Institutions of the European Union
The Treaty of Rome established four main institutions to give effect to the provisions of
the treaty: the Commission, the Parliament, the Court of Justice and the Council of
Ministers. In the 1970s, European Council meetings became a regular feature. These
Community institutions continue to function in the European Union. In addition, there are
a number of other bodies which have less prominence but nonetheless perform useful
work. At Maastricht, some powers were acquired that are not subject to the institutions
of the EC. Instead, they are dealt with on an intergovernmental basis.
Institutions can seem dull, but their activities and proposals for their reform often
provoke much controversy. In this chapter, we explore the composition, role and powers
of these various bodies, showing how they have developed, how they interact with each
other and why they are of interest and importance.
Of the five main institutions, three are more supranational in character and two more intergovernmental. In each case, we will examine their membership and formal powers, before giving consideration to any issues surrounding their workings. We will then more briefly describe the main details associated with the other institutions. We begin our coverage with the institutions that are supranational.
The Commission is the executive arm of the European Union. Some portray it as the ‘government’ of the Community, while others see it as the ‘civil service’. In fact, it is neither. In policy-making decisions the Commission differs from a civil service in that it formulates statements of policy but, unlike a government, it is powerless to control the vote on acceptance or rejection of that policy. In reality, the Commission is a unique institution, somewhere between an executive and an administrative machine. The very term ‘Commission’ is itself a misnomer, for the body’s organisation embraces these two distinctive aspects. The executive responsibilities are carried out by the College of Commissioners (in effect, the political arm of the Commission) and the administrative ones by the bureaucracy.
Until 2004, larger countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom each had two commissioners. Since the creation of the new College of Commissioners in November of that year, there has been one representative for every EU country. At Nice, it was agreed that the Commission will have a maximum of twenty-seven members, with a rotation system that is fair to all countries to be introduced once EU membership exceeds twenty-seven states. This was confirmed in the new constitutional arrangements agreed at Brussels,