HOME
TheInfoList



The institutions of the European Union are the seven principal decision-making bodies of the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of member states that are located primarily in Europe. Its members have a combined area of and an estimated total population of about 447million. The EU has developed an internal s ...
(EU). They are, as listed in Article 13 of the
Treaty on European Union The Treaty on European Union (2007) is one of the primary Treaties of the European Union, alongside the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The TEU forms the basis of EU law, by setting out general principles of the EU's pu ...
: * the
European Parliament The European Parliament (EP) is one of three legislative branches of the European Union and one of its seven institutions. Together with the Council of the European Union, it adopts European legislation, commonly on the proposal of the Europea ...
, * the
European Council The European Council (informally EUCO) is a collegiate body that defines the overall political directions and priorities of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of t ...
(of Heads of State or Government), * the
Council of the European Union The Council of the European Union, often referred to in the treaties and other official documents simply as the Council, and informally known as the Council of Ministers, is the third of the seven Institutions of the European Union (EU) as l ...
(of national Ministers, a Council for each area of responsibility), * the
European Commission The European Commission (EC) is the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU. Commissioners swear an oath at t ...

European Commission
, * the
Court of Justice of the European Union The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (french: Cour de justice de l'Union européenne or "''CJUE''"; Latin: Curia) is the judicial branch of the European Union (EU). Seated in the Kirchberg quarter of Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, ...
, * the
European Central Bank upright=1.2, Seat of the European Central Bank The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank of the Eurozone, a monetary union of 19 EU member states which employ the euro. Established by the Treaty of Amsterdam, the ECB is one of the w ...
and * the
Court of Auditors The European Court of Auditors (ECA) (French: ''Cour des comptes européenne'') is one of the seven institutions of the European Union (EU). It was established in 1975 in Luxembourg in order to improve EU financial management. History The ECA wa ...
. Institutions are distinct from
advisory bodies to the European UnionThe advisory bodies to the European Union are organisations that are created in primary law by the treaties that constitute the EU but which lie outside the Union's main institutional structure. These bodies have no legislative or other decision-mak ...
, and
agencies of the European Union An agency of the European Union is a decentralised body of the European Union (EU), which is distinct from the institutions. Agencies are established to accomplish specific tasks. Each agency has its own legal personality. Some answer the need to ...
.


History

Most EU institutions were created with the establishment of the
European Community The European Economic Community (EEC) was a regional organization that aimed to bring about economic integration among its member states. It was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957.Today the largely rewritten treaty continues in force as the ...
in 1958. Much change since then has been in the context of shifting the balance of power away from the council and towards the Parliament. The role of the commission has often been to mediate between the two or tip the balance. However, the commission is becoming more accountable to the Parliament: in 1999 it forced the resignation of the
Santer Commission The Santer Commission was the European Commission in office between 23 January 1995 and 15 March 1999. The administration was led by Jacques Santer (former Prime Minister of Luxembourg). The body had 20 members and oversaw the introduction of th ...
and forced a reshuffle of the proposed
Barroso Commission The Barroso Commission was the European Commission in office from 22 November 2004 until 31 October 2014. Its president was José Manuel Barroso, who presided over 27 other commissioners (one from each of the states composing the European Union, a ...
in 2004. The development of the institutions, with incremental changes from treaties and agreements, is testament to the evolution of the Union's structures without one clear "master plan". Some such as Tom Reid of the
Washington Post ''The Washington Post'' (also known as the ''Post'' and, informally, ''WaPo'') is an American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C. It is the most-widely circulated newspaper within the Washington metropolitan area, and has a large nat ...
said of the institutions that "nobody would have deliberately designed a government as complex and as redundant as the EU".


Under the Treaty of Paris

The first institutions were created at the start of the 1950s with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), based on the
Schuman declaration The Schuman Declaration was a speech made by the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, on 9 May 1950. It proposed placing French and West German production of coal and steel under a single authority that would later be o ...
, between six states. The ECSC was designed to bring the markets of coal and steel, the materials needed to wage war, under the control of a supranational authority with the aim of encouraging peace and economic development. It established the first institutions. At its core was an independent executive called the " High Authority" with supranational powers over the Community. The laws made by the Authority would be observed by a Court of Justice in order to ensure they were upheld and to arbitrate. During the negotiations, two supervisory institutions were put forward to counterbalance the power of the High Authority. The "Common Assembly" proposed by
Jean Monnet Jean Omer Marie Gabriel Monnet (; 9 November 1888 – 16 March 1979) was a French entrepreneur, diplomat, financier, administrator, and political visionary. An influential supporter of European unity, he is considered as one of the founding fathe ...

