EU institutions

The main EU institutions

How a new EU law is proposed and debated

Who makes new laws?

  • There are many people and groups involved in suggesting new laws and how they should work.
  • Pressure groups see where particular problems are and how new laws could solve them.
  • Lobbyists represent the interests of both commercial organisations and pressure groups.

Below are the main institutions that need to agree on new EU laws . . .

European Commission

The European Commission is the organisation in Brussels that drafts the laws. It is the EU's civil service, consisting of 25,000 permanent officials who come from the member states in numbers that are roughly proportional to the size of the member state.

The European Commission is the organisation in Brussels that drafts the laws.

It consists of 25,000 permanent officials who come from the member states in numbers that are roughly proportional to the size of the member state. It is headed by a college of 27 Commissioners, one from each member state. One of these is the President of the Commission. Each commissioner is responsible for one or more of the 36 directorates-general and services such as agriculture, consumer affairs, transport, the environment, trade.

Besides drawing up laws the Commission is also responsible for ensuring that laws are applied in the member states. If member states don’t apply the law the Commission takes them to the Court of Justice that may impose penalties if it finds member states guilty.

The Commission also manages the Common Fisheries Policy and is responsible for the laws of competition as they apply to business.

European Parliament

The European Parliament has elected representatives from each of the member states. The number for each member state is broadly in proportion to size of population. There are 736 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and the UK has 72 MEPs.

How large are MEP constituencies ?

The UK, which has 72 MEPs, is divided up into 12 regions, each with between 3 and 10 MEPs who collectively represent the region. When you go to the polls you have a list of the parties that are putting up candidates. You put a cross against the party you want to vote for. Which candidates get elected depends on the number of votes each party gets and the ranking of the candidates within parties.

How do MEPs get elected ?

MEPs are elected for five year terms. The most recent election was June 2009. There are five main political groupings: the European People’s Party, the Party of European Socialists, the Alliance of Liberal Democrats for Europe, the European Green Party and the newly established European Conservatives and Reformists.

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union is the main decision-making body. There are committees of officials from each of the member states on each of the matters that the EU deals with, for example, consumer affairs, agriculture, the environment, foreign affairs, justice and home affairs.

This organisation used to be called the Council of Ministers, because it consists of government ministers from all EU member states. Now the Council of the European Union, it is the main decision-making body.

Committees

There are committees of officials from each of the member states on each of the matters that the EU deals with, for example, consumer affairs, agriculture, the environment, foreign affairs, justice and home affairs. These committees consider proposed legislation in their area of interest and assess it from the point of view of each of the member states.

The most senior committee is the Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper) on which sit the ambassadors of the member states. This committee takes decisions on major proposals. Those matters on which Coreper is unable to get agreement it refers to ministers of member states who meet as a Council of Ministers from time to time.

At least four times a year there is a meeting of heads of state or government in the European Council to determine major strategic issues and resolve any outstanding matters not dealt with at lower levels. The Presidency of the Council is held by a country not a person. It carries with it chairmanship of all committees and rotates at six monthly intervals among each of the member states in turn.

Decisions are made in one of three ways. Unanimously in some matters such as amending the Treaties of the Union or allowing a new country to join or tax matters; in a few cases by simple majority; in most other cases by qualified majority vote (QMV) with votes allocated to country roughly according to size. Under QMV, approval must be by a majority of member states and usually 62% of the EU’s population.

Other main institutions of the EU


Chart

Now look at a chart showing how proposals for new laws go through the system.

They can be amended, approved or thrown out.  All three institutions must agree.
 
Click for the chart and then come back to this page