EU institutions and bodies
This section will help you to better understand the main institutions and important bodies of the European Union and how they work.
The European Parliament is the elected body that represents the EU's citizens and takes part in the legislative process. Currently, the European Parliament seats 751 elected national representatives and is elected every five years.
It has steadily acquired greater influence and power through a series of treaties. They have transformed the European Parliament from a purely consultative assembly into a legislative parliament, exercising powers similar to those of the national parliaments.
Today the European Parliament, as an equal partner with the European Council, passes the majority of European laws - laws that affect the lives of Europe's citizens. The Parliament's main functions are as follows:
- It considers the Commission's proposals and is associated with the Council in the legislative process by means of various procedures (co-decision, co-operation, consultation etc.)
- It has the power of supervision over the Union's activities through its confirmation of the appointment of the Commission and through the written and oral questions it can put to the Commission and the Council
- It shares budgetary powers with the Council in voting on the annual budget and overseeing its implementation
Much of the work of the Parliament is done in its committees, which prepare reports on legislative proposals from the Commission and present them for debate by the full Parliament.
The European Commission is one of the EU's key institutions. From 1 November 2004, the Commission consisted of one Commissooner per member country.
The Commission acts with complete political independence. Its job is to uphold the interest of the EU as a whole, so it must not take instructions from any member state government. As "Guardian of the Treaties", it has to ensure that the regulations and directives adopted by the Council and Parliament are being put into effect. If they are not, the Commission can take the offending party to the Court of Justice to oblige it to comply with EU law.
The Commission is also the only institution that has the right to propose new EU legislation, and it can take action at any stage to help bring about agreement both within the Council and between the Council and Parliament.
As the EU's executive arm, the Commission carries out the decisions taken by the Council and Parliament. The Commission is largely responsible for managing the EU's common policies, such as research, development aid, regional policy etc. It also manages the budget for these policies.
The Commission is answerable to Parliament, and the entire Commission has to resign if Parliament passes a motion of censure against it.
The Commission is assisted by a civil service made up of "Directorates-General" (DGs) and services, based mainly in Brussels and Luxembourg. Unlike the secretariats of traditional international organisations, the Commission has its own financial resources and can thus act quite independently.
European Council & Council of the European Union
The European Council and the Council of the European Union have similar names and share the same buildings and staff - the General Secretariat of the Council (GSC). However, they have very different roles and membership:
- The European Council is the EU institution that defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union. It consists of the heads of state or government of the member states, together with its President and the President of the Commission.
- The Council of the EU is the institution representing the member states' governments. Also known informally as the EU Council, it is where national ministers from each EU country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies.
Each EU country in turn presides over the Council for a six-month period.
Agencies of the European Union
EU agencies are distinct bodies from the EU institutions – separate legal entities set up to perform specific tasks under EU law. There are over 40 agencies, where a few are directly linked to the work of ILGA-Europe:
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA): FRA's goal is to provide relevant institutions and authorities of the Community and its Member States with assistance and expertise on fundamental rights when implementing community law, and to support them in taking measures and formulating appropriate courses of action.
European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE): EIGE is established to contribute to and strengthen the promotion of gender equality, including gender mainstreaming in all EU policies and the resulting national policies, and the fight against discrimination based on sex, as well as to raise EU citizens’ awareness of gender equality.
European Asylum Support Office (EASO): EASO plays a key role in the concrete development of the Common European Asylum System. It was established with the aim of enhancing practical cooperation on asylum matters and helping Member States fulfil their European and international obligations to give protection to people in need. EASO acts as a centre of expertise on asylum. It also provides support to Member States whose asylum and reception systems are under particular pressure.