The European Parliament

The European Parliament (EP) is an assembly of the representatives of 501 million European citizens. The number of the Member of the European Parliament (MEP), who are directly elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, has reached 736 in its seventh term (2009-2014).

Each Member State holds a number of seats in proportion of its population. However, the internal organization within the EP does not depend on national citizenship but on multinational party groups. MEPs operate within the political groups in the EP without recourse to their nationality. Nowadays, alongside the seven different parliamentary groups, there are non-attached representatives who are not affiliated to any political group. The President of the EP is elected by a single majority-voting among the MEPs for two and a half year terms. Today, the Presidency of the European Parliament is ensured by Poland’s former Prime Minister Jerry Buzek, since 14th July 2009.

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the cap on the number of seats has been raised to 751 (750 MEPs + the President) with a maximum of 96 and minimum of 6 seats by Member State. The number of representatives is determined proportionally to the population of the Member State.

As all other parliaments, EP has three main roles which are passing legislation, ensuring the supervision and oversight of the executive and adoption of the EU’s budget. Within this framework, the EP examines the proposals which are presented by the Commission and participates in the legislation procedure alongside with the Council (see Decision-making procedure). The EP holds the competence of supervising all EU institutions, primarily the Commission, by addressing written and verbal questions. Last of all, the EP also has the responsibility to approve EU’s annual budget and to supervise its implementation alongside with the Council.

With its entry into force on the 1sr December 2009, the Lisbon Treaty not only increased the competences of the EP over the EU’s budget but also brought its competences in the legislation field to an equal level with those of the Council.

The European Parliament has premises in three different places: Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. For instance, the plenary sittings take place mainly in Strasbourg, but some meetings also take place in Brussels.  The Committee meetings and other general meetings are usually held in Brussels. The decisions taken by the European Parliament are open to public consultation. The meeting protocols and position papers are published on the Official Journal of the EU.

Further information can be found on the official website of the European Parliament.

•    The European Council

The European Council gathers the heads of state and government of Member States, the President of the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU. The meetings are moderated by the President of the European Council. In the meetings, which are called “the Summit” and which have been organized since 1974, the leaders discuss about crucial topics in order to determine the EU’s short and medium-term policies. The European Council, which gained a legal status in 1992, has become one of the 7 legal institutions of the EU with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. It gathers at least four times within a calendar year. In general, Foreign Ministers also participate to the meetings, which are held in Brussels by the heads of the state and government of Member States. At the end of every meeting, the Presidency Conclusions are issued.

Another important change, which was brought by the Lisbon Treaty, is the assignment of the President of the European Council for a two-and-a-half-year term by Member States. The President is selected by a qualified-majority voting and can be re-elected for a second time at the end of his/her term of duty.

Former Prime Minister of Belgium, Herman van Rompuy, in an unofficial summit gathered by the EU Heads of State and Government, was appointed as the first President of the European Council on the 19th November, 2009. Van Rompuy was appointed for the Presidency for the term which began on the 1st December 2009 until 31st May 2012.

Further information can be found on the official website of the European Council

•    Council of the European Union

This institution, also known as the Council of Ministers and the Council, is the main decision-making body within the EU. It is representing the Ministers of each Member States. Therefore, in the Council, the interests of Member States are represented. It gathers the relevant ministers of Member States upon the requests of members of the Commission or the initiative taken by the President of the Council according to the topics on the agenda. For instance, if the Council of Ministers is going to discuss topics related to agriculture and fisheries, the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers will gather under the “Council of Agriculture and Fisheries”. The meetings of the Council are prepared by the Committee (The Committee of Permanent Representatives - Comité des Representants Permanents – COREPER) comprised of the Permanent Representatives of Member States.

There are currently ten different Councils in total:

•    General Affairs Council
•    Foreign Affairs Council
•    Economic and Financial Affairs Council
•    Justice and Home Affairs Council
•    Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council
•    Competitiveness Council
•    Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council
•    Agriculture and Fisheries
•    Environment Council
•    Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council

In the Council, decisions are taken though three different methods: unanimity, majority, and qualified majority. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, it has been decided that the main procedure of voting in the Council will be made according to qualified-majority voting (in the present legal framework, for a decision to be taken, it is required have 255 votes in favor out of 345 votes, and more than half of the Member States needs to vote in favor). Even though the unanimity is still required for issues such as the common foreign and security policy and the accession of new members, the situations in which the unanimity is sought,  are exceptional cases.

