How EU Institutions work together? | NEXT STATION – BRUSSELS

EU institutions

How the European institutions work together?

We already told #Sashko about the nature and functions of the European Union. Before we proceed to explaining the relations between the separate European institutions, it is important to mention the basic difference with the well-known national state model.

The principle of separation of powers, historically suggested by Montesquieu, is applied in national states. Every country has executive, legislative and judiciary power and in the general case there is at least one institution with its respective branches corresponding to each of those powers. We should be careful when talking about the European Union and the separation of powers, because there is no clear or explicitly expressed separation of these authorities. For example, instead the EU parliament having the right to legislative initiative, which is a characteristic of each other type of Parliament, the EU Commission is the one that has this prerogative.

So now we offer you the experience of getting to know, together with #Sashko, the 7 main institutions of the EU , postulated by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

European institutions | European Parliament, European Commission, Council of the EU, European Council etc. | infographics
European institutions | European Parliament, European Commission, Council of the EU, European Council etc. | Infographic

First, we will focus on the European COUNCIL, as this is one of the newest institutions, established by the enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty. This institution sets the general political guidelines and priorities of the EU. It is often called “the Summit” as it is composed by the heads of state (only France is represented by its president) and government from each member-state, the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In other words – the Heads of the EU. Here the future actions’ goals and objectives are set as well as the agenda of the Community is prepared.

The European Council does not have any legislative functions. Generally it sits in Brussels twice every 6 months but the President could convene a meeting under special circumstances. Such a meeting was initiated with regard to the Ukrainian crisis, when EU had to come up with a consolidated statement on the matter. The link between the crisis and the European Parliament is not a direct one, but the Parliament has to comply with the guidelines and priorities for the development of the Union, outlined by the European Council.

The next institution is the COUNCIL of the EU. It is often called the Council of Ministers as it includes cabinet ministers from each member-state. It meets in ten different configurations depending on the topic being discussed. Because of the similarity of their names, the Council of the EU and European Council are often confused but we could easily remember that if the European council is the summit of the heads of states, giving the political guidelines, the Council of the EU is the institution that sets the expertise on the decisions as it includes the relevant sphere ministers of the member-states.

The Council of the EU negotiates and adopts laws together with the European Parliament, coordinates the member-state policies such as economic, fiscal (tax) and labor policies. Apart from that, it develops the foreign and security policies, concludes international agreements after the EU Parliament’s approval, and adopts the EU budged in collaboration with the EU Parliament.

Next in the list of institutions is the European COMMISSION. It is mostly defined as the executive power of the European Union. It comprises 28 Commissioners, one from each member-state. It is the institution that represents the EU and protects its interests as a whole, while monitoring the implementation of the Union’s policies. The Commission is often defined as the most federal structure of the EU as it is completely obligated to follow the Union’s principles all in all.  The most important function is the legislative initiative that gives the EC  the right to propose new legislation to the Parliament and the Council. The power of legislative initiative is what differs the Commission from the national executive institutions. The European Commission manages the EU budget and allocates the funding, enforces the EU law (together with the Court of Justice) and represents the EU on the global scale. It works in close cooperation with the European parliament. The latter hears all nominees for commissioners and candidates for the Presidency and approves the structure of the incoming European Commission. Also through its 5-year mandate the European Commission (the Commissioners and the Presidents) reports its activity before the European Parliament.

Of course, the judiciary power also has its representation within the EU and that is the COURT of Justice. Burdened with the interpretation of EU law, it ensures the uniform compliance by all member states. Its obligations closely resemble those of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court. Furthermore, the Court of Justice settles legal disputes between local governments and the institutions of the EU. It is composed of one judge from each member-state and nine “advocate generals” that support its work. The Court can be addressed by individuals, businesses or organizations that believe their rights have been violated by an EU institution. The Parliament and the Court do not collaborate that intensively, but the Court has the right to withdraw a legislation that is either not in compliance with the law, or is controversial – just as any other court.

And if #Sashko as a citizen feels his rights are
harmed or that an institution is not doing its job,
he could easily complain to the Court of Justice.

Two other principal institutions are left for us to discuss – the European Central BANK and the European Court of Auditors. The first one headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany. It works with the central banks of the member-states and together they form the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). The European Central Bank plays a leading role within the central banks of the Eurozone states as well, comprising a smaller system of banks, called the Eurosystem. Its principal goals are maintaining the financial and price stability (control over inflation), especially in countries that use the euro. Among the priority tasks of the ECB is the determination of key interest rates for the euro area and control over the money supply,as well as foreign exchange reserves management within the Eurozone, etc. ECB is famous for being one of the most independent central banks in the world, even more autonomous than the U.S. Federal Reserve. ECB, the banks of the Eurosystem, along with their management boards are completely independent in their actions and in no way they could ask for or receive instructions from other entities. Especially after the financial and debt crisis in Europe, the role of ECB has drastically grown. Even the German Constitutional Court has to soon rule out whether the Bank has overstepped the powers its been given by the Lisbon Treaty.

The last European institution we will review is the European COURT OF AUDITORS, which is located in Luxembourg. It audits the Union’s finances and has the right to investigate any person or organization that works with European funds. Since the European Commission allocates the budget funds each year, the Court of Auditors is required to draw up an annual report for the previous year, in virtue of which the Parliament decides whether to approve the way the Commission has spent the budget. Although we rarely hear about its activity or functions, we see that it plays a very important role as it traces the ways taxpayers’ money is spent.

As we understood from the post and our previous infographic, the European Union is an organization like no other in terms of structure. Since its establishment it has been planned as a community that was about to undergo a lot of changes with evolutionary impact. In this sense we should remember that the power is distributed vertically. In other words, the political decisions are taken on several levels – local/regional, national and supranational. This suggests that the European Parliament interacts not only with the European institutions, but with National Parliaments as well. Cooperation takes place under the principle of subsidiarity. This means that the decision-making on different policies should take place at the lowest possible level, the most decentralized one. The central governing body takes action when a more effective action is needed in comparison to the previously prescribed actions by lower authorities. this way the principle gives some degree of independence of the subordinate authority to the higher authority (a local authority in relation to the central government). This distribution of power among different levels of governance is a fundamental principle of the institutional structure in a federal state. Within the EU, this principle is a criterion for adjustment of the shared competences of the Union. In other words, the Union will not interfere when an issue can be resolved efficiently at a lower level – the head authority of the member-state, regional or local level. The Union intervenes when members are unable to take sufficient action in order to achieve their goals.

Did you know that…

  • It is a popular opinion that the European Union is an institution with numerous administration. For example the number of employees in the administration of the European Commission is 23000, and the citizens of the European Union are about 500 million. In comparison, the government administration of Paris with a population of about 2 million people, is 50 000. Therefore, the common belief that EU is a huge administrative machine could be doubted.
  • The European Parliament annually gives the “Sakharov” Award to individuals or organizations that have contributed to the protection of human rights worldwide.


Autor: Dimitar Stanoev
Alexandra Topchieva
Design: Tsvetelina Kalcheva
Vladimir Vasilev (senior designer)
Translation: Silviya Dineva &
Niya Koleva

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