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European Union: EU Structure

Subject Guide for European Union

Principle Governing Institutions of the EU

European Parliament

The European Parliament is a representative body elected directly by the people of the European Union (EU) member countries. Representatives serve five year terms and sit by political rather than national affiliation. The principal roles of the Parliament are: to examine and adopt European legislation (a power shared equally with the Council of Europe); to approve the EU budget; to exercize democratic control over the other EU institutions, with the power to set up committees of inquiry; and to assent to important international agreements such as the accession ofnew EU Member States and trade or association magreements between the EU and other countries.

Council of the European Union

Also informally known as the EU Council, this is where national ministers from each EU country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies.

Not to be confused with:

  • European Council – another EU institution, where EU leaders meet around 4 times a year to discuss the EU’s political priorities
  • Council of Europe – not an EU body at all.

The EU Council is composed of ministers for the policy being discussed, so the membership is not fixed. Fundamentally, the EU Council serves as a forum and a working group for aligning policies among the nations of the EU.  Justice ministers work to coordinate recognition of case law between nations.  Security Ministers coordinate joint foreign and defense policy.  The EU Council signs international agreements on behalf of the EU and share responsiblity for passing the EU budget and passing laws proposed by the Commission.

European Commission

The European Commission drafts proposals for new European laws and manages their implementation when approved by the Parliament and Council. The Commission also supervises expenditures and community adherence to treaties and European laws. The 25 members are nominated by their member governments and approved by the Parliament. They serve five year terms and are assisted by a large body of civil servants.

Court of Justice

The Court of Justice ensures compliance and uniform interpretation of the laws passed by the Parliament and Council. The 25 Judges and 8 Advocates-General are appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States and hold office for a renewable term of six years.

Court of Auditors

The Court of Auditors checks that all the Union's revenue has been received and all its expenditure incurred in a lawful and regular manner and that the EU budget has been managed soundly. Established in 1977, the Court has one member from each EU country, appointed by the Council for a renewable term of six years. Even after enlargement there will still be one member per EU country but, for the sake of efficiency, the Court can set up "chambers" (with only a few members each) to adopt certain types of report or opinion.

Committee of the Regions

The Committee of the Regions (CoR) is the political assembly which provides local and regional authorities with a voice at the heart of the European Union.

Established in 1994, the CoR was set up to address two main issues. Firstly, about three quarters of EU legislation is implemented at local or regional level, so it makes sense for local and regional representatives to have a say in the development of new EU laws. Secondly, there were concerns that the public was being left behind as the EU steamed ahead. Involving the elected level of government closest to the citizens was one way of closing the gap.

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