Jean Monnet
to act as a monitor, counterweight and to add democratic legitimacy was composed of 78 national parliamentarians. The second was the Council of Ministers, pushed by the smaller states also to add an intergovernmental element and harmonise national policies with those of the authority.


Establishment and changes

In 1957 the
Treaties of Rome The Treaty of Rome, or EEC Treaty (officially the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community), brought about the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC), the best known of the European Communities (EC). The treaty was signed ...
established two similar communities, creating a common market (
European Economic Community The European Economic Community (EEC) was a regional organization that aimed to bring about economic integration among its member states. It was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957.Today the largely rewritten treaty continues in force as the ...
) and promoting atomic energy co-operation (). The three institutions shared the Court of Justice and the Parliament, however, they had a separate Council and High Authority, which was called the Commission in these Communities. The reason for this is the different relationship between the Commission and Council. At the time the French government was suspicious of the supranational and wanted to limit the powers of the High Authority in the new Communities, giving the council a greater role in checking the executive. The three communities were later merged in 1967, by the
Merger Treaty The Merger Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Brussels, was a European treaty which unified the executive institutions of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community ( ...
, into the European Communities. The institutions were carried over from the European Economic Community (making the Commission of that community the direct ancestor of the current Commission). Under the Treaties of Rome, the Common Assembly (which renamed itself the Parliamentary Assembly, and then the European Parliament) was supposed to become elected. However, this was delayed by the council until 1979. Since then it gained more powers via successive treaties. The
Maastricht Treaty The Maastricht Treaty, concluded in 1992 between the 12 member states of the European Communities, is the foundation treaty of the European Union (EU). Formally the Treaty on European Union, it announced "a new stage in the process of European i ...
also gave further powers to the council by giving it a key role in the two new pillars of the EU which were based on intergovernmental principles. The 2009
Lisbon Treaty The Treaty of Lisbon (initially known as the Reform Treaty) is an international agreement that amends the two treaties which form the constitutional basis of the European Union (EU). The Treaty of Lisbon was signed by the EU member states on 1 ...
brought nearly all policy areas (including the budget) under the co-decision procedure (renamed "''ordinary legislative procedure''"), hence increasing the power of the
Parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: representing the electorate, making laws, and overseeing the government via hearings and inquiries. The ...
. The rules for the distribution of seats in the parliament were also changed to a formula system. The
High Representative The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR/VP) is the chief co-ordinator and representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) within the European Union (EU). The position is currently held by ...
merged with the
European Commissioner for External Relations The European Commissioner for External Relations was a member of the European Commission with responsibility over the Commissions external representation in the world and the European Union's (EU) Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The responsibility wa ...
and joined the commission. The appointment of the Commission President became dependent upon the last EU elections. The
Council of MinistersThe Council of Ministers is a traditional name given to the supreme executive organ in some governments. The term is usually equivalent to the word "cabinet" (Council of State is a similar term that also may refer to a Cabinet. However, the terms are ...
adopted more
qualified majority voting The procedures for voting in the Council of the European Union are described in the treaties of the European Union. The Council of the European Union (or simply "Council" or "Council of Ministers") has had its voting procedure amended by subsequen ...
and the
European Council The European Council (informally EUCO) is a collegiate body that defines the overall political directions and priorities of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of t ...
was made a distinct institution with a permanent president. The Court of Justice had some minor renaming and adjustments. In addition, the central bank became a full institution.


Overview


List

There are three political institutions which hold the executive and legislative power of the Union. The Council of the European Union represents governments, the Parliament represents citizens and the Commission represents the European interest. Essentially, the Council of the European Union, Parliament or another party place a request for legislation to the commission. The Commission then drafts this and presents it to the Parliament and the Council of the European Union, where in most cases both must give their assent. Although the exact nature of this depends upon the legislative procedure in use, once it is approved and signed by both bodies it becomes law. The commission's duty is to ensure it is implemented by dealing with the day-to-day running of the Union and taking others to Court if they fail to comply.


