What is European Union and How Does it Work?

European union flag

The European Union is an economic and political body that was created after World War II. It focuses on a single market, allowing goods, services and people to move freely throughout the EU.

The EU is made up of several institutions that act together to govern the Union and make decisions. The EU Commission, European Council and Parliament are the main decision-making bodies.

The European Commission

The European Commission (or EC) is the day-to-day executive body of the European Union, enforcing EU laws and implementing policies and the EU budget. It also represents the Union internationally, in summits and negotiations. The EC is led by the President, currently German politician Ursula von der Leyen, and 26 commissioners, one per member state.

The Commission is the most powerful institution in the EU, and its responsibilities are huge. It proposes new laws, monitors the implementation of these laws, manages the budget and is the primary negotiating representative for the EU abroad.

It has the power to enforce EU law against members of the Union or businesses that do not comply with their obligations under the laws. It also oversees the other European institutions, such as the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, and has the right to adopt a vote of no confidence in any of them.

A Commission President is elected by the European Parliament, based on a nomination from the EU countries’ leaders in the Council. He or she must receive the support of at least 50% of the MEPs in order to be elected and serve a term of office.

In addition to the president and commissioners, the Commission has three vice-presidents: two executive vice-presidents (one each for foreign affairs and security policy), and a high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy. This position is also elected for a term of office and must be approved by the Parliament.

Each year, after a general election, the European Council – which is made up of the heads of government or state of the EU member countries – chooses a Commission President. This candidate is then selected by the European Parliament, which must approve him or her by an absolute majority (half of all MEPs plus one).

The Commission is divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs), each responsible for a specific policy area. The DGs are headed by commissioners, who are bound to work in the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their own country. These commissioners are also given a “portfolio,” which is like the responsibilities of a cabinet minister – it includes a set of tasks and objectives that they must fulfill.

The European Council

The European Council is the union’s supreme political body and consists of the heads of state or government from all 27 member states. It meets four times a year to set the Union’s broad direction and settle urgent high-level questions. Its President is elected by the member states.

The Council also approves EU agreements, such as those with non-EU countries and international organisations. These may cover a wide range of subjects, from trade, cooperation and development to specific areas like textiles, fisheries, transport, science and technology.

These agreements are adopted by the Council after negotiations with the Commission, which proposes them. They are then ratified by all member states.

In addition to these agreements, the Council decides on other important issues, such as the EU’s foreign and security policy and its development and humanitarian aid programmes. It also sets guidelines for the work of the European Commission and the EU’s Parliament.

During meetings, EU ministers from all member states meet together in groups, organized by the area of policy being discussed. For example, all member states’ foreign ministers meet in one group and their agriculture ministers in another.

The president of the European Council is elected by the Member States every two years. He or she is responsible for overseeing the work of the Council, which means ensuring that all EU legislation is conducted properly and in accordance with the rules of procedure.

Each member state has a permanent group (“representative”) in Brussels, where it represents its national interests to the Council. These representatives are also responsible for protecting their countries’ interests in the EU and for helping ensure that EU law is applied correctly at home.

Members of the Council also take part in special bodies, expert committees and working parties that focus on very specific topics. These include the European Commission on Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights and the Cultural Heritage Committee.

There is also a six-month rotation of the presidency of the Council, in which each member state assumes the role for a period of time. The presidency’s job is to drive forward the Council’s work on EU legislation, to ensure that it is carried out in an orderly way and to promote cooperation between member states.

The European Parliament

The European Parliament (EP) is a democratic body that makes laws on behalf of the member states. Its 705 members are directly elected by EU citizens every 5 years. The number of seats is distributed according to “degressive proportionality”: the larger a state is, the more MEPs are allocated there. This arrangement was negotiated during treaty negotiations, and is designed to ensure that smaller states do not elect more MEPs than would be strictly justified by their populations.

The EP consists of a number of pan-European political groups, each representing different political stances. Most MEPs belong to one of these groups, but there are also a number of non-attached members who are not part of any group.

These non-attached MEPs are often referred to as “non-inscrits,” and they are free to join or not to join any group. Regardless of their membership, all MEPs are expected to follow rules of procedure that regulate how they conduct themselves in the EP and how they vote on legislation. These regulations are outlined in Article 223 TFEU.

MEPs are governed by a code of conduct that requires them to act in the public interest, conduct their activities with integrity and honesty, respect the reputation of the EP and work solely for its benefit. This code of conduct applies to all meetings, committees and other events.

The European Parliament has a wide variety of powers. Its primary responsibility is to approve EU legislation, but it has a broader role, too, as a democratic check on the European Commission and other EU institutions.

It shares legislative and budgetary powers with the Council of the European Union, but it has veto power in many areas. In addition, the Council and the Parliament share power in a process known as “co-decision.” This procedure allows the two bodies to negotiate policies and agree on them before they are adopted by the European Union.

Moreover, the European Parliament is responsible for appointing and removing the President of the Commission. If a majority of the Parliament agrees that the president is unfit for office, the Commission’s head must leave.

The European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the judicial authority of the European Union and ensures that the EU’s law is applied in the same way across all EU countries. It also interprets EU laws at the request of national courts.

Its headquarters are in Luxembourg City, and it has two main courts – the Court of Justice and the General Court. The General Court was established in 1989 to help the ECJ deal with thousands of cases and offered citizens better protection against legal problems.

The Court of Justice deals with all of the disputes between EU members, their companies and individuals. It rules on a range of issues, including State aid and trade, agriculture, competition, and trade marks.

Cases are brought to the Court of Justice by any individual or company. It has one judge per member country, who represents all the 28 national legal systems. It can convene as a Grand Chamber of 13 judges, in chambers of 5 or 3 judges, or in certain cases it can sit as a single judge.

They are appointed by the governments of each member country, and have a renewable term of six years. They are lawyers who are qualified to be judges in their home countries and must be independent and impartial. They must present reasoned opinions on the cases that are assigned to them.

If a national court finds that a EU law or a decision made by an EU institution violates fundamental rights, the court can ask the Court of Justice to overrule the law or take action against the EU government or other institutions. The Court can also decide to cancel or annul the law or decision if it is in breach of the Treaties.

Some people have criticised the ECJ for its lack of respect for fundamental rights. The ECJ has not always taken these issues seriously, but it does take them more seriously now than in the past.

The ECJ has the power to change national laws and to cancel or annul a member state’s law, but this is not always done. In practice, most of the time the decision to overrule a national law or to cancel a decision is made by the EU government, the Council of the EU or the European Commission.

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