Using role theory as its analytical basis, this article delineates and analyses the specific characteristics of the Chair in the European Union (EU). The focus is thus on the EU Council Presidency and on how expectations surrounding the office impact upon its performance as administrator, agenda manager, broker, leader and representative. The EU's institutional design is marked by a rotating Presidency, by relatively short Presidency periods and by a mix of unanimity and majority voting. These traits influence the ways in which the Chair performs its role. The major argument is, however, that existing structurally based expectations of the Presidency's role (that is, expectations of neutrality and impartiality, of effectiveness and of consensus-seeking) interact with the particular role conceptions that are brought to the office by individual member states to produce both common features and variety in role performance. Empirical illustrations are taken from recent EU Presidencies to highlight continuity and fluctuation in Presidency performances.