In the EU’s unique institutional set-up:
- the EU’s broad priorities are set by the European Council, which brings together national and EU-level leaders
- directly elected MEPs represent European citizens in the European Parliament
- the interests of the EU as a whole are promoted by the European Commission, whose members are appointed by national governments
- governments defend their own country’s national interests in the Council of the European Union.
The European Council sets the EU’s overall political direction -but has no powers to pass laws. Led by its President -currently Donald Tusk -and comprising national heads of state or government and the President of the Commission, it meets for a few days at a time at least twice every 6 months.
There are 3 main institutions involved in EU legislation:
- the European Parliament, which represents the EU s citizens and is directly elected by them;
- the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the individual member countries. The Presidency of the Council is shared by the member states on a rotating basis.
- the European Commission, which represents the interests of the Union as a whole.
Together, these three institutions produce through the “Ordinary Legislative Procedure” (ex “co-decision”) the policies and laws that apply throughout the EU. In principle, the Commission proposes new laws, and the Parliament and Council adopt them. The Commission and the member countries then implement them, and the Commission ensures that the laws are properly applied and implemented.
Other EU institutions
Two other institutions play vital roles:
- the Court of Justice of the EU upholds the rule of European law
- the Court of Auditors checks the financing of the EU’s activities.
The powers and responsibilities of all of these institutions are laid down in the Treaties, which are the foundation of everything the EU does. They also lay down the rules and procedures that the EU institutions must follow. The Treaties are agreed by the presidents and/or prime ministers of all the EU countries, and ratified by their parliaments.
The EU has a number of other institutions and interinstitutional bodies that play specialised roles:
- the European Central Bank is responsible for European monetary policy
- the European External Action Service (EEAS) assists the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently Federica Mogherini. She chairs the Foreign Affairs Council and conducts the common foreign and security policy, also ensuring the consistency and coordination of the EU’s external action.
- the European Economic and Social Committee represents civil society, employers and employees
- the Committee of the Regions represents regional and local authorities
- the European Investment Bank finances EU investment projects and helps small businesses through the European Investment Fund
- the European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration by EU institutions and bodies
- the European Data Protection Supervisor safeguards the privacy of people s personal data
- the Publications Office publishes information about the EU
- the European Personnel Selection Office recruits staff for the EU institutions and other bodies
- the European School of Administration provides training in specific areas for members of EU staff
- a host of specialised agencies and decentralised bodies handle a range of technical, scientific and management tasks
Agencies and other EU bodies
EU agencies are distinct bodies from the EU institutions -separate legal entities set up to perform specific tasks under EU law.
There are over 40 agencies, divided into 4 groups:
- decentralised agencies
- executive agencies
- EURATOM agencies
- European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)
Decentralised agencies carry out technical, scientific or managerial tasks that help the EU institutions make and implement policies.
They also support cooperation between the EU and national governments by pooling technical and specialist expertise from both the EU institutions and national authorities.
Decentralised agencies are set up for an indefinite period and are located across the EU.
These agencies help the European Commission manage EU programmes.
They are set up for a fixed period and must be based in the same location as the Commission (either Brussels or Luxembourg).
EURATOM agencies and bodies
These were created to support the aims of the European Atomic Energy Community Treaty (EURATOM), which are to:
- coordinate national nuclear research programmes, for peaceful purposes
- provide knowledge, infrastructure and funding for nuclear energy
- ensure sufficient and secure supplies of nuclear energy.