How the European Community Works

Article excerpt

The United Kingdom became a member state of the European Community on 1 January 1973. Strictly speaking, there are three European Communities to which the 12 member states belong;

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), set up by the ECSC Treaty signed in Paris on 18 April 1951;

The European Economic Community (EEC), set up by the EEC Treaty signed in Rome on 25 March 1957;

The European Atomic Energg Community (EURATOM), set up by the EURATOM Treaty also signed in Rome on 25 March 1957.

The term 'European Community' (EC) is commonly used to describe the three Communities together.

The Single European Act, which came into force on 1 July 1987, amended the three Treaties in a number of ways, in particular by extending the use of majority voting. Most by the member states, although items relating to taxation, the free movement of persons and the rights and interests of employees will continue to require unanimity. The Single European Act also enables the European Parliament to play a more active part in decision-making on single market proposals.

There are four main Community institutions: the Commission, the Council, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice.


The Commission proposes Community policy and legislation. It is then for the Council of Ministers to discuss and, if appropriate, adopt or amend the proposals.

It implements the decisions taken by the Council of Ministers and supervises the day-to-day running of Community policies;

It is the 'Guardian of the Treaties' and can initiate action against member states which do not comply with EC rules;

It has its own powers under the Treaties in some areas, notably competition policy and the control of Government subsidies.

In looking at the Commission, it is important to distinguish between the Commissioners themselves, their cabinets and the Commission services.

The Commissioners themselves act as the broad equivalent of a board of directors. They are normally referred to simply as 'the Commission'. There are 17 members appointed by the Community governments, two from each of the larger member states and one from each of the smaller.

Commissioners are not appointed as national delegates, but act in the interest of the Community as a whole. Of the 17 Commission members, one is President, six are Vice-Presidents and the remaining ten are Members of the Commission.

Commissioners are appointed for a four-year term. In January 1989, the New European Commission took office. Its term lasts until the end of 1992.


Each Commissioner is in charge of an area of Community policy. The Commission is currently divided into 23 Directorates-General (DGs) plus a number of specialised services. Each DG or service has a Commissioner responsible for its work.

Commissioners formulate proposals within their area of responsibility aimed at implementing the Treaties, for example by achieving the single market. Such proposals are discussed by the Commissioners as a body who then decide on the nature of the final proposal. Decisions are taken within the Commission by a simple majority vote, in other words at least nine out of the 17 Commissioners in favour.

Each Commissioner has a 'cabinet' of six or more permanent administrators plus secretarial support. Unlike most Commission units, the majority of cabinet staff are the same nationality as their Commissioner. The cabinets have an important part to play in the decision-making process. It is often useful to talk to them directly.

There is a structure of inter-cabinet committees (called 'chefs de cabinet', or 'chefs' for short) which are designed to identify those issues on which Commissioners need to focus at their weekly meetings and to settle many less continuous items subject to formal approval by the Commissioners.

The main bulk of the Commission's personnel are referred to as the services, to distinguish then, from the Commissioners and their cabinets. …