The EU’s decision-making process in general and the co-decision procedure in particular involve three main institutions: the European Commission (EC), which represents the interests of the Union as a whole; the European Parliament (EP), which represents the EU’s citizens; the Council of the European Union, which represents the individual Member States. 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 EU’s activities. 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. In addition to its institutions, the EU has a number of other bodies that play specialised roles. The most famous examples are the advisory bodies like the Economic and Social Committee that represents civil society, employers and employees; the Committee of the Regions that represents regional and local authorities; the European Investment Bank, that finances EU investment projects and the European Central Bank, which is responsible for European monetary policy.


The European Commission

 

The European Commission is the executive body of the EU. This body is the only one responsible for proposing legislation, implementing EU policy and spending EU funds, upholding the EU’s treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union. The Commission operates as a cabinet government, with 27 Commissioners. There is one Commissioner per Member State, although Commissioners are committed to acting in the interests of the Union as a whole and not taking instructions from national governments. A new Commission is appointed every five years, within six months of the elections to the European Parliament. José Manuel Durão Barroso heads the EU executive as President of the European Commission since February 2010. The Commission’s staff is divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs). Each covers a specific policy area and is headed by a Director- General who is responsible to a Commissioner. A Commissioner’s portfolio can be supported by numerous DGs. They prepare proposals for them and, if approved by a majority of Commissioners, they go forward to the EP and Council for consideration. It is the DGs that actually devise and draft legislative proposals, but these proposals become official only when ‘adopted’ by the Commission at its weekly meeting.

 
The European Commission              

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 The European Parliament
 
The European Parliament in Brussels

The EP is directly elected by the citizens of the EU to represent their interests. The latest elections, which are held every five years, took place in June 2009. The current Parliament has 736 members from all 27 EU countries. Between them, they represent all views on European integration, from the strongly pro-federalist to the openly Eurosceptic. The number of MEPs representing each Member State varies depending on the number of inhabitants; each country has a fixed number of seats, ranging from 99 for Germany to five for Malta. The EP, jointly with the Council, passes European laws in many policy areas. It supervises other EU institutions and has the power to approve or reject the nomination of commissioners, and the right to censure the Commission as a whole. In addition, Parliament’s assent is required for certain important decisions, such as allowing new countries to join the EU. The Parliament also shares with the Council authority over the EU budget and can therefore influence EU spending. At the end of the procedure, it adopts or rejects the budget in its entirety.

 - Composition
 - The EP at work


 The Council of the European Union

 

The Council is the EU’s main decision-making body. It represents the Member States, and its meetings are attended by one minister from each of the EU’s national governments. Up to four times a year the presidents and/or prime ministers of the Member States, together with the President of the European Commission, meet as the “European Council”. These ‘summit’ meetings set overall EU policy and resolve issues that could not be settled at a lower level. As a rule, the Council only acts on a proposal from the Commission, and the Commission normally has responsibility for ensuring that EU legislation, once adopted, is correctly applied. The work of the Council is prepared by the Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Member States (COREPER) and committees and WGs help the COREPER in its tasks by providing expertise in a given issue. In Brussels, each EU Member State has a permanent team (‘representation’) that represents and defends its national interest at EU level. The head of each representation is, in effect, his or her country’s ambassador to the EU. They prepare the work of the Council, and it is made up of officials from the national administrations.


The Presidency of the Council rotates every six months. In other words, each EU country in turntakes charge of the Council agenda and chairs all the meetings for a six-month period, promoting legislative and political decisions and brokering compromises between the member states. The Presidency is assisted by the General Secretariat which prepares and ensures the smooth functioning of the Council’s work at all levels.

 


«Qualified majority voting»

In some particularly sensitive areas such as common foreign and security policy, taxation, asylum and immigration policy, Council decisions have to be unanimous. In other words, each member state has the power of veto in these areas. On most issues, however, the Council takes decisions by ‘qualified majority voting’ (QMV). A qualified majority is reached if a majority of Member States (in some cases a two-thirds majority) approve; and if a minimum of 255 votes is cast in favour - which is 73.9% of the total. In addition, a Member State may ask for confirmation that the votes in favour represent at least 62% of the total population of the Union. If this is found not to be the case, the decision will not be adopted.


Presidency trios

When the Council was established, its work was minimal and the presidency rotated between each of the then six members every six months. However as the work load of the Council grew and the  membership increased, the lack of co-ordination between each successive six month presidency hindered the development of long-term priorities for the EU. In order to rectify the situation, the idea of trio presidencies was put forward where groups of three successive presidencies co-operated on a common political program. This was implemented in 2007 and formally laid down in the EU treaties in 2009 via the Treaty of Lisbon. The presidency is not a single president but rather the task is undertaken by a national government. Three successive presidencies, known as presidency trios, co-operate to provide additional continuity by sharing common political programmes. The from January 2010 to June 2011 trio consists of Spain, Belgium and Hungary. The next one will be the one formed by Poland, Denmark and Cyprus from July 2011 to December 2012.