The EU institutions and bodies manage and coordinate the work of the European Union and are located in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. Since the EU was founded, the institutions and bodies have changed in many ways, including their number, size, and influence.
The European Council
The European Council was established in 1974 as an informal forum for discussion between Heads of State or Government. It rapidly developed to set the goals and direction of the EU. It acquired a formal status in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which defined its function as to provide the impetus, general political guidelines and priorities for the development of the EU. It became one of the seven EU institutions after the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1st December 2009. The Lisbon Treaty also created the new position of the President of the European Council: the current President is Herman Van Rompuy. The office of the European Council is based in Brussels.
The European Council is made up of its President, the heads of State or Government of each Member State and the President of the European Commission. The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security also takes part in the work of the European Council. Decisions are generally made by consensus or, where Treaties provide for it, unanimity. It meets at least four times a year, though special meetings can be called. During the course of Ireland’s Presidency there will be four European Council meetings.
The Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union (or Council of Ministers) is the institution where national Ministers from each Member State meet regularly to formulate EU policy in relation to their respective sectoral portfolios. For example, the ECOFIN Council is attended by the Economic and Finance Ministers from all 27 Member States. The Council meets regularly and covers a wide range of policy areas in its 10 configurations.
The Council, working in conjunction with the European Parliament, reviews and agrees legislation proposed by the Commission, as well as the EU’s annual budget. It also helps coordinate Member State polices and develops the foreign and security policy of the Union. All Council meetings are chaired by the relevant Minister from the Member State which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council which is permanently chaired by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security. The Council of the European Union is based in Brussels.
The European Parliament
The European Parliament is the directly elected representation of the citizens of EU Member States. Since1979, when the first direct elections took place, it has steadily increased in power and influence, including under the Lisbon Treaty of 2009.
The European Parliament is made up of directly elected representatives from all 27 Member States, called MEPs (Members of the European Parliament). MEPs are not grouped by nationality but by political groups, and are elected every 5 years. The most recent elections took place in 2009. At present the number of MEPs is 754, but under the terms of the Treaty of Lisbon it will be capped at 750 members plus the President after the next elections. The number of MEPs per Member State is proportional to population: Ireland has 12 MEPs.
The President of the European Parliament is elected by fellow MEPs. The term of office is two and half years: in one EP mandate there are two Presidents. The current President, Martin Schulz, began his term in January 2012.
The European Parliament has legislative powers which it shares with the Council, amending, rejecting and adopting European legislation. It also has responsibility for adopting the EU’s annual budget: under the Treaty of Lisbon it shares this task with the Council, but the Parliament has the final say. It has supervisory powers, overseeing other institutions to ensure the proper use of the EU budget and implementation of EU law. It maintains close links with national parliaments.
The European Commission
The European Commission represents the interests of the EU as a whole. It does not have legislative power, but has the right of initiative to propose laws for adoption by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. It also monitors the implementation of European policy and legislation, and manages the EU’s budget.
The term “Commission” refers both to the College of 27 Commissioners, and to the wider institution (in effect the EU’s civil service). The President of the European Commission (2010 - 2014) is Jose Manuel Barroso. The President of the Commission is elected for a five year term and chooses the Commissioners from lists put forward by each Member State: the choice of Commissioners is subject to the approval of the European Parliament. Each Commissioner is given responsibility for a specific policy area. Ireland’s Commissioner is Máire Geoghegan Quinn.
The Commission is based in Brussels and Luxembourg and also has representations in all Member States, including the European Commission Representation in Ireland.
The European External Action Service (EEAS)
The EEAS is the European Union's diplomatic corps. It supports the EU foreign affairs chief (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton) in conducting the common foreign and security policy.
It has Delegations around the world, with similar function to those of an embassy, working on behalf of the people of Europe and representing the EU as a whole.
The Court of Justice of the European Union
The Court of Justice of the European Union is the judicial institution of the EU and Euratom, (European Atomic Energy Community). It is made up of the Court of Justice, the General Court and the Civil Service Tribunal. The Court of Justice interprets EU law to ensure it is applied and adhered to in the same manner in all EU states. It arbitrates legal disputes between EU Member States and the EU institutions. It also deals with legal disputes involving individuals, companies or organisations bringing cases against European institutions.
The Court is composed of 27 judges, one from each Member State, and eight Advocates-General who present opinions on the cases presented. Their advice must be impartial and publicly available. The judges and advocates are selected by consensus of all 27 Member States for a term of six years. The Court of Justice is based in Luxembourg.
The European Court of Auditors
The European Court of Auditors checks that EU funds are properly collected and that they are spent legally, economically and for the intended purpose. Its aim is to ensure that European taxpayers get maximum value for their money, and it has the right to audit any person or organisation handling EU funds.
The European Central Bank
The European Central Bank or ECB has two principal roles: to safeguard the Euro and to maintain financial stability within the EU. The ECB is based in Frankfurt, Germany and works closely with the Central Banks of Member States.
The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions (CoR) is an advisory body to the European Commission, Council and Parliament. It publishes opinions on legislation proposed by the European Commission and represents regional and local authorities at a European level. Its membership consists of a maximum of 350 representatives from local or regional authorities in all 27 Member States. Ireland currently has 18 representatives on the CoR.
The Economic and Social Committee
The Economic and Social Committee, based in Brussels, is an advisory body to the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament. It was established as a forum for employers, employees, trade unions and other groups that represent the interests of citizens to discuss issues relating to the single market. The Committee consists of 344 members who are nominated by Member State governments. Ireland currently has nine members; the number of members per country is proportional to population size.