The European Parliament represents EU citizens. It is elected directly every five years on the basis of universal suffrage and together with the Council of the EU acts as the EU legislator. First direct elections for the European Parliament were held in 1979. The latest elections were held in 2014 with the mandate of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) ending in 2019.
MEPs are elected in all Member States and the number of seats is assigned to each state proportionally to the size of its population. Pursuant to the Lisbon Treaty every Member State shall have no less than 6 or more than 96 MEPs. MEPs are grouped according to the political party affiliation, not their nationality. Political groups with the largest number of seats currently are European People's Party, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
The role and importance of the European Parliament have been increasing with the Treaty reforms and its role today can be described as a standard one for democratic parliamentarianism:
The European Parliament has three places of work - Brussels (plenary sessions and committees), Strasbourg (plenary sessions) and Luxembourg (the General Secretariat).
Photo: Credit © European Union, 2012
The European Commission has executive powers and represents the Union as a whole. It consists of 28 commissioners - one per each Member State. An area of European policy has been assigned to each commissioner, for which he/she is responsible during the mandate. The President of the European Commission is nominated by the European Council, while individual commissioners are proposed by the candidate for the Commission President. Those nominations have to be approved by the European Parliament. The Commission is responsible to the Parliament for its activities.
The Commission has a crucial role in initiating legal acts and it is responsible for the functioning of EU affairs and the implementation of European policies. Commission is often described as "the guardian of the Treaties".
It exercises its powers trough the following activities:
Currently, the President of the European Commission is Jean-Claude Juncke. Working languages in the Commission are English, French and German. Its seats are in Brussels and Luxembourg.
Council of the European Union (Council of the EU, Council of Ministers) is the major European legislator together with the Parliament. Council of the EU, in cooperation with Parliament, approves law and budget proposals sent by the Commission.
Council of the EU consists of 28 ministers, one from each Member State, and composition varies depending on the European agenda (e.g. if environmental policy is on agenda, ministers from Member States that deal with environment are making the Council of the EU).
Presidency of the Council rotates every six months. During that period, minister from Member State that is holding the Presidency is chairing meetings of the Council. The only exception is Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who is also Vice-President of the Commission according to the Lisbon Treaty.
Functions of the Council are:
Adoption of proposals in the Council requires qualified majority. Member States with larger populations acquire more votes (Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain - 29). The total number of votes is 345 and qualified majority is reached if majority of all 27 Member States casted their vote (sometimes two-third majority is required) and there is also minimum 255 votes casted. Additionally, each Member State can ask for confirmation whether majority of votes represents at least 62% of population of the EU. When Council is deciding upon sensitive issues for member states unanimity is applied. Double-majority system, that is supposed to simplify decision procedures, was introduced in 2014.
Photo: Credit © European Union, 2012
European Council consists of heads of state or prime ministers from all Member States and President of Commission under the presidency of President of the European Council. European Council has developed from informal meetings to institution based in founding Treaties that formulates general political directions and priorities. By entry into force of Lisbon Treaty in 2009 European Council officially became institution of EU.
European Council meets twice in six months or more often when is needed. Decision-making process varies from consensus, qualified majority to unanimity. Although without legislative powers, its role is crucial in agenda setting and matters of high importance.
President of the European Council is elected for two years and a half by qualified majority with possibility of reelection. Donald Tusk was elected for the President in December 2014. European Council meets in Brussels.
The Court of Justice of the European Union judicial branch within the EU and in cooperation with courts from Member States ensures uniform application and interpretation of EU law. The Court reviews legality of acts passed by EU institutions, ensures that Member States are respecting their obligations and interpret EU law on request of national courts. It consists of three courts:
European Court of Justice consists of 28 judges, one per each Member State, as well as eight 'advocates-general'. They are elected for six years term by consensus among Member States. General Court deals with cases brought forward by private individuals, companies and other organizations and cases relating to competition law.
Seat of The Court of Justice of the European Union is in Luxembourg.
Court of Auditors performs financial review of EUs finances. It can review financial transaction of any individual or organization with access to the EU funds. It has no judicial jurisdiction but it still sends annual financial report to the Parliament and the Council, which is one of the most important power it has. It consists of 28 judges, one per each Member State.
European Economic and Social Committee protects interests of different interest groups. Committee has consultative character and provides opinions to other institutions - Council, Commission, Parliament. Through this Committee interest groups (trade unions, employers, farmers etc.) have opportunity to give an opinion on the proposed legislation.
It consists of 353 interest groups across EU. Members of the Committee are divided in three groups:
Number of members from each Member State is depending on the size of population.
Committee of the Regions is consultative body that represents local and regional authorities in the EU. By giving opinions on official proposals, Committee makes possible to hear local and regional interests in decision-making process. According to the Lisbon Treaty Commission is obliged to consult the Committee when drafting a proposal that deals with topic important for this Committee. It consists of 350 members from 28 EU countries.
European Central Bank is responsible for financial and stability of prices, managing the common currency and implementing economic and monetary policies in cooperation with central banks from all Member States. European Central Bank is seated in Frankfurt.
European Investment Bank provides support for infrastructural projects in Member States, potential Member States and partner countries. European Investment Bank does that by borrowing money on the capital markets and lends it at a low interest rate for implementing projects in accordance with EU policies. Approximately 90% of resources is spent on the programmes and projects within the EU.