European Council The Council is the summit of the Heads of Government of EU nations, chaired by current President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. Based in Brussels, the Council does not legislate, but sets out general objectives and policy direction for the Union and its institutions, and gives guidance to the European Parliament. EU Laws are only passed with the support of both the Parliament and the Council.
European Parliament This consists of 751 publicly-elected members, or MEPs, that stand for five years between elections. In essence, this is the law-making branch of the Union’s institutions, discussing and voting on legislative measures proposed by the Commission, having last-instance control of the EU’s general budget and exerting power over other EU institutions – such as appointing members of the European Commission. The Parliament meets sometimes in Strasbourg, but more often in Brussels.
The Commission acts in a similar way to the civil service: it is the EU’s permanent administration body in charge of day-to-day operations. It is the only institution with the power of proposing EU laws, and is responsible for their implementation. It also drafts the EU budget and distributes funds to members. 28 Commissioners – one from each state – are elected every 5 years, with each having responsibility of managing policy in a particular area such as transport or energy. The current British representative is Lord Hill, and the president – nominated by the Commissioners – is Jean-Claude Juncker. The commission proposes laws to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
Council of the European Union
Meeting regularly to discuss new EU policies, this body consists of government ministers from each member state representing the policy area to be discussed. Alongside the European Parliament it examines the wording of new legislation proposed by the Commission and can suggest amendments. It can also vote to block proposals, and in some cases can adopt legislation proposed by the Commission without the blessing of the European Parliament.
European Central Bank
This is the main bank of the EU, based in Frankfurt. It works together with the national central banks of member states. Its objective is primarily ensuring price stability through control of the EU’s monetary policy. In other words, it controls EU inflation through managing interest rates and issuing Euro bank notes – the only body allowed to do so.
European Court of Justice Consists of 28 judges – one per member nation – meeting in Luxembourg to interpret and enforce EU law. It is the highest court in all of the member states, national courts refer questions to the ECJ on interpretations of law. Being higher than the Supreme Court, the ECJ’s rulings cannot be appealed and can affect member nations along with individuals. The ECJ also imposes fines on member states not complying fully with EU law.
European Court of Auditors The EU’s independent, external auditor - examines and advises on proper use of revenue and expenditure for any person or organisation handling EU funds. It is based in Luxembourg.