In parallel to the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, as of the 1st November 2014, a “double-majority” condition will be sought in Council decisions. Within this framework, any EU decision taken will require the support of at least 55% of Members States who must also represent at least 65% of the EU's citizens and it needs also to have favorable votes from at least 15 Member. With this new system established, the importance of Member States’ has increased. For instance, whereas nowadays the United Kingdom (UK) constitutes 8 % of the 345 votes, in the new system, the representative rate of UK will increase to 13 %.

Each EU Member States in turn takes over the Presidency of the Council for a six-month term. With the Lisbon Treaty, six-month presidency system was transformed into a system in which 3 Member States would run it for an 18-month term. This system was implemented for the first time between January 2010 and July 2011 with Spain-Belgium-Hungary Presidency. The current Triple Presidency is run by Poland-Denmark-Southern Cyprus.

The main responsibilities of the Council of the Ministers can be summarized as follow:
•    Legislation ( It shares this responsibility with the EP in many areas),
•    Coordination of the general economic policies of Member States,
•    Approval of the EU budget ( It shares this responsibility with the EP),
•    Signing international agreements between the European Union and other countries or international organizations,
•    Developing EU’s common foreign and security policy based on principles guidelines determined  by the European Council,
•    Coordination of the cooperation between national courts and police forces in criminal matters.

Further information can be found on the official website of the Council of the European Union

•    The European Commission

The Commission has four fundamental responsibilities: to propose draft legislation to the EP and the Council; to draw up and implement the budget and the policies of the EU; to provide the application of the EU legislation with the European Court of Justice and to represent the EU at the international level (for instance, to negotiate agreements between EU and other countries). The Commission, unlike the Council which represents the Member States’ interests, is independent from Member States and protects the general interests of the EU as a Union. Within this framework, the members of the Commission take the oath of “impartiality” before their five year long mission begins. The Commission is politically responsible to the European Parliament (EP) for its own actions. Therefore, the EP holds the competence of dismissing the Commission from the office by issuing a motion of censure.

A candidate for the Commission’s Presidency is selected by the majority of the members of the EP. It is required that the Presidency should be determined by a qualified majority voting, thereby taking into account of the elections in the EP and presented to the EP. Therefore, the President of the Commission is assigned by the Council by a qualified majority voting.

The Council submits the members of the Commission, who are chosen by the President of the Commission among the candidates which are nominated by Member States, for the approval of the EP. The Commission as a committee, after receiving a vote of confidence from the EP, is appointed by the Council by a qualified majority voting. It is necessary to underline the fact that the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also receives a vote of confidence by the EP within this committee and performs a duty as one of the assistants of the President of the Commission.  

Recent President of the European Commission is José Manuel Barroso. The first Commission, which was presided by Barroso, took over the duty in November 2004. The pcurrent Commission, known as Second Barroso Commission, took office in 2009 and will maintain the office until the year of 2014. The current number of the members of the Commission is 27 (one member representing each country). Besides, with the regulation which was brought by the Lisbon Treaty, the number of the members of the Commission will decrease to 18, which is the two third of the Commission members. Having a headquarter in Brussels; the Commission also has offices in Luxembourg, representatives in foreign countries and delegations in the multiple capital cities of the world.  

Further information can be found on the official website of the European Commission

•    The European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice is responsible for providing legal appraisal and jurisdiction regarding the legal instruments  of the EU acquis to ensure that these laws are applied and implemented correctly by Member States in the same manner. The Court of Justice is also responsible for the settlement of legal disputes between Member States, EU institutions, corporations and individuals. The European Court of Justice’s function is limited to the interpretation of the EU competencies and their validity. It has not the competence to rule a decision in national disputes. The decisions taken by the European Court of Justice are legally binding.

The Court is comprised of 27 Judges, one from each Member State and 8 “Advocates-general”. Judges and advocates-general are appointed with common agreement between Member States for a renewable term of six-years. The European Court of Justice has three sub-courts, namely the European Court of Justice, the General Court and the Civil Service Tribunal.