European Parliament

The ''European Parliament'' (EP) shares the
legislative A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. Legislatures form important parts of most governments; in the separation of powers model, they are often contrasted with th ...
and budgetary authority of the Union with the Council of the European Union (of relevant national government ministers). Its 751
members Member may refer to: * Military jury, referred to as "Members" in military jargon * Element (mathematics), an object that belongs to a mathematical set * In object-oriented programming, a member of a class ** Field (computer science), entries in a ...
are elected every five years by
universal suffrage Universal suffrage (also called universal franchise, general suffrage, and common suffrage of the common man) gives the right to vote to all adult citizens, regardless of wealth, income, gender, social status, race, ethnicity, political stance, or ...
and sit according to political allegiance. They represent nearly 500 million
citizens Citizenship is the status of a person recognized under the law of a country (and/or local jurisdiction) of belonging to thereof. In international law it is membership to a sovereign state (a country). Each state is free to determine the condit ...
(the world's second largest democratic electorate) and form the only directly elected body in the Union. Despite forming one of the two legislative chambers of the Union, it has weaker powers than the Council in some sensitive areas, and does not have
legislative initiative The right of (legislative) initiative is the constitutionally defined power to propose a new law (bill). The right of initiative is usually attributed to parliaments, which in most countries have the right to make law proposals, alone or sharing th ...
. It does, however, have powers over the Commission which the Council does not. It has been said that its democratic nature and growing powers have made it one of the most powerful legislatures in the world. The Parliament's
President President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) *President (education), a leader of a college or university *President (government title) President may also refer to: Automobiles * Nissan President, a 1966–2010 Japanese full- ...
(its speaker) is
David Sassoli David Maria Sassoli (; born 30 May 1956) is an Italian politician and journalist. He has been member of the European Parliament since 2009, and was elected its President on 3 July 2019. Journalistic career David Sassoli was born in Florence in 1 ...

David Sassoli
( S&D), who was elected from the Parliament's members in 2019.


European Council

The ''European Council'' is the group of
heads of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a stateFoakes, pp. 110–11 "he head of statebeing an embodiment of the State itself or representatitve of its international persona." in its unity and legitim ...
or
government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature, executive, and judiciary. Government is a ...
of the EU
member states A member state is a state that is a member of an international organization or of a federation or confederation. Since the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) include some members that are not sovereign states, ...
. It meets four times a year to define the Union's policy agenda and give impetus to integration. The
President of the European Council The president of the European Council is the person presiding over and driving forward the work of the European Council, as well as a principal representative of the European Union (EU) on the world stage. This institution comprises the college ...
is the person responsible for chairing and driving forward the work of the institution, which has been described as the highest political body of the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of member states that are located primarily in Europe. Its members have a combined area of and an estimated total population of about 447million. The EU has developed an internal s ...
. The current president is
Charles Michel Charles Michel (; born 21 December 1975) is a Belgian politician serving as President of the European Council since 2019. He previously served as Prime Minister of Belgium between 2014 and 2019. Michel became Minister of Development Cooperation ...
(since 1 December 2019).


Council of the European Union

The ''Council of the European Union'' (informally known as the ''Council of Ministers'' or just the ''Council'') is a body holding legislative and some limited executive powers and is thus the main decision-making body of the Union. Its
Presidency A presidency is an administration or the executive, the collective administrative and governmental entity that exists around an office of president of a state or nation. Although often the executive branch of government, and often personified by a s ...
rotates between the
states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, United States * ''Our Sta ...
every six months, but every three Presidencies now cooperate on a common programme. This body is separate from the
European Council The European Council (informally EUCO) is a collegiate body that defines the overall political directions and priorities of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of t ...
, which is a similar body, but is composed of national leaders. The council is composed of twenty-seven national ministers (one per state). However the Council meets in various forms depending upon the topic. For example, if agriculture is being discussed, the council will be composed of each national minister for agriculture. They represent their governments and are accountable to their national political systems. Votes are taken either by majority or unanimity with votes allocated according to population. In these various forms they share the legislative and budgetary power of the Parliament, and also lead the
Common Foreign and Security Policy The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is the organised, agreed foreign policy of the European Union (EU) for mainly security and defence diplomacy and actions. CFSP deals only with a specific part of the EU's external relations, which do ...
. The presidency has been held by Germany since July 2020.


