The European Union has a very complex system of institutions. According to Article 13 of The Treaty on European Union, these institutions are::
The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the EU and one of the largest democratic institutions of its kind in the world. A total of 751 representatives in the Parliament represent 500 million EU citizens. They are elected by voters from the 28 member states once every five years. The distribution of seats in the Parliament by the member states depends on the population of each member state, therefore, countries with a larger population number elect more representatives than smaller ones. Having been elected, representatives are organized along political lines. They form caucuses for better representation of their views. There are currently seven caucuses. Parliament’s work mainly takes place within specialized committees that prepare reports which are then voted on at the plenary session.
The seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg, where regular monthly plenary sessions (in duration of four days) are held, as required by the protocol of the Treaty of Amsterdam. However, during most of the month, preparation of legislative acts, committee meetings, and additional plenary sessions are held in Brussels, where other EU institutions are located. The Secretariat of the European Parliament is based in Luxembourg.
In the recent decades, the European Parliament has steadily gained greater power and is now a co-legislator for almost all European Union law. Together with the Council, the Parliament adopts or modifies the Commission’s proposals. The Parliament also supervises the work of the Commission and adopts the budget of the European Union. In addition to executing its official authority, the Parliament also works closely with the parliaments of the member states of the European Union.
The European Council was created in 1974 with the intention of establishing an informal forum for discussion between heads of states or governments. It soon developed into a body which determined the goals and directions to achieve these goals in all areas of the Union’s activity. The Council acquired official status in 1992 with the Maastricht Treaty, in which its role was defined as the provision of incentives and general policy guidelines for the development of the Union. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the Council became one of the seven institutions of the Union. The European Council gives the necessary impetus to the Union for its development and defines general political directions and priorities of this development. It does not perform legislative functions.
The European Council consists of the heads of states or governments of the member states, together with its President and the President of the Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy takes part in its work. When required by the agenda, members of the European Council may decide that each of them be assisted by the minister, and in the case of the President of the Commission, by a member of the Commission. The European Council meets twice every six months at the invitation of the President. Except where the Treaties provide otherwise, decisions of the European Council are made by consensus. In some cases, decisions are made by unanimity or qualified majority, in accordance with relevant provisions of the Treaty. The European Council elects a President by a qualified majority. The term of office of the president is two and a half years and may be extended once. The European Council usually meets in Brussels, in the Justus Lipsius building. The General Secretariat of the Council assists in its work.
The Council of the European Union is an EU institution in which member state governments are represented. It is unofficially referred to as the EU Council and is where national ministers and other officials from all EU countries meet in order to make laws and harmonise policies. The Council is the main decision maker in the EU – it negotiates and adopts new regulations in the EU, or, if necessary, adapts them. New EU laws are usually adopted with the consent of the European Parliament, using ordinary legislative procedures. Also, it coordinates the policies of the member states, for example, in the field of economy; concludes international agreements on behalf of the EU; develops a common foreign and security policy on the basis of strategic guidelines established by the European Council, and adopts the budget of the EU together with the European Parliament.
The Council of the European Union is a unique legislative entity, but meets in 10 different “configurations”, depending on the topic being discussed. All member states of the EU alternate during a six-month presidency of the Council. The Presidency conducts meetings at all levels: at the level of the Council, the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) and work groups. It proposes guidelines and draws up the compromises needed to make the Council adopt a decision.
The European Commission represents the interests of the entire EU. The Commission proposes new legislation to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union and ensures that EU rules are properly implemented in the member states. The term “commission” refers to 28 commissioners (each commissioner is responsible for a particular area and is at the head of the General Administration covering that area) as well as to the institution itself in a broader sense. The Commission has the right of initiative on the basis of which it proposes regulations to be adopted by the European Parliament and the EU Council (ministers of the member states). In most cases, the Commission makes proposals to fulfill its obligations in accordance with EU agreements, or if its actions have been requested by other EU institutions, countries or stakeholders. Since April 2012, EU citizens can invite the Commission to propose legislations (European Citizens’ Initiative).
Before making proposals, the Commission carries out extensive consultation in order to take into account the views of stakeholders. Assessment of the economic, social and environmental impact of a certain legislative act is in generally published together with the very suggestion.
Under the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, the adoption of legislative acts at EU level is implied only where such action is more effective than action at a national, regional and local level, and where measures of the EU do not exceed those required for the achievement of agreed goals.
When a legislative act of the EU is adopted, the Commission ensures that this act is properly applied in all member states of the EU.
The Court of Justice of the European Union interprets the EU law in order to ensure its equal application in all member states. Furthermore, it addresses legal disputes between member governments and EU institutions. Private individuals, companies or organizations may also turn to the Court if they consider that one of the EU institutions violated their rights.
The Court helps nine “independent lawyers” who present their views on cases before the Court. Their work must be public and impartial. Judges and Advocates General are appointed for a period of six years and may be reappointed. Appointments are based on an agreement between the governments of the member states.
The Court decides in the proceedings initiated before it. Five most common types of procedures apply to:
- previous issues – when national courts request of the Court to interpret certain issues related to the EU law
- action for failure to fulfill obligations – initiated against the governments of member states that have not fulfilled obligations provided by the EU law
- actions for annulment – against EU rules when it is considered that they violated the agreements of the EU or fundamental rights
- lawsuits for failure – against EU institutions for making decisions that they are required to make
- direct actions – by private individuals, companies or organizations against decisions or measures of the EU.
The European Central Bank (abbreviated ECB) was established under the Treaty on European Union. It is the central institution of the monetary system of the European Union. The European Central Bank is an essential institution of the European Monetary Union with the task of maintaining the stability of the European currency – the euro, and of monitoring the amount of money in circulation. As the central bank of the whole system of the EU, it has full legal personality and the right to make binding decisions, as well as independence of the institutions of the Union and its member states.
The bodies of the European Central Bank are:
The Executive Committee, composed of the ECB President, Vice-President and four members elected by the heads of state and the government of the Eurozone. Their term of office is eight years. The Executive Committee is responsible for implementing monetary policy set by the Governing Council and for giving instructions to the central national banks.
The Governing Council is the highest decisive instance of the ECB. It consists of six members of the Executive Board and the governors of 15 central banks of the Eurozone. It is chaired by the President of the ECB. The task of the Council is the establishment of the monetary policy of the Eurozone.
General Council consists of the President of the ECB, the Vice President and the governors of the national central banks of all EU member states. General Council has an advisory and informational function, and evaluates the suitability for joining the Eurozone.
European Court of Auditors audits the finances of the EU. Its role is to improve the financial management of the EU and report on the use of public funds. Founded in 1975 with headquarters in Luxembourg.
One of the most important tasks of the Court of Auditors is the submission of annual reports for the preceding financial year (“annual discharge”) to the European Parliament. Before deciding whether to approve the Commission’s handling of the budget, the Parliament thoroughly revises the report of the Court of Auditors. The Court of Auditors gives its opinion on the financial regulations of the EU and on the best ways of combating fraud. Auditors frequently carry out inspections in EU institutions, its member states and countries that receive assistance from the EU. While the Court of Auditors is mainly engaged in money for which the Commission is responsible, 80% of revenues and expenditures is in reality managed by national authorities.
In order to perform well, the Court of Auditors must be completely independent of other institutions, but also must stay in constant contact with them. The Court of Auditors consists of one member from each member state appointed by the Council for a term of six years (renewable). Members elect a President among themselves for a period of three years (also renewable).