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EC Law - Institutions of the European Union

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The Institutions

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:

  1. European Parliament

  2. The Council of the European Union

  3. European Commission

  4. European Court of Auditors

  5. European Ombudsman

  6. Court of Justice of the European Communities (see separate page)

The European Council ( strictly, not an institution)

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 terms.

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. Web site


(2) Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers)

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 Commission.


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 Parliament.


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.


Located: Brussels.  Web site

Microsoft was fined £331 million by the European Commission in March 2004 and ordered to dismantle its sales monopoly through its Windows operating system.

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 imposed.


Mon 24 Oct 2005
Role of the European Commission

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 fines.

More information here



(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.


Located: Luxembourg. Web site


(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.


Location: Strasbourg. Web site


* 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 integration.


* Committee of the Regions

Has been set up to advance regional interests and diversity.

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