The European Union
The European Union has 28, soon to be 27, Member States. It is a supranational organisation with the ability to create legislation which all members must obey. It is the primary platform for European cooperation. Knowledge of the specific details of how the EU functions is not directly relevant for most of our topics. Instead, this section will cover the actions the main EU institutions can take.
European Council – Setting the strategy
Role: Defines the EU’s general political direction and priorities;
Members: Heads of state or government from each member state, the president of the European Council and the president of the European Commission;
Actions you can ask the European Council to take:
- Decide on the direction for the EU and EU foreign policy;
- Ask the European Commission to initiate proposals for legislation.
European Parliament – The voice of the people
Role: Directly elected legislative arm of the EU;
Members: 751 directly elected members;
Actions you can ask the European Parliament to take:
- Amend and adopts the proposed legislative acts;
- Supervise other institutions;
- Ask the European Commission to propose legislation;
- Debate on international agreements.
European Commission – Promoting the common interest
Role: Executive arm of the EU that proposes laws, policies agreements and promotes the Union’s general interests; it is the political leadership of the Union;
Members: College of Commissioners, one from each member state – each commissioner is assigned a specific policy area;
Actions you can ask the European Commission to take:
- Propose legislation to Parliament and the Council;
- Represent the EU internationally;
- Negotiate international agreements;
- Implement EU policies.
Council of the European Union – The voice of the member states
Role: Deciding on policies and adopting legislation, coordinating actions among the member states; Members: Government representatives on a ministerial level from each member state;
Actions you can ask the Council of the European Union to take:
- Pass legislation together with the Parliament;
- Coordinate actions among the member states;
- Conclude international agreements.
Competences of the European Union
In some policy areas, the EU has exclusive competence, which means that decisions are taken at EU level. In other policy areas, there is shared competence between the Union and the member states. This means that if legislation is passed at EU level, then these laws have priority. If no legislation is adopted at EU level, then the individual member states may legislate at national level. Note that there is often a nuance in the overlap between these. For example, although fisheries is a shared competence, the conservation of fisheries is an exclusive competence. In all other policy areas, the decisions remain with the member states.