The institutions and bodies of the European Union (EU), located in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg, manage and coordinate the work of the EU. Since the establishment of the Union, the number, size and influence of these institutions and bodies has evolved considerably.
The European Council began in 1974 as an informal forum for discussion between heads of state or government. It soon developed a role as the body responsible for setting EU goals and priorities. In 1992 under the Treaty of Maastricht, the European Council acquired a formal status and role - to provide the impetus and determine the general policy and the priorities necessary for EU development.
In practical terms, the European Council establishes the EU's overall political direction and priorities. In addition, the European Council plays an important role in certain appointment procedures for high level EU roles. In particular, it is responsible for nominating the President of the European Commission and officially appointing the entire body of Commissioners.
Following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the European Council became one of the seven EU institutions and thereafter has a permanent President responsible for ensuring the preparation of European Council meetings and driving forward its work. The President of the European Council is elected by a qualified majority for a term of two and a half years, which is renewable once. The former Belgian Prime Minister, Herman Van Rompuy, was the first President of the European Council between 2009 and 2012, and was then re-elected for a second term until 30 November 2014. His successor, appointed to hold this position until 2016, is the former Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk.
The European Council is made up of the heads of state or government of the EU Member States, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also takes part in European Council meetings. The European Council mostly takes its decisions by consensus although in certain specific cases outlined in the treaties, it decides by unanimity or by qualified majority. The European Council meets four times a year, but may also convene extraordinary meetings when needed. The seat of the European Council is in Brussels.
Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union (or Council of Ministers or Council) is the institution where national ministers from each Member State meet regularly to coordinate European policies in their specific fields. The Council meets in different 'configurations', depending on the subject being discussed. The Economics and Finance ministers of each of the 28 Member States participate in the 'ECOFIN' Council. With ten different configurations covering each EU policy area, the Council meets regularly.
Together with the European Parliament as a co-legislator, the Council negotiates and adopts legislative texts proposed by the Commission and adopts the annual EU budget. The Council is also responsible for coordinating policies between Member States. All Council meetings are chaired by the relevant minister of the Member State holding the rotating EU presidency. The exception is the Foreign Affairs Council which is permanently chaired by the High Representative of the EU. The Council takes its decisions by a simple majority, qualified majority or unanimous vote, depending on the decision that needs to be taken and in accordance with the Treaty provisions. The Council of the European Union is based in Brussels.
The European Parliament is the institution directly elected by the citizens of EU Member States. Since the first election by direct universal suffrage in 1979, its powers and influence have continued to increase, especially under the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon.
The European Parliament is made up of representatives of the 28 Member States directly elected and called members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Elected for a five-year period, MEPs are grouped by political affinity, not nationality. The last election was held in 2014. The number of MEPs is currently 751. The number of MEPs for each country is proportionate to its population : Luxembourg has 6 MEPs.
The President of the European Parliament is elected by the MEPs for a renewable term of two and a half years. There are therefore two Presidents of the European Parliament for each parliamentary term. Since January 2012, the President of the European Parliament has been Martin Schulz (who was re-elected for a second term at the beginning of the new parliamentary term in July 2014).
The European Parliament acts as a co-legislator, sharing with the Council the power to amend, reject and adopt European legislation. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament has also been responsible for adopting the EU’s annual budget with the Council and it has the final say on the subject. The Parliament monitors how the budget is spent by the other institutions in order to ensure that the EU budget is properly implemented in accordance with EU law. In addition, the Parliament maintains close links with national parliaments.
The European Commission
The European Commission represents and upholds the interests of the EU as a whole and therefore remains independent of various national interests. The Commission has the right of initiative to propose new European legislation (directives or regulations) which is then adopted by the co-legislators, the Council and the European Parliament. It checks that laws and European policies are implemented correctly and implements the EU budget.
