EU Law – EU Institutions

  • Last updated 21-Jul-2016 17:16:48
  • By Billy Sexton, Editor, AllAboutLaw.co.uk, using material from Pearson's Law Express Q&A series

Essential background information on EU law involves knowing the various EU institutions inside-out, upside-down, left-to-right, right-to-left and any other way possible.

You’ll need to know about how the EU came into being, and that includes its history from 1951 onward. Rather than take you through what is perhaps one of the most dull history lectures in, well… history, you can check out a snapshot of EU history in our first issue of The Principle, a legal magazine that offers commercial insight.

Focussing on the EU today, there are a number of institutions you need to be aware of, as well as their functions; the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Shall we?

The European Parliament

The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the EU, but it only takes on a supportive role in the legislative process. The European Commission initiates legislation, with the Council of the European Union the main legislative body.

However, the European Parliament can adopt a reject a ‘common opinion’ of the Council. If rejected, the measure fails. Amendments can also be recommended by an absolute majority, which the Council can adopt. If they don’t adopt it, a conciliation committee involving the Commission is set up, which may result in the adoption of the amendment.

The Parliament also carry out a series of checks and balances against other institutions. They approve Presidential nominations and appointments to the Commission. . The Commission is also required to respond to questions posed by Parliament and they can also pass a motion of censure, obliging the whole Commission to resign.

The Treaty of Nice also provided the European Parliament with powers to challenge the legality of acts before the Court of Justice. There are some areas where the European Parliament cannot legislate, but there has been a significant increases in its power since the 1990s.

The Council of the European Union

Not to be confused with the European Council, the Council of the European Union, meets in 10 different configurations of 28 national ministers. For instance, when discussing agricultural policy, the 28 national ministers who are in charge of this area meet.

As mentioned above, before a law can be adopted it needs to be approved by both Parliament and the Council. A proposal has its first reading in Parliament, amendments may be proposed, and then the Council can accept or adopts a ‘common position’ and provides a new version. If Parliament accepts or does not act on the ‘common position’ the text becomes law. As mentioned above, this can be rejected by Parliament, initiating a conciliation committee.

The Council share budgetary powers with Parliament, as well as having the power to conclude international agreements.

The European Commission

The European Commission is essentially the government of the EU, though it doesn’t have power to initiate foreign policy of its members. Members are put forward by the governments of member states, leading to arguments that Commissioners are the least accountable of all EU institutions. However, national governments can be held accountable for their members and the European Parliament can question the commission.

Despite this, the Commission has the power to initiate legislation and proposals. Once legislation has passed through the Council and Parliament, it is the duty of the Commission to implement it. It does this through member states or agencies, and it must also responsible implement the EU budget to ensure funds are correctly spent.

Finally, the Commission also must make sure that treaties and laws are upheld. If they believe they are not, they can take member states or institutions to the Court of Justice to dispute.

The Court of Justice of the European Union

The Court of Justice is the judicial body of the European Union, with the intention to ensure that “that law is observed” “in the interpretation and application” of the Treaties governing the EU. The Court makes sure the other institutions act within the law, as well as making sure that members comply with obligations and also interpret EU law.

There we have it, the necessary information on the key EU institutions. Whilst you may not get an essay or exam question asking you to “Assess the accountability of The European Commission” (you don’t do a politics degree, gosh), but you do need to know how the institutions work when it comes to dealing with EU judicial review, EU competition laws and the like (we can’t wait either). 

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