European Commission

The ''European Commission'' (EC) is the executive arm of the Union. It is a body composed of one appointee from each state, currently twenty-seven, but is designed to be independent of national interests. The body is responsible for drafting all
law of the European Union European Union law is a system of rules operating within the member states of the European Union. Since the founding of the Coal and Steel Community after World War II, the EU has developed the aim to "promote peace, its values and the well-bein ...
and has the ability to propose new laws (bills). It also deals with the day-to-day running of the Union and has the duty of upholding the law and
treaties A treaty is a formal legally binding written agreement between actors in international law. It is usually entered into by sovereign states and international organizations, but can sometimes include individuals, business entities, and other leg ...
(in this role it is known as the "Guardian of the Treaties"). The commission is led by a
President President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) *President (education), a leader of a college or university *President (government title) President may also refer to: Automobiles * Nissan President, a 1966–2010 Japanese full- ...
who is nominated by the council (in practice the
European Council The European Council (informally EUCO) is a collegiate body that defines the overall political directions and priorities of the European Union. It comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states, along with the President of t ...
) and approved by Parliament. The remaining 26 Commissioners are nominated by member states, in consultation with the President, and have their portfolios assigned by the President. The Council then adopts this list of nominee-Commissioners. The council's adoption of the commission is not an area which requires the decision to be unanimous; their acceptance is arrived at according to the rules for
qualified majority voting The procedures for voting in the Council of the European Union are described in the treaties of the European Union. The Council of the European Union (or simply "Council" or "Council of Ministers") has had its voting procedure amended by subsequen ...
. The European Parliament then interviews and casts its vote upon the Commissioners. The interviews of individual nominees are conducted separately, in contrast to Parliament's vote of approval which must be cast on the commission as a whole without the ability to accept or reject individual Commissioners. Once approval has been obtained from the Parliament, the Commissioners can take office. The current President is
Ursula von der Leyen Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen (; ' Albrecht; born 8 October 1958) is a German politician and physician who has been President of the European Commission since 1 December 2019. Prior to her current position, she served in the Cabinet of Germany ...
( EPP); her commission was elected in 2019.


Court of Justice of the European Union

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (french: Cour de justice de l'Union européenne or "''CJUE''"; Latin: Curia) is the Judiciary, judicial branch of the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of member states that are located primarily in Europe. Its members have a combined area of and an estimated total population of about 447million. The EU has developed an internal s ...
(EU) and is responsible for interpreting EU law and treaties. The CJUE consists of two separate courts: the European Court of Justice, Court of Justice and the General Court (European Union), General Court. From 2005 to 2016 it also consisted of the European Union Civil Service Tribunal, Civil Service Tribunal. The CJEU is located in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg.


European Central Bank

The ''European Central Bank'' (ECB) is the central bank for the eurozone (the states which have adopted the euro) and thus controls monetary policy in that area with an agenda to maintain price stability. It is at the centre of the European System of Central Banks which comprises all EU national banks. The bank is governed by a board of national bank governors and a President. The ECB is located in Frankfurt. The current president is Christine Lagarde.


European Court of Auditors

The ''European Court of Auditors'' (ECA), despite its name, has no judicial powers. It ensures that taxpayer funds from the budget of the European Union have been correctly spent. The court provides an audit report for each financial year to the Council and Parliament. The Parliament uses this to decide whether to approve the commission's handling of the budget. The Court also gives opinions and proposals on financial legislation and anti-fraud actions. The Court of Auditors was set up in 1975. It was created as an independent institution due to the sensitivity of the issue of fraud in the Union (the anti-fraud agency, OLAF, is also built on its independence). It is composed of one member from each state appointed by the Council every six years. Every three years one of them is elected as the president of the court, who is currently Klaus-Heiner Lehne.


Acts and procedures

There are a number of types of legislation which can be passed. The strongest is a Regulation (European Union), regulation, an Act of Parliament, act or Statutory law, law which is directly applicable in its entirety. Then there are Directive (European Union), directives which bind members to certain goals which they must achieve. They do this through their own laws and hence have room to manoeuvre in deciding upon them. A European Union decision, decision is an instrument which is focused at a particular person/group and is directly applicable. Institutions may also issue European Union recommendation, recommendations and opinions which are merely non-binding declarations. The ordinary legislative procedure is used in nearly all policy areas and provides an equal footing between the two bodies. Under the procedure, the Commission presents a proposal to Parliament and the council. They then send amendments to the Council which can either adopt the text with those amendments or send back a "common position". That proposal may either be approved or further amendments may be tabled by the Parliament. If the Council does not approve those, then a "Conciliation Committee" is formed. The committee is composed of the Council members plus an equal number of MEPs who seek to agree a common position. Once a position is agreed, it has to be approved by Parliament again by an absolute majority. There are other special procedures used in sensitive areas which reduce the power of Parliament.


