There are seven principal governing institutions of the European Union (EU).  By agreeing to accept the European Treaties, the member states relinquished a degree of national sovereignty to the institutions of the EU.  The institutions represent both national interests and shared EU interests.  Each institution plays a part in the decision-making process and fulfills a legislative, judicial, or executive function.

The main governing institutions of the European Union include:


The European Commission

This governing body is the center of the EU's policy making process.  It proposes policy and legislation, is a unit of administration, and ensures the proper implementation of Treaty provisions and institutional decisions.  It is the executive body of the EU.  The Commission is composed of twenty Commissioners appointed by consensus among the member states and approved as a body by the European Parliament. Commissioners hold no responsibility towards individual national governments, they act solely in the interest of the EU as a whole.
For further information on the European Commission:
www.eurunion.org 
The European Union: A Guide for Americans.  Pg. 8
Weidenfeld, Werner, and Wessels, Wolfgang.  Europe: A to Z. CD-ROM
See the European Commission homepage:  www.europa.eu.int/comm

The Council


Sometimes referred to as the Council of Ministers, this governing body acts as the legislative branch of the EU.  Its responsibilities include that of enacting legislation applicable throughout the EU, and directing cooperation among member governments.  The Council consists of ministers representing the national governments of the 15 member states.  These ministers negotiate EU legislation on behalf of their member state's interest.  Depending on the subject under discussion at the Council meetings, different ministers attend.  Most decisions are made by majority vote, however some still require unanimity such as foreign policy, taxation, and environmental issues.  The presidency of the Council rotates among the member states every six months, and at the end of each term, a European Council is held.  Not to be confused with the Council, the European Council is a meeting of the Heads of State or Government of each of the 15 member states.
For further information on The Council:
www.eurunion.org
Fontaine, Pascal.  Europe in 10 Points.  Pg. 10
The European Union: A Guide for Americans.  Pg. 7
See the Council homepage: ue.eu.int/en/


The European Parliament
 
As the largest EU institution, the European Parliament (EP) has 626 members who represent the major political parties in the EU.  The EP voices the political sympathies of the citizens of the Union.  It functions mainly as a public forum for the EU, where issues of public importance are introduced and discussed, and questions are directed to the Commission and the Council.  In addition, the Parliament can amend or reject the EU budget and thus also acts as a limited leglislative body.  The members of the EP are elected to 5-year terms.
For further information on the European Parliament:
See the European Parliament homepage:  www.europarl.eu.int
The European Union: A Guide for Americans.  Pg. 7
How Does the European Union Work?  Pg. 10
Fontaine, Pascal.  Europe in 10 Points.  Pg. 10-12
Weidenfeld, Werner, and Wessels, Wolfgang.  Europe: A to Z.  CD-ROM
www.eurunion.org

The Court of Justice:

This institution acts as the EU's "Supreme Court" and plays an executive role within the Union.  It provides interpretation and enforces implementation of the treaties, by the EU institutions and the member states.  There are 15 judges on the Court, one judge from each member state, and appointed for six-year renewable terms.  Court decisions in the field of European Union law apply to EU institutions, member states, national courts, companies, and private citizens, and prevail over decisions made by national courts (The European Union: A Guide for Americans,    pg. 9).
For further information on the Court of Justice:
See the European Court of Justice homepage:  www.europa.eu.int/cj
Weidenfeld, Werner, and Wessels, Wolfgang.  Europe: A to Z.  CD-ROM
www.eurunion.org
The European Union: A Guide for Americans, pg. 9
  • Court of First Instance Set up in 1989, it has jurisdiction to handle disputes between the Commission and individuals or businesses, disputes against the Commission, and administrative disputes within institutions. 

  • For further information on the Court of First Instance:
    Fontaine, Pascal.  Europe in 10 Points, pg. 13
    www.eurunion.org
    www.europa.eu.int/cj

Court of Auditors
This court polices the use of the EU budget.  It examines the legality of receipts and expenditures and the sound financial management of the budget.  The findings of the Court are made public in annual reports.  Fifteen members are appointed for six-year terms by agreement between the Member States after consultation with the European Parliament.

For further information on the Court of Auditors:
See the Court of Auditors homepage: www.eca.eu.int/
The European Union: A Guide for Americans, pg. 9
Fontaine, Pascal.  Europe in 10 Points, pg. 13

The European Central Bank:
Together with the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) which comprises the central banks of all member states, the European Central Bank (ECB) determines and implements monetary policy in the EU countries that are members of the single currency, the Euro.  The ECB is headed by a president, a vice-president, and four more members that form the Executive Board.  The six members are appointed by agreement among EU heads of state and government, and serve eight-year terms.
 
For further information on the ECB:
The European Union: A Guide for Americans, pg. 12
www.ecb.int/
www.eurunion.org
For an explanation as to how each of the above-described institutions works, see How Does the European Union Work?  Pg. 16-23.
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Part I. EU Intro. [1] [2] [3]