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EU at-a-glance

The European Union (originally called the European Economic Community) now brings together 28 countries with a total population of around half a billion people. Formed in 1957, it was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War to bring peace, stability and prosperity to Europe. For more information, see the EU's official Europa site.

Seven EU institutions:

Decentralised agencies and other bodies:

European Commission (driving force and executive body)

The Commission has four main roles:

  • Propose new legislation:
    The Commission has the "right of initiative" meaning that it is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, which it presents to the Parliament and the Council.
  • Manage and implement EU policies and budget:
    The Commission is responsible for managing and implementing the EU budget and the policies and programmes adopted by the Parliament and the Council.
  • Enforce European law:
    As "guardian of the Treaties" the Commission, together with the Court of Justice, is responsible for making sure EU law is properly applied in each of the Member States.
  • Represent the EU on the international stage:
    The Commission enables the Member States to speak "with one voice" in international forums such as the World Trade Organisation and negotiates international agreements on behalf of the EU.

It is made up of one Commissioner per Member State, appointed for 5 years. The current President is the Portuguese José Manuel Durão Barroso and the current Commission's term of office runs until 2014. The Commissioners are assisted by over 30 Directorates General (DGs) and Services, each headed by a Director General.

Council of the European Union (representing the governments of the Member States)

Also known as the Council of Ministers, the Council is the main decision-making body of the EU, bringing together the governments of the Member States. There are 10 Council configurations where, depending on the issue on the agenda, each country will be represented by the Minister responsible for that subject (foreign affairs, agriculture, environment, etc).

Since the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, the Foreign Affairs Council is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton. The High Representative is assisted by the European External Action Service (EEAS).

The Council exercises legislative and budgetary tasks with the European Parliament.

Each Member State holds the Presidency of the EU for 6 months:

List of the next Presidencies of the EU
YearFirst half-yearSecond half-year
2013IrelandLithuania
2014GreeceItaly

European Council (gives the EU its political direction)

The European Council brings together the Heads of State and Government of the 28 Member States. It gives the EU its political direction and sets its priorities. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council became a full EU institution. Herman Van Rompuy was elected as President. He chairs European Council meetings and drives forward its work on a continuous basis. He also ensures the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

European Parliament (elected by the peoples of the Member States)

The European Parliament is made up of 766 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) elected every 5 years. It has 3 main roles:

  • power to legislate: Parliament shares power to adopt, amend or reject legislation with the Council;
  • democratic supervision: MEPs can sack the Commission as a whole and exercise control by examining reports sent to it by the Commission (eg on the implementation of the budget);
  • power of the purse: the EU's annual budget is decided jointly by the Parliament and Council and the Parliament monitors how it is spent.

The Parliament currently has seven political groups, as well as some 'non-attached' Members, and 20 committees dealing with particular policy fields.

It also has 40 delegations responsible for relations with countries and regions outside the EU. One of these is responsible for relations with Canada, which regularly meets with Canadian parliamentarians in Brussels and Canada. One of the oldest Delegations established by the European Parliament (first meeting in March 1975), its meetings have generally underlined the excellent state of relations between the EU and Canada.

Court of Justice (ensuring compliance with the law)

The Court of Justice is made up of one judge from each EU country. It ensures compliance with Community law by making sure that EU legislation is interpreted and applied in the same way in each Member States and has the power to settle legal disputes between Member States, EU institutions, businesses and individuals.

Court of Auditors (controlling sound and lawful management of the EU budget)

The Court of Auditors checks that all the European Union's revenue has been received and all its expenditure incurred in a lawful and regular manner and that the EU budget has been managed soundly. It has one member from each EU country, appointed for a term of six years.

European Central Bank (responsible for monetary policy and managing the euro)

The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank for Europe's single currency, the euro. Its  main task is to maintain the euro's purchasing power and thus price stability in the euro area.

Advisory bodies

These institutions are assisted by 2 advisory bodies:

Financial bodies

Other bodies and agencies

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Date Modified:
2013-09-27