How the European Union Works

Sarah Egan
Slide Set by , created almost 4 years ago

Adapted from the 2014 publication "How the EU works" from the European Commission, online at

Sarah Egan
Created by Sarah Egan almost 4 years ago
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Slide 2

    28 member states
    There are currently (2016) 28 member states in the European UnionThese are sovereign, independent states which pool sovereignty on some issues. The EU began in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community, with just 6 member states: Belgium, France, the Netherlands, West Germany, Italy and Luxembourg. The goal was to develop a common market for coal and steel, integrating Europe economically in order to make political and military conflict  less likely.

Slide 3

    European treaties
    1951 (takes effect 1952) Treaty of Paris establishes the European Coal and Steel Community.1957 (takes effect 1958) Treaties of Rome establish the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)1986 (takes effect 1987) The Single European Act (SEA) paved the way for the single market.1992 (takes effect 1993)  The Maastricht Treaty - The Treaty on European Union (TEU). Established the European Union, gave European parliament more authority.
    1997 (takes effect 1999)  Treaty of Amsterdam, amends existing treaties.2001 (takes effect 2003) Treaty of Nice, streamlines EU in advance of new wave of member states in 2004.2007 (takes effect 2009) Treaty of Lisbon, creates new President of the European Council and simplifies voting rules.

Slide 4

    Decision Making
    DECISION MAKING BODIESEuropean Parliament Members are elected by citizens of the member states and represent those citizens' interests.European CouncilMade up of the Heads of State or Government of the EU Member States.The Council/ Council of MinistersRepresents the governments of member states.European CommissionRepresents the interests of the EU as a whole.The commission proposes new laws and the European Parliament and Council adopt them.The Member States and the Commission then implement them.
    TYPES OF DECISIONA regulation is a law that is applicable and binding in all Member States directly. It does not need to be passed into national law by the Member States although national laws may need to be changed to avoid conflicting with the regulation.A directive is a law that binds the Member States,or a group of Member States, to achieve a particular objective. Usually, directives must be transposed into national law to become effective. A directive specifies the result to be achieved: it is up. A directive is a law that binds the Member States, to the Member States individually to decide how this is done.A decision can be addressed to Member States, groups of people, or even individuals. It is binding in its entirety. Decisions are used, for example, to rule on proposed mergers between companies.Recommendations and opinions have no binding force.

Slide 5

    European Parliament (
    Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens to represent their interests. Elections are held every 5 years and all EU citizens over 18 years old (16 in Austria) can vote. The Parliament has 751 MEPs from all 28 Member States. The official seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg (France), although the institution has three places of work: Strasbourg, Brussels (Belgium)and Luxembourg. The main meetings of the whole Parliament, known as ‘plenary sessions’, take place in Strasbourg 12 times per year. Additional plenary sessions are held in Brussels. Committee meetings are also held in Brussels.

Slide 6

    European Parliament (cont.)
    Power to LegislateThe European Parliament shares with the Council the power to legislate — to pass laws.Power of Supervision It exercises democratic supervision over all EU institutions, and in particular the Commission. It has the power to approve or reject the nomination of the President of the Commission and Commissioners, and the right to censure the Commission as a whole.Power of the Purse It shares authority with the Council over the EU budget and can therefore influence EU spending. At the end of the budget procedure, it adopts or rejects the budget in its entirety. The Parliament elects its own President for a 2½-yearterm. The President is assisted by 14 Vice-Presidents.
    The Parliament’s work is divided into two main stages:Preparing for the plenary session: this is done by the MEPs in the 20 parliamentary committees that specialise in particular areas of EU activity, e.g. the ECON Committee for Economic and Monetary Affairs. The issues for debate are also discussed by the political groups.The plenary session itself: plenary sessions, attended by all MEPs, are normally held in Strasbourg (1 week per month) and sometimes additional sessions are held in Brussels. At plenary sessions, the Parliament examines proposed legislation and votes on amendments before coming to a decision on the text as a whole. As a rule the Parliament can only take decisions when at least one-third of the MEPs are present for a vote. It normally takes decisions by a majority of votes cast. 