The Commission is made up of 28 members, including the President and Vice-Presidents, that is to say one for each Member State. The President of the European Commission is appointed for a five-year term by the European Council which also appoints the other Commissioners for a five-year term, in agreement with the nominated President. The 27 Commissioners and the President (the 'College of Commissioners') provide the Commission's political leadership. The Commissioners are appointed on the basis of recommendations made by their Member State of origin. Each Commissioner is assigned responsibility for specific policy areas by the President of the Commission. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission.
The President, Vice-Presidents and Commissioners meet once a week to discuss key issues on the EU agenda. Decisions may be taken by qualified majority, although consensus of the Commissioners is preferred according to the principle of collegiality. Decisions are thus taken collectively by the College of Commissioners, and not by each Commissioner individually.
The appointment of all Commissioners, including the President, is subject to the approval of the European Parliament. The Commission is accountable to the Parliament, which has sole power to dismiss the Commission. The current President of the Commission, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, was nominated by the European Council in June 2014 and appointed by the European Parliament in July 2014.
The Commission is based in Brussels and Luxembourg. The Commission also has offices (representations) in every Member State, including the Representation of the European Commission in Luxembourg.
Court of Justice of the European Union
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is the judicial institution of the EU and Euratom (European Atomic Energy Community). It is made up of the Court of Justice, the General Court and the Civil Service Tribunal. The CJEU interprets EU law to make sure it is applied and respected in the same way in all Member States. It also settles legal disputes between Member States and EU institutions. Individuals, companies or organisations can also bring cases before the Court if they feel their rights have been infringed by an EU institution.
The Court has 28 judges, one judge per Member State, and eight advocates-general whose job is to present impartial and public opinions on the cases brought before the Court. Each judge and advocate-general is appointed for a term of six years by mutual agreement of the 28 Member States. The Court of Justice is based in Luxembourg.
European Court of Auditors
The European Court of Auditors checks that EU funds have been raised and spent legally and have achieved value for money. Its role is to ensure that EU taxpayers get maximum value for their money. The Court of Auditors has the right to audit any person or organisation handling EU funds. The European Court of Auditors has 28 members, one member from each EU country, appointed for a six-year term (renewable).
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank (ECB) has two main purposes: to safeguard the euro and to maintain financial stability in the eurozone. The ECB, the headquarters of which are located in Frankfurt, Germany, works closely with the central banks in all the Member States.
Other institutions and bodies of the EU which carry out specialised tasks
The European External Action Service (EEAS) is the European Union's diplomatic corps. It supports the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currentlyFederica Mogherini) in conducting foreign and security policy.
The EEAS has delegations in all corners of the world which represent the EU as a whole, work on behalf of Europeans and which have a similar role to that of an embassy.
The Committee of the Regions (CoR) is an advisory body for the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. It publishes opinions on European Commission proposals and represents local and regional authorities in the European Union. The Committee of the Regions is made up of a maximum of 350 members from local or regional authorities in the 28 Member States. There are currently 5 representatives from Luxembourg on the Committee of the Regions.
The European Economic and Social Committee is an advisory body for the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. The European Economic and Social Committee was established as a forum for employers, workers, trade unionists and other EU interest groups to discuss issues regarding the single market. The European Economic and Social Committee has 344 members nominated by national governments of the Member States. The number of members from each country is proportional to the national population. Luxembourg currently has 6 members.
The European Investment Bank borrows money on the capital markets and lends it at a low interest rate to projects that aim to improve infrastructure, energy supply or environmental standards both inside the EU and in neighbouring or developing countries.
The European Ombudsman investigates complaints relating to maladministration against EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.
The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) is responsible for making sure that all EU institutions and bodies respect people’s right to privacy when processing their personal data.
The Publications Office is an interinstitutional body which acts as the publishing house of the EU institutions.
The European Personnel Selection Office sets competitive examinations for recruiting staff to work in all the EU institutions.
The European School of Administration provides training in specific areas for EU staff.