The structure of the EU
The structure of the European Union does not fall into any traditional legal category. It is historically unique, and its decision-making system has been constantly evolving for the past 60 years.
The Treaties are the basis for the regulations, directives and recommendations which have direct impact on the daily lives of EU citizens. These laws are the result of decisions taken by the Council (representing national Governments), the European Parliament (representing the people) and the European Commission (a body independent of EU Governments that upholds the collective European interest).
The European Council
It is the EU’s top political intuition. It consists of the Heads of State or Government of all the EU member countries, plus the President of the European Commission. It normally meets four times a year, in Brussels. It has a permanent President who is elected for a period of two and a half years and can be re-elected once.
The European Council fixes the EU’s goals and sets the course for achieving them. It provides the impetus for the EU’s main policy initiatives. Besides, it tackles current international problems via the “common foreign and security policy”.
It is also known as the Council of Ministers and is made up of ministers from the EU’s national governments. The member states take it in turns to hold the Council Presidency for a six-month period. Every Council meeting is attended by one minister, depending on the topic on the agenda, from each EU country.
The Council’s main job is to pass EU laws, a responsibility shared with the Parliament, as is the adoption of the EU budget. The Council has to agree unanimously on important questions such as taxation, amending the Treaties or allowing a new country to join the Union. In most other cases, qualified majority voting is used (if a specified number of votes are cast in favour).
The European Parliament (EP)
It is the elected body that represents the EU’s citizens and for which members are elected every five years. The major debates are held in the monthly Plenary Sessions in Strasbourg and sometimes even in Brussels. Its main Secretariat is however based in Luxembourg and Brussels.
The EP takes part in the legislative work of the EU in two ways:
Via co-decision, which is the ordinary legislative procedure. The EP shares equal responsibility with the Council for legislating in all policy areas that require a “qualified majority” vote in the Council.
Via the “assent” procedure, the EP must ratify the EU’s international agreements.
The EP shares with the Council equal responsibility for adopting the EU Budget (proposed by the Commission). It can reject the proposed Budget as it has done on several occasions. The EP can also reject or approve the European Council’s nominee for the post of Commission President. The EP also interviews each proposed member of the Commission before voting on whether to approve the new Commission as a whole. The EP also supervises the day-to-day management of EU policies by putting oral and written questions to the Commission and the Council.
The European Commission
The EC alone has the right to draw up proposals for new EU legislation, which it sends to the Council and Parliament for discussion and adoption.
The Commission consists of a Commissioner per member state (27), chosen from among the leading personalities of the member state. The members are appointed for a five-year term.
The EC enjoys a substantial degree of independence in exercising its power. It represents and defends the interests of the EU as a whole. As “Guardian of the Treaties”, it has to ensure that the regulations and directives adopted by the Council and Parliament are being implemented in the member states.
The Court of Justice
It is located in Luxembourg, is made up of one judge from each EU country, assisted by eight advocates-general. The Court's role is to ensure that Eu law is complied with and that the Treaties are correctly interpreted and applied.
The European Central Bank
It is located in Frankfurt and is responsible for managing the euro and the EU’s monetary policy. Its main task is to maintain price stability in the euro area.
The Court of Auditors
It is located in Luxembourg, was established in 1975. It has one member from each EU country. It checks that all the European Union’s revenue has been received and all is expenditure incurred in a lawful and regular manner and that the EU budget has been managed soundly.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
The Council and Commission consult the EESC. Its members represent the various economic and social interest groups that collectively make up ‘organised civil society’, and are appointed by the Council for a five-year term.
The Committee of the Regions (COR)
The COR consists of representatives of regional and local government proposed by the member states and appointed by the Council for a five-year term. The Council and Commission must consult the CoR on matters of relevance to the regions, and it may also issue opinions on its own initiative.
The European Investment Bank (EIB)
The EIB, based in Luxembourg, provides loans and guarantees to help the EU’s less developed regions and to help make businesses more competitive.