Located in Brussels and Luxembourg, the Commission is the ‘ideological engine room’ of the whole European show. Its principal role is to propose new EU legislation. It is the guardian of the treaties and has executive authority in the implementation of the vast panoply of EU projects.
It is also the monopolies chief, overseeing and in some cases blocking mergers.
Finally, the commission acts as the European Union’s representative and negotiator on international trade issues. The commission is divided into 20 departments known as directorate-generals and employs 20,000 people.
Council of the European Union
Known as the council of ministers, this body is made up of the ministers and representatives of each member state. Its primary function is to put into effect new legislation.
In practice, it is a series of non-stop meetings between ministers from all member states. Once or twice a year, the prime ministers come together at summits to resolve long-standing problems left unresolved by junior colleagues. Decisions in the council are for the most part made by a qualified majority vote although measures in some policy areas, such as taxation, require unanimity. Treaty changes mean legislation in a range of spheres requires the approval of the European Parliament and the Council.
The council is supported by 2000 officials.
The role of the parliament in the legislative process has grown in recent years – from a much ignored consultative body to a co-decision maker in a wide range of policies. Much of this work is conducted at the committee stage in Brussels but the plenary sessions still take place in Strasbourg – largely to appease national and local interests. Parliament officials operate from Luxembourg and approve the European Union budget – or, as was recently the case, refuse to do so.
European Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors is located in Luxembourg and has a staff of 600.
It is responsible for auditing the accounts and the implementation of the budget of the European Union. The Court’s audit reports constitute an integral part of the discharge procedure of the EU budget: it was on the basis of the Court’s critical reports that Parliament refused to grant discharge and the Santer administration was effectively brought down.
It is testimony to the relative neglect of accounting and auditing that the Court was until recently a mere EU agency. Recent events in Brussels have underlined its fundamental importance in the EU edifice as a whole and totally transformed its image in European circles.
European Courts of Justice
Also housed in Luxembourg, the Court of Justice ensures the uniform interpretation of EU legislation. It is not reknowned, however, for speedy decision making.
COREPER is not an EU institution, but it is so influential that it is worth mentioning. It is the Committee of Permanent Representatives – which effectively means the ambassadors to the EU of each member state.
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank lies at the heart of the system of central banks which sets and implements monetary policy for the euro area.
European Investment Bank
The European Investment Bank is effectively the European Union’s financing institution. It provides long-term loans for capital investment with the aim of promoting balanced economic development and integration across Europe.