demanding lower carbon emissions while flying across Europe for the same summit for political reasons.[21]

There are no current plans to hold meetings outside of Brussels, except for force majeure (for instance a strike by air traffic controllers nearly caused the January 2012 informal meeting to be switched to Luxembourg).

President's cabinet

Although the European Council is, under the terms of the Lisbon treaty, a separate institution of the EU, it does not have its own administration. The administrative support for both the European Council and its president is provided by the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union. The president does have, however, his own private office (cabinet) of close advisers. Van Rompuy chose as his chief of staff (chef de cabinet) Baron Frans van Daele, formerly Belgian ambassador to, variously, the USA, the UN, the EU and NATO and chief of staff of several Belgian foreign ministers. Also in his team are the former UK Labour MEP Richard Corbett, former Hungarian Ambassador to NATO Zoltan Martinusz, former head of the EU's economic & financial committee Odile Renaud-Basso, and Van Rompuy's long standing press officer Dirk De Backer.

Reflection Group “Horizon 2020–2030”

The European Council of December 2007 established the Reflection Group “Horizon 2020–2030” to assist the European Union in effectively anticipating and meeting challenges in the longer term horizon of 2020 to 2030 . The group of 12 is chaired by Felipe Gonzalez. It started the work in December 2008 and presented its report to the European Council in May 2010.[6][22]

Its Members were: [[File:Felipe González (2010).jpg|thumb|right|180px|Felipe González]]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Consolidated versions of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union" (PDF). 
  2. ^ Art. 13 of the Treaty on European Union
  3. ^ Gilbert, Mark (2003). Surpassing Realism - The Politics of European Integration since 1945 (page 219: Making Sense of Maastricht). Rowman & Littlefield. Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  4. ^ "European Council". Council of the European Union. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Consolidated versions of the treaty on European Union and of the treaty establishing the European Community" (PDF). Europa (web portal). 7 February 1992. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "EUROPA - The European Council: Presidency Conclusions". European Commission. Retrieved 11 December 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Stark, Christine. "Evolution of the European Council: The implications of a permanent seat" (PDF). Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  8. ^ "EU Security Policy & the role of the European Commissio". European Commission. Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2007. 
  9. ^ Wikisource: Article 2, Treaty of Lisbon
  10. ^ a b c "The Union's institutions: The European Council". Europa (web portal). 21 February 2001. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  11. ^ "BBC News — Belgian PM Van Rompuy is named as new EU president". 20 November 2009. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  12. ^ Peers, Steve (2 August 2007). "EU Reform Treaty Analysis no. 2.2: Foreign policy provisions of the revised text of the Treaty on the European Union (TEU)" (PDF). Statewatch. Retrieved 26 September 2007. 
  13. ^ Peers, Steve (2 August 2007). "EU Reform Treaty analysis 1: JHA provisions" (PDF). Statewatch. Retrieved 26 September 2007. 
  14. ^ a b c "How does the EU work". Europa (web portal). Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  15. ^ "Finnish Conservatives name Stubb foreign minister". new Room Finland. 1 April 2008. Retrieved 1 April 2008. 
  16. ^ Phillips, Leigh (29 August 2008). "Spats over who gets to go to EU summit break out in Poland, Finland". EU Observer. Retrieved 1 September 2008. 
  17. ^ Banks, Martin (18 June 2010) Cameron gives 'new style' EU summits thumbs-up, Parliament Magazine
  18. ^ "Treaty of Nice" (PDF). Europa (web portal). 21 February 2001. Archived from the original on 22 November 2006. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  19. ^ "Reconstruction of "Residence Palacel". UIA Architectes. 26 September 2005. Retrieved 12 July 2007. 
  20. ^ Mahony, Honor (13 December 2007). "EU leaders to sign up to new treaty". EU Observer. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  21. ^ ley Berry, Peter Sain (1 November 2007). "Comment: Travelling circuses are not worth the carbon". EU Observer. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "". 2011-09-13. Retrieved 2011-12-11. 

External links