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European Union Legal Materials

EU Institutions

The EU has a unique institutional set-up. It currently comprises 7 European institutions, 7 EU bodies and over 30 decentralised agencies which are spread across the EU. The powers, responsibilities and procedures of its institutions arel aid down in the founding treaties of the EU: the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (1957) and the Treaty on European Union (1992). More recently, the Lisbon Treaty (2007) introduced certain amendments and additions to their competencies.  

This section provides a brief description and overview of the principal institutions of the EU, focusing on each institution's legal activities and structure. Subsequent sections contain more detailed instructions on legal research related to each institution.

European Commission

The European Commission is the primary generator of new legislation in the EU. The Commission proposes new legislation and launches new policy initiatives. The Commission also serves as the executive of the EU and enters into international agreements on behalf of the EU. In addition, the Commission is the guardian of EU policy and can initiate legal proceedings to ensure compliance with EU policy and legislation.

The commission currently consists of 27 Commissioners, one from each Member State, who form the Commission's political leadership during a 5-year term. One of these 27 members acts as the President. Each commissioner has a separate portfolio - an area of policy concern. The current Commissioner's groups are: European Green Deal, Promoting our European Way of Life, A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, An Economy that Works for People, A new push for European Democracy, A Stronger Europe in the World.

The day-to-day running of Commission business is performed by it staff and organized into departments called Directorates-General (DGs), each responsible for a specific policy area.

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union, also known as the Council of Ministers, is a separate and distinct body from the European Council described below. Composed of selected ministers or state secretaries from each Member State, the Council exercises legislative power along with the European Parliament. The Council regularly holds public debates on important issues affecting the EU.

European Parliament

Originally, the European Parliament had little political power or authority. But, after the Treaty of Lisbon came into force in December of 2009, the Parliament has robust decision making authority. The European Parliament shares legislative power equally with the Council of the European Union. This means it is empowered to adopt European laws (directives, regulations etc,). It can accept, amend or reject the content of European legislation. The Parliament has no authority to propose legislation directly, but may request the European Commission to propose legislation.

This political assembly of 705 members is directly elected by the citizens of the 27 EU Member States. Representation is roughly proportional to the population of the EU Member States. Members of the European Parliament are sometimes referred to as MEP's.

European Council

Consisting of the heads of state (presidents and prime ministers) of EU members, the European Council meets at least four times a year, usually in March, June, October and December. The President of the Council is appointed for a 2 1/2 year period by a qualified majority of the other Council members, which is renewable once. The President hosts the Council meeting. The Council does not have legislative power, but rather it develops, defines and prioritizes the main political issues for the EU. This body is distinct and separate from the Council of the European Union described above.

European Court of Justice

Consisting of 28 judges and 8 advocates general, the Court of Justice of the European Union interprets and adjudicates disputes over EU law, a separate body of law distinct from and supreme over the law of the Member States. The judges are elected by common accord among the Member States. The Court of Justice consists of two courts: the Court of Justice and the General Court.

Court of Justice: Deals with requests for preliminary rulings from national courts, certain actions for annulment and appeals. Comprises 1 judge from each EU country, plus 11 advocates general. 

General Court: Rules on actions for annulment brought by individuals, companies and, in some cases, EU governments. In practice, this means that this court deals mainly with competition law, State aid, trade, agriculture, trade marks. Comprises 2 judges from each EU country.

Committee of the Regions

Established in 1994, the Committee of Regions is a consultative body composed of 329 members who serve four year terms. Membership is roughly proportional to the populations of the Member States. The Council of the European Union appoints members proposed by Member States who are generally local, municipal or regional officials. The COR must be consulted during the legislative process regarding laws affecting trans-European infrastructure, education, culture, environment, or employment or having a particular local or regional effect. The COR issues opinions at the request of other EU institutions or can issue own-initiative opinions.

Economic and Social Committee

Created by the Treaty of Rome (1957), the Economic and Social Committee is a consultative body, consisting of 329 members, issues opinions on legislation. The members are appointed by the Council and the membership is roughly proportional to the populations of the Member States. The membership is divided into three equal groups that represent labor unions, professional bodies (accountants, physicians, attorneys, etc.) and other groups.

European Court of Auditors

The European Court of Auditors audits the accounts and implements the budget of the EU and consists of representatives from each Member States. The Court issues an annual report, special reports and opinions.

European Central Bank

Member States that meet certain economic criteria and standards join the European Central Bank. The bank creates and implements monetary policy and is responsible for the issuance of the EU's common currency - the Euro.