Slide 7

    European Council
    The European Council brings together the EU’s top political leaders, i.e. Prime Ministers and Presidents along with its President and the President of the Commission. They meet at least four times a year to give the EU as a whole general political direction and priorities. The European Council takes most of its decisions by consensus. In a number of cases, however, qualified majority applies, such as the election of its President.The European Council is assisted by the GeneralSecretariat of the Council.

Slide 8

    The Council/ Council of Ministers
    In the Council, ministers of EU Member States meet to discuss EU matters, take decisions and pass laws.Which ministers attend which Council meeting depends on the subjects on the agenda — this is known as the ‘configuration’ of the Council. If, for example, the Council is to discuss environmental issues, the meeting will be attended by the environment minister from each EU Member State and is known as the Environment Council. The same is true for the Economic and Financial Affairs Council and the Competitiveness Council, etc.The Presidency of the Council rotates between the Member States every 6 months. In the interest of continuity of Council business, the 6-monthly Presidencies work together closely in groups of three. These three-Presidency teams (‘trios’) draw upa joint programme of Council work over an 18-month period.

Slide 9

    RESPONSIBILITIES1. to pass European laws — in most fields, it legislates jointly with the European Parliament2. to coordinate the Member States’ policies, for example, in the economic field3. to develop the EU’s common foreign and security policy, based on guidelines set by the European Council4. to conclude international agreements between the EU and one or more states or international organisations5. to adopt the EU’s budget, jointly with the European Parliament.
    The Council of Ministers (cont.)
    DECISION MAKINGDecisions in the Council are taken by vote. In most cases a decision requires a qualified majority. In order for a proposal to be decided by qualified majority, it must obtain a double majority of both Member States and population. The votes in favour must be at least:55 % of the Member States, i.e. 16 of the 28 countries ANDMember States that represent 65 % of the EU’spopulation. In addition, to block a decision from being taken theremust be at least four countries voting against,representing more than 35 % of the population.

Slide 10

    The European Commission
    The Commission is the politically independent institution that represents and upholds the interests of the EU as a whole. It proposes legislation, policies and programmes of action and is responsible for implementing the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council.It also represents the Union to the outside world with the exception of the common foreign and security policy.
    APPOINTING THE COMMISSIONA new Commission is appointed every 5 years, within 6 months of the elections to the European Parliament.The procedure is as follows: The Member State governments propose a new Commission President, who must be elected by the European Parliament. The proposed Commission President, in discussion with the Member State governments, chooses the other members of the Commission. The new Parliament then interviews all proposed members and gives its opinion on the entire ‘College’. 

Slide 11

    The European Commission has four main roles: 1. to propose legislation to the Parliament andthe Council2. to manage and implement EU policies andthe budget3. to enforce European law (jointly with the Courtof Justice)4. to represent the Union around the world.
    The European Commission (cont.)
    It is up to the Commission President to decide whichCommissioner will be responsible for which policy area.The team of 28 Commissioners (also known as ‘theCollege’) meets once a week, usually on Wednesdays inBrussels. Each item on the agenda is presented by theCommissioner responsible for that policy area, and theCollege takes a collective decision on it. The Commission’s staff is organised into departments,known as directorates-general (DGs) and services (suchas the Legal Service). Each DG is responsible for aparticular policy area — for example, DG Trade and DGCompetition — and is headed by a director-general whois answerable to one of the Commissioners.

Slide 12

    European Court of Justice
    The Court of Justice of the European Union (the Court) ensures that EU legislation is interpreted and applied in the same way in each Member State.The Court has the power to settle legal disputes between Member States, EU institutions, businesses and individuals.It is divided into two main bodies: the Court of Justice, which deals with requests for preliminary rulings from national courts, certain actions for annulment and appeals, and the General Court, which rules on all actions for annulment brought by private individuals and companies.Court of Justice: One Judge from each EU country; nine Advocates General General Court: One Judge from each EU country