Key EU Institutions


European Council

The European Council is the EU’s supreme political body.

  • The European Council brings together the political leaders – the Presidents and Prime Ministers – of the member states.
  • The President of the European Commission is also a member.
  • At its head is the President of the European Council, currently Donald Tusk, who serves a renewable two-and-a-half-year term.
  • The European Council meets every three months, but convenes more frequently to address urgent issues.
  • It sets out general policy objectives for the EU to follow, deals with sensitive political matters, and acts as a trouble-shooter for areas of business where ministers are unable to agree.
  • After each meeting, the European Council publishes its 'conclusions'— a text agreed by all participants.
  • Although they are not binding, the European Commission follows up and may introduce new legislative proposals as a result.
1 of 6

European Commission

The European Commission is part political body and part administration, which leads to confusion about its exact nature.

  • Unlike other EU bodies, it is permanent and is therefore the institution that is most often identified with the EU.
  • The Commission has four responsibilities that are central to the EU’s operation: it proposes legislation designed to implement the objectives outlined in EU treaties; it manages EU policy and the EU budget; it acts as the guardian of the treaties, monitoring compliance with EU law and referring suspected cases of non-compliance to the Courts; and it represents the EU in external trade negotiations.
  • Political leadership comes from the College of Commissioners, which takes decisions collectively at its weekly meeting.
  • It has 28 members – one from each member state.
  • The College is headed by the Commission President, currently Jean-Claude Juncker.
  • Juncker was the chosen candidate of the European political party that won the most votes in the 2014 elections to the European Parliament. He was nominated by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament.
  • Other members of the College are selected by the Commission President from a list of nominees, forwarded by national governments, before the College is approved as a body by the European Parliament.
2 of 6

Council of Ministes/ Council of the EU

The Council of the European Union, known also as the ‘Council of Ministers’, is the first of the EU’s two law-making bodies.

Whereas the Commission represents the general interests of the European Union, the Council of the European Union represents the governments of the member states.

National delegations meet at three levels of the Council:

  • Working groups, which is where Commission proposals land first and where technical experts from the member states discuss the merits of each policy initiative
  • The Committee of Permanent Representatives, composed of the ambassadors of each of the member states to the European Union, which tackles political issues that the working groups are unable resolve
  • Ministers, meeting in twelve policy areas, who have ultimate decision-making authority. In practice, most issues are agreed before they reach ministerial level.
3 of 6

European Parliament

The European Parliament is the second of the EU’s two law-making bodies. It also has appointment and dismissal powers over the Commission and forms the budgetary authority of the EU with the Council of the European Union.

  • The European Parliament has become increasingly influential in past decades.
  • First, it is the only body that is directed elected by citizens in the member states.
  • Second, it is an independent legislature. It sits for a fixed-term, cannot be dissolved by any other body, and determines its own business agenda.
  • Third, it has a major say in the appointment of the Commission President and other members of the Commission. It can also require the resignation of the Commission.
  • In the working life of the Parliament, political parties and committees play a major role.
  • Parties – or political groups – organize the work of the Parliament and decide on the allocation of key positions.
  • The Parliament’s legislative work is undertaken in specialist committees.
  • Policy proposals are first scrutinized and debated in the relevant committee, before discussion is opened up to the full membership of the Parliament.
4 of 6


The Court of Justice of the European Union is responsible for ensuring that ‘in the interpretation and application of the Treaties the law is observed’.

It decides whether member governments or other public authorities in the member states have fulfilled their obligations under EU law, reviews the legality of EU laws, and offers on request from national courts interpretations of questions of EU law.

The Court has played a major role in defining fundamental principles governing EU powers and competencies, the EU’s authority, and relations between EU and national law.

It shares work with the General Court, which handles cases brought by private individuals, companies and some organizations, and cases relating to competition law.

Both the Court of Justice of the EU and the General Court are made up of one judge from each member states.

5 of 6

The European Court of Auditors

The European Court of Auditors plays a key role in monitoring the soundness of EU finances.

It examines whether the EU has received all revenue and whether expenditure has been incurred in a lawful maker.

It publishes an annual report on the implementation of the EU budget, which includes a Statement of Assurance on the accounts.

6 of 6


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all Global issues resources »