Hey everyone! My name is Valerie and I am the newest bee in Beekeeper Group’s hive. I am from Austria, Europe and have been active in politics for some years in particular at the level of the European Union.
As of today I am starting a series of blogs about the European Union giving you some insights in its organizational structure and legislative processes. What are its main bodies and institutions? How does influencing public policy work in Brussels?
I hope you will enjoy reading this post and the ongoing series!
The European Union (EU) is not a federation like the United States. Nor is it simply an organization for co-operation between governments, like the United Nations. It is, in fact, unique. The countries that make up the EU (its ‘member states’) remain independent sovereign nations but they pool their sovereignty in order to gain a strength and world influence none of them could have on their own.
Pooling sovereignty means, in practice, that the member states delegate some of their decision-making powers to shared institutions they have created, so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at European level.
The European Council defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, it became an institution. Its President is Herman Van Rompuy.
The EU’s decision-making process in general and the co-decision procedure in particular involve three main institutions:
- the European Parliament, which represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them;
- the Council of the European Union, which represents the individual member states;
- the European Commission, which seeks to uphold the interests of the Union as a whole.
This ‘institutional triangle’ produces the policies and laws that apply throughout the EU. In principle, it is the Commission that proposes new laws, but it is the Parliament and Council that adopt them. The Commission and the member states then implement them, and the Commission ensures that the laws are properly taken on board.
Two other institutions have a vital part to play: the Court of Justice upholds the rule of European law, and the Court of Auditors checks the financing of the Union’s activities.
The powers and responsibilities 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 bodies that play specialized roles. Some of them are:
- 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 via the European Investment Fund;
- the European Central Bank is responsible for European monetary policy;
Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council appointed Catherine Ashton High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. She chairs the Foreign Affairs Council and conducts the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Drawing on her role as Vice-President of the European Commission, she ensures the consistency and coordination of the European Union’s external action.
So far so good about the main bodies of the EU. My next bog covers the legislative process in the EU. How are bills passed in Brussels and how can organizations influence EU policies? Stay tuned!
In the meantime I would be happy to get your feedback and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org!