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The European Parliament

The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the European Union. The 785 members of the European Parliament represent the citizens of the European Union. They are elected once every five years by voters in the twenty-seven member states of the European Union on behalf of its 492 million citizens.

The Parliament plays an active role in drafting the legislation which has an impact on the everyday lives of the citizens of the European Union, such as legislation on environmental protection, consumer rights, equal opportunities, transport and the free flow of labour, capital, services and goods. The Parliament, together with the Council, also controls the annual budget of the European Union.

Cooperation of the Presiding Member State with the European Parliament

One of the key tasks of the Presidency is to represent the Council of the European Union in its relations with other EU institutions, including the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Upon assuming the Presidency, the presiding country presents its programme to the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. At the end of the six month period, it submits a report on its Presidency to the European Parliament.

The Presidency representatives report on their current work in the Council to European Parliament committees; they also take part in the plenary meetings of the Parliament in Strasbourg and answer the questions of MEPs.

One of the most important aspects of the Presidency's cooperation with the European Parliament is the co-decision legislative procedure, where the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament jointly adopt EU legislation.

Official website of the European Parliament external link

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The European Commission

The European Commission represents and upholds the interests of the EU as a whole, and is independent in its work from the member states’ national governments. It has the exclusive right to make proposals for new European legislation, which are then passed on to the European Parliament and Council in order to become law. It ensures that EU legislation is implemented correctly and monitors the use of EU funds. It may take action against parties who breach European legislation by initiating infringement procedures before the Court of Justice of the European Communities. The Commission also represents the European Union in international organisations and in negotiations with other countries.

The Commission consists of twenty-seven Commissioners external link, one Commissioner from each member state.

The Commissioners are assisted in their work by some 24,000 regular employees and a limited number of temporary and auxiliary personnel. The Commission is divided into Directorates-General external link, which deal with various sectors or policies of the European Union.

The members of the Commission are required to act in the best interests of the European Union as a whole, and may not receive any instructions from national governments.

Official website of the European Commission external link

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The Council of the European Union

The Council is the European Union’s central body for political decisions.

The meetings of the Council of the European Union include government ministers of EU countries. In relation to subjects on the agenda, each country can be represented by the minister responsible for the relevant sector. The Council meets in nine different configurations:

  • General Affairs and External Relations
  • Economic and Financial Affairs (ECOFIN)
  • Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
  • Competitiveness (Single Market, Industry and Research)
  • Transport, Telecommunications and Energy
  • Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Environment
  • Education, Youth and Culture

Each EU member state presides over the Council for a six-month term on a rotational basis.

The Council is responsible for decision-making and coordination.

  • The Council of the European Union passes laws, usually legislating jointly with the European Parliament.
  • The Council coordinates the broad economic policies of member states.
  • The Council defines and implements EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, based on guidelines set by the European Council.
  • The Council concludes, on behalf of the Community and the Union, international agreements between the EU and one or more states or international organisations.
  • The Council coordinates the actions of member states and adopts measures in the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
  • The Council and the European Parliament constitute the budgetary authority that adopts the Community’s budget.

Official website of the Council of the EU external link

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The European Council

The European Council comprises the heads of state or government along with the President of the European Commission. The European Council defines the general policy directions of the European Union. It meets up to four times a year.

Since the decisions made at European Council meetings define the general political guidelines of the European Union, these decisions are the basis for changes in the European Union. Despite the fact that the European Council is the most important body of the European Union, it is not formally an institution of the European Union.

The meetings of the European Council usually take place in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels.

Official website of the European Council external link

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The Court of Justice of the European Communities

The Court of Justice of the European Communities is the highest judicial body of the Community and consists of three courts: the Court of Justice, the Court of First Instance and the Civil Service Tribunal. Their main responsibilities are controlling the legality of the Community’s acts and ensuring the uniform interpretation and use of the Community law. 

The Court of Justice cooperates with national courts of member states, which may or sometimes must, address to the Court of Justice their proposal(s) for the interpretation of a certain aspect of Community law which is to be applied in a national proceeding. The national court will thereafter be obliged to comply with this interpretation, as will be any other national court which would decide the same case. This procedure is called a 'preliminary ruling'. Based on various types of actions (actions for failure to fulfil obligations, actions for annulment, actions for failure to act) the Court also monitors the member states’ and EU institutions’ fulfilment of obligations arising from the Community law, as well as the legality of the institutions’ acts.

The Court of Justice of European Communities is based in Luxembourg. It is composed of twenty-seven Judges, one from each member state, and eight Advocates-General, who give their opinion on legal matters in the form of submissions. Their numbers may be increased following a proposal from the Court and an approval by the Council of the EU. The Court of First Instance is composed of twenty-seven Judges, while the Civil Service Tribunal consists of seven Judges.

Judges and Advocates-General are appointed in mutual accord by national governments of member states for a six-year term with the possibility of more than one term. They are chosen from among lawyers whose independence is beyond doubt and who possess the qualifications required for appointment, in their respective countries, to the highest judicial offices, or who are of recognised competence.

The language used during the proceedings at the Court of Justice of the European Communities corresponds to the language used in the actions or the proceedings in the national court, while the working language of the Court is French.

Official website of the Court of Justice of the European Communities external link

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The European Court of Auditors

The mission of the European Court of Auditors is to audit independently the raising and spending of European Union funds and, through this, assess how European institutions discharge these functions.

The Court examines whether financial operations have been properly recorded, and legally and regularly executed and managed so as to ensure economy, efficiency and effectiveness.

The Court makes the results of its work known through the publication of relevant, objective and timely reports. In undertaking its work, the Court aims to contribute to improving the financial management of European Union funds at all levels, so as to ensure maximum value for money for the citizens of the Union.

Official website of the European Court of Auditors external link



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Date: 28.12.2007