Further information can be found on the official website of the European Court of Justice

•   The  European Court of Auditors

The European Court of Auditors was established in 1975 with its headquarter in Luxembourg. It is represented by 27 Members, one from each Member States appointed by the Council after consulting the EP. These members are appointed for a renewable term of six years. The main task of the Court of Auditors is to ensure the efficient use of EU budget. While fulfilling this task, it can investigate and audit all the incomes and expenses of all institutions managing EU funds. Furthermore, it is charged with the preparation of annual reports regarding the previous fiscal year which is presented to the EP and the Council. These annual reports play a critical role in the decision of the EP to approve or not the Commission’s budget proposal. The Court of Auditors also delivers an opinion before the approval of the EU financial regulations.

Further information can be found on the official website of the European Court of Auditors

•   The  European Central Bank (ECB)

The European Central Bank was established in Frankfurt, in 1998, following the Maastricht Treaty. ECB is responsible from the management of the EU’s common currency, Euro (the implementation of the foreign exchange transactions and the smooth functioning of the balance of payments). Its main priority is to maintain the price stability in the EU Members. It is mainly responsible of administrating the monetary policy within the Euro-zone.

The ECB works along with the European System of Central Banks which is composed of the ECB and the national central banks (NCBs) of all EU Member States. Within this framework, it implements the decisions of the decision-making bodies of the Euro-system, while fulfilling its duty. The ECB carries on its activities in a full independence. No other institution can give instructions to the central banks operating in the Euro System and therefore cannot interfere with the decision-making bodies of the Euro System.

Further information can be found on the official website of the European Central Bank

Other Institutions and Bodies

•    Economic and Social Committee:

It is a consultative body of the EU which not only represents the opinions of the civil society, especially those of  the employers, unions, farmers, consumers and other interest groups but also protects their interests. It plays a key role in the EU decision-making process. The Committee needs to be consulted when decisions have to be taken in the fields of economic and social policies. However, they can also issue an opinion on its own initiative about the issues that are considered of great importance.  

The Economic and Social Committee is comprised of 344 members that are appointed by Member States for four-year terms. The members of the Committee  are appointed by the Council from among the candidates designated by Member States. They are elected for a renewable term of five years.

Further information can be found on the official website of the Economic and Social Committee

•    Committee of the Regions: 

Being a consultative body as the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of Regions ensures that the regional and local points of views are taken into consideration in the EU decision-making procedure. When decisions related to local and regional government such as regional policy, environment, education, youth, transportation are taken, the Committee of must be consulted. The Committee also can express an opinion on these issues on its own initiative. The Committee of Regions, which is established by the Maastricht Treaty, in 1994, is comprised of 344 regional and local authorities (regional presidents, regional parliamentarians, mayors, etc) that are appointed by the Council with the recommendation of Member States for four-year terms.

Further information can be found on the official website of the Committee of the Regions

•    European Investment Bank (EIB):

It is an autonomous and non-profit financial institution of the Union, which provides loans for the investment projects that will contribute to the sustainable of the EU. The primary goal of the EIB is to contribute to the European integration especially by ensuring the development of economically and socially weak regions. EIB also provides financial loans to encourage the development of the Trans-European networks, the protection of the environment; to ensure the sustainability of energy sources and to improve of the competitiveness of the European industry at the international level. In addition to the projects aiming to support the underdeveloped regions of the EU, the European Investment Bank also provides financial support to the projects carried out in the Mediterranean, African, Caribbean and Pacific, Latin American and Asian countries. The EIB funds its operations mainly by borrowing on the capital markets. Member States also contribute with a capital in proportion of their economic growth. The EIB, is the main shareholder of the European Investment Fund which was established in 1994 with the aim to promote the investments made on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME). The EIB is located in Luxembourg.

Further information can be found on the official website of the European Investment Bank

•    Ombudsman:

The Ombudsman in the European Union was established by the Maastricht Treaty. It investigates the complaints against the EU institutions and bodies (with the exception of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance of the European Communities) made by EU citizens, business sector and institutions or any citizens residing  in any EU Member States and any legal entity established in the EU.  To be more précised, the Ombudsman investigates the claims of maladministration in the activities of EU institutions and bodies.

The Ombudsman is elected by the EP for a five-year term. The independence of the Ombudsman is ensured by the Treaty. It can start an investigation ex-officio and investigate the complaints which are forwarded directly or through an EP official.

Nikiforos Diamandouros, has been elected as the European Ombudsman by the European Parliament  in April 1st, 2003 and was re-elected in the elections held in 2010.

Further information can be found on the official website of the Ombudsman.

Besides these institutions and bodies, there are some other agencies in the scientific, legal and administrative areas such as the European Environment Agency, EUROPOL, Eurojust etc.

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