Institutions of the European Union
The European Union is built on an institutional system which is the only one of its kind in the world.
The Member States delegate sovereignty for certain matters to independent institutions which represent the interests of the Union as a whole, its member countries and its citizens. The Commission traditionally upholds the interests of the Union as a whole, while each national government is represented within the Council, and the European Parliament is directly elected by citizens. Democracy and the rule of law are therefore the cornerstones of the structure.
This "institutional triangle" is flanked by two other institutions: the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors. A further five bodies make the system complete.
Elected every five years by direct universal suffrage, the European Parliament is the expression of the democratic will of the Union's 374 million citizens. Brought together within pan-European political groups, the major political parties operating in the Member States are represented.
Parliament has three essential functions:
- It shares with the Council the power to legislate, i.e. to adopt European laws (directives, regulations, decisions). Its involvement in the legislative process helps to guarantee the democratic legitimacy of the texts adopted;
- It shares budgetary authority with the Council, and can therefore influence EU spending. At the end of the procedure, it adopts the budget in its entirety;
- It exercises democratic supervision over the Commission. It approves the nomination of Commissioners and has the right to censure the Commission. It also exercises political supervision over all the institutions.
Council of the European Union
The Council is the EU's main decision-making body. It is the embodiment of the Member States, whose representatives it brings together regularly at ministerial level.
According to the matters on the agenda, the Council meets in different compositions: foreign affairs, finance, education, telecommunications, etc.
The Council has a number of key responsibilities:
- It is the Union's legislative body; for a wide range of EU issues, it exercises that legislative power in co-decision with the European Parliament;
- It coordinates the broad economic policies of the Member States;
- It concludes, on behalf of the EU, international agreements with one or more States or international organisations;
- It shares budgetary authority with Parliament;
- It takes the decisions necessary for framing and implementing the common foreign and security policy, on the basis of general guidelines established by the European Council;
- It coordinates the activities of Member States and adopts measures in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
The European Commission embodies and upholds the general interest of the Union. The President and Members of the Commission are appointed by the Member States after they have been approved by the European Parliament.
The Commission is the driving force in the Union's institutional system:
- It has the right to initiate draft legislation and therefore presents legislative proposals to Parliament and the Council;
- As the Union's executive body, it is responsible for implementing the European legislation (directives, regulations, decisions), budget and programmes adopted by Parliament and the Council;
- It acts as guardian of the Treaties and, together with the Court of Justice, ensures that Community law is properly applied;
- It represents the Union on the international stage and negotiates international agreements, chiefly in the field of trade and cooperation.