The Institutions were created to give
expression to an ever-closer Union of European nations. As the Union's
responsibilities have broadened, the institutions have grown larger and
more numerous. There are 5 principal Institutions, the others are
supporting bodies. The "institutional triangle" which makes EC law is the
Parliament, Council and Commission.
The institutions are:
The Council of the European Union
European Court of Auditors
Court of Justice of the European Communities (see separate page)
The European Council ( strictly, not an
Driving the political direction of the EU is the meetings of Heads of
States, confusingly referred to as: The European Council (not to be
confused with The Council of the European Union which is a meeting of
ministers ranking below prime ministers).
Head of State - in practice Heads of Government e.g. Prime Ministers –
meet from time to time. Technically, it is not legally an 'institution' as
a matter of EC Law. These meetings of heads of states has developed by
custom. There is no equivalent anywhere in the world. It is this body
where the Member States set political objectives, co-ordinate their
national policies and resolve differences between themselves and with
other institutions. It advances the policies of the Union.
Membership – Consists of the head of state or government, the
Foreign Minister of each state and the chairman of the Commission.
Located: Meets in selected cities.
(1) European Parliament
It is the largest multinational Parliament in the world. It is the only EU
institution that is directly elected by the citizens of the Member States,
it is the democratic reflection of the will of the European Union's
citizens. Together with the Council, Parliament formulates and adopts
legislation proposed by the Commission. It approves the yearly budget of
the EU and exercises political control. It approves the composition of the
Commission and can remove it by a vote of no-confidence. Its members can
put both oral and written questions to the Council and to the Commission.
It approves new Member States. It appoints the EU's ombudsman.
Membership – 626 elected by proportional representation for 5-year
The members are distributed into groups according to their political
affiliation. A few members are without a group.
Role: It exercises democratic control over all the Community
institutions, in particular the Commission; it shares legislative power
with the Council and the Commission; it plays a decisive role in the
adoption of the budget.
Located: Strasbourg, France, where ordinary sessions are held once
a month. Extra sessions and committee meetings take place in Brussels.
(2) Council of the European Union (Council
It is the main decision making body. The Council is the where EU
legislation is made often jointly with the European Parliament and the
Commission. The Council's field of action relates to the "three pillars"
of the European Union. It is the single council for all three European
Communities (ECSC, Euratom and EC). The Council is assisted by a full time
Secretariat which prepares and oversees the smooth running of the work of
the Council. As a rule, the Council only acts on a proposal from the
Membership: Each Member State has a representative, with the power
to make binding decisions on behalf of his government. If the meeting
deals with environmental issues the environment minister attends, for
foreign policy issues the foreign secretary attends.
Role: Decision-making; co-ordinating the economic policies of the
Member States; sharing the budgetary function with the European
Located: Brussels but a number of Council meetings take place in
Luxembourg. Web site
(3) European Commission
Has the sole right to present proposals for new legislation. As the
'Guardian of Treaties' it monitors
compliance with treaties and common decisions; it takes actions against
Member State before ECJ. Is the executive body of the EU, that is, it
implements the decisions made by the Council and Parliament.
Membership: 20 appointed by governments of Member State. President
appointed for a (renewable) 2 year term.
Role: To propose legislation to Parliament and the Council; to
administer and implement Community policies; to enforce Community law
(jointly with the Court of Justice); to act as a mouthpiece for the
European Union and negotiate international agreements, mainly those
relating to trade and co-operation.
Microsoft was fined £331 million by the European Commission in March 2004
and ordered to dismantle its sales monopoly through its Windows operating
Microsoft was found in breach of EU competition rules because it had
'bundled' its own software and other services with its Windows system
making it difficult for other software makers to compete - particularly as
Microsoft withheld the technical codes which allowed Windows-based PCs to
work better with servers. This was the biggest fine the Commission has
Mon 24 Oct 2005
Role of the European
The European Commission fined four Italian tobacco processors a total of
€56 million for colluding over a period of more than six years on the
prices paid to growers and other intermediaries and on the allocation of
suppliers. Such collusion is outlawed by the EC Treaty’s ban on
restrictive business practices (Article 81).
The Commission noted that one of the cartel members which had applied for
lenient treatment committed a serious breach of its leniency
confidentiality obligations and so did not receive full immunity from
(4) Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors is the taxpayers' representative, it checks that the
European Union spends its money according to its budgetary rules and
regulations and for the purposes for which it is intended.
Membership: 15 members appointed by the Council for a renewable
term of six years.
Role Monitors the correct implementation of the EU budget, i.e. the
legality and regularity of Community income and expenditure. Ensures sound
financial management and contributes to the effectiveness and transparency
of the Community system.
(5) European Ombudsman
Every citizen of each Member State is both a national and a European
citizen. One of his rights as a European citizen is to apply to the
European Ombudsman if he is a victim of an act of "maladministration" by
the EU institutions or bodies. The Ombudsman acts as an intermediary
between the citizen and the Community authorities. He is entitled to make
recommendations to the Community institutions and to refer a matter to the
European Parliament, so that the latter can, if necessary, apply the
political consequences of a case of maladministration.
Membership: Appointed for a renewable term of five years.
Role. Deals with complaints from EU citizens. Helps to uncover
maladministration in the Community institutions and bodies. Only the Court
of Justice and the Court of First Instance - acting in their judicial role
- fall outside his jurisdiction.
* The following
are supporting bodies and not institutions.
* Economic and Social Committee
Advises the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. The
opinions it delivers (either in response to a referral or on its own
initiative) are drawn up by representatives of the various categories of
economic and social activity in the European Union. It is the European
Union's youngest institution whose birth reflects Member States' strong
desire not only to respect regional and local identities and prerogatives
but also to involve them in the development and implementation of EU
policies. Has 222 elected members. Is testimony to the value of debate and
co-operation between the economic and social partners.
* European Central Bank
Draws up fiscal policy and monitors price stability.
* European Investment Bank
Is the European Union's financing institution; a major source of finance
for economic development within the Union. Provides loans for capital
investment promoting the Union's balanced economic development and
* Committee of the Regions
Has been set up to advance regional interests and diversity.