Annex 1: The EU system: institutions, bodies and agencies
The legislative, or law making, function of the EU is carried out by three institutions:
1. The European Parliament
The European Parliament represents the citizens of EU member states and is directly elected by them. Unlike most national parliaments, the European Parliament cannot initiate legislation but can ask the European Commission to initiate laws. It takes decisions on European laws jointly with the Council of the European Union. It also approves the EU budget.
2. The Council of the European Union, also known as the ‘Council of Ministers’
The Council of the EU represents the governments of EU member states. It is where ministers from each national government meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies. The Council of the EU takes decisions on European laws and adopts the EU budget jointly with the European Parliament. It also has a supervisory role in the EU’s international negotiations. The presidency of the Council rotates every six months among the member states.
National delegations meet at three levels of the Council: working groups, where Commission proposals are discussed by technical experts from the member states; the Committee of Permanent Representatives (composed of the ambassadors of each of the member states to the EU), which tackles political issues that the working groups are unable resolve; and ministers who have ultimate decision-making authority.
3. The European Commission
The European Commission is responsible for initiating laws (which are sent to the European Parliament and Council of the European Union for approval), enforcing the laws of the EU and managing the EU’s policies and budget. It also represents the EU in negotiations with other countries or organisations. Political leadership comes from the College of Commissioners, which has one member from each member state and is headed by the Commission President. Work on developing policy proposals is undertaken by the Commission departments.
The overall policy direction and priorities of the EU is decided by the European Council.
The European Council brings together the political leaders – the Presidents and Prime Ministers – of the member states. The President of the European Commission is also a member. Together they set the general political direction and priorities for the EU.
The work of these four EU institutions is complemented by other institutions and bodies, which include:
The Court of Justice of the European Union, which is the judicial organ of the EU
The Court of Justice of the European Union ensures that EU law is followed. It reviews the legality of the acts of the EU institutions, ensures that EU member states comply with their obligations, and interprets EU law at the request of national courts to ensure that the Treaties are correctly interpreted and applied.
The European Court of Auditors, which oversees the budgets and accounts of the EU institutions
The European Court of Auditors acts as the independent guardian of the financial interests of EU citizens. It checks that EU funds are correctly accounted for, that they are raised and spent in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations, and that they deliver value for money.
The European Ombudsman, who safeguards fundamental rights
The European Ombudsman safeguards the fundamental rights of citizens living in the EU by ensuring open and accountable administrations within the EU. The role of the Ombudsman is complementary to that of the courts.
Some bodies have the task of advising the institutions (e.g. the European Economic and Social Committee); others ensure that the institutions comply with EU rules and procedures (e.g. the European Data Protection Supervisor). The European External Action Service is an external policy body that supports the EU on foreign affairs matters.
EU agencies contribute to the implementation of EU policies or to delivery of specific tasks – for example in relation to EU programmes. They support cooperation between the EU and national governments by pooling technical and specialist expertise and knowledge from both the EU institutions and national authorities.
Further information can be found on the European Union website: Types of institutions and bodies
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