Comparisons

While the EU's system of governance is largely unique, elements can be compared to other models. One general observation on the nature of the distribution of powers would be that the EU resembles the Politics of Germany, federalism of Germany. There, powers are predominantly shared (states can exercise federal powers where the federation has not already exercised them) between the levels of government, and the states participate strongly with decision-making at the federal level. This is in contrast with other federations, for example the United States, where powers are clearly divided between the levels of government, and the states have little say in federal decision-making. The EU's institutional set up is also somewhat similar to the Politics of Switzerland, government of Switzerland (which, although in Europe, is not an EU member state). The Swiss consensus-driven system is seen as successfully uniting a state divided by language and religion, although the EU was not directly modelled on the Swiss system despite bearing a number of similarities. The European Commission has similarities to the Swiss Federal Council in that both have National unity government, all-party representation and are appointed on the basis of nationality rather than popularity. The President of the Federal Council rotates between its members each year, in a fashion similar to that of the EU's Council Presidency. Due to this system of presidency Swiss leaders, like those of the EU, are relatively unknown with national politics viewed as somewhat Technocracy, technocratic resulting in low voter turnout, in a similar fashion to that of the European Parliament. Other parallels include the jealously guarded powers of
states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, United States * ''Our Sta ...
, the considerable level of Languages of the European Union, translation and the choice of a lesser city as the capital. Furthermore, President of the European Union, executive power in the EU isn't concentrated in a single institution. It becomes clearer under the Lisbon Treaty with the division of the European Council as a distinct institution with a fixed President. This arrangement has been compared to the dual executive system found in the Political system of France, French republic where there is a President of France, President (the Council President) and Prime Minister of France, Prime Minister (the Commission President). However, unlike the French model, the Council President does not hold formal powers such as the ability to directly appoint and sack the other, or the ability to dissolve Parliament. Hence while the Council President may have prestige, it would lack power and while the Commission President would have power, it would lack the prestige of the former. The nature of the European Parliament is better compared with the United States House of Representatives than with the national parliaments of the European Union. This is notable in terms of the committees being of greater size and power, political parties being very decentralised and it being separated from the executive branch (most national governments operate under a parliamentary system). A difference from all other parliaments is the absence of a Parliamentary
legislative initiative The right of (legislative) initiative is the constitutionally defined power to propose a new law (bill). The right of initiative is usually attributed to parliaments, which in most countries have the right to make law proposals, alone or sharing th ...
. However, given that in most national parliaments initiatives not backed by the executive rarely succeed the value of this difference is in question. Equally, its independence and power means that the European Parliament has an unusually high success rate for its amendments in comparison to national parliaments; 80% average and 30% for controversial proposals. The composition of the council can only be compared with the quite unique and unusual composition of the German upper house, the Bundesrat of Germany, Bundesrat. Membership of the Bundesrat is limited to members of the governments of the states of Germany and can be recalled by those governments in the same manner as the EU's Council. They retain their state role while sitting in the Bundesrat and their term ends when they are recalled by their state governments (who are solely responsible for their appointment) or they cease to sit in their state government. Hence they also are not elected at the same time and the body as a whole cannot be dissolved like most parliaments. As government representatives, members do not vote as individual members but in state blocks, rather than political alignment, to their state governments' agreed line. Each state has unequal voting powers based on population, with an absolute majority required for decisions. Likewise, the presidency rotates equally between members, though each year rather than every six months like in the EU Council. However, unlike the EU's Council, the Bundesrat does not vary its composition depending on the topic being discussed. They both bear similar Bundesrat of Germany#Criticism, criticisms, because of the interference of executives in the legislative process.


Locations

The institutions are not concentrated in a single capital city; instead, their headquarters are spread across four cities: Brussels, Luxembourg (city), Luxembourg, Strasbourg and Frankfurt. The current arrangement was approved in 1992 and attached to the Treaty of Amsterdam. The treaty states that the Commission and Council would be based in Brussels, the Courts in Luxembourg City, and the Parliament in Strasbourg. However some departments of the commission and meetings of the Council take place in Luxembourg City, while the Parliament has its committees and some sessions in Brussels and its Secretariat of the European Parliament, secretariat in Luxembourg City. Of the new institutions, the Central Bank is based in Frankfurt, while the European Council is based in Brussels (but has some extraordinary meetings elsewhere). Brussels and the European Union, Brussels' hosting of institutions has made it a major centre for the EU. Together with NATO it has attracted more journalists and ambassadors than Washington, D.C. However the three-city agreement has been criticised, notably concerning the Parliament, due to the large number of people that move between the cities. The European Green Party estimated that the arrangement costs 200 million euro and 20,268 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Brussels is preferred by some due to the presence of other institutions and other groups whereas Strasbourg is supported due to its historical importance to European unity.


See also

*Bodies of the European Union * Brussels and the European Union * European Investment Bank * European External Action Service * European Civil Service * Glossary of European Union concepts, acronyms, & jargon * List of the names of bodies of the European Union in its official languages * List of presidents of European Union institutions * European sovereign-debt crisis: List of acronyms


References


External links


EU institutions and other bodies
Europa (web portal)
Official archives
of the Institutions of the European Union

on EUR-Lex {{Good article Institutions of the European Union, Politics of the European Union