European Council

The contemporary interior of the Europa building in Brussels. The walls and facade are made of wood and glass.
The Europa building in Brussels is the main seat of the European Council and Council of the European Union. © European Union

The European Council is the highest political steering committee of the EU. It is composed of the heads of state or government of the member states, the President of the European Commission, and its own President. The European Council defines the general political priorities of the EU and provides important momentum for its development. It also decides on the foreign policy positions of the EU. The European Council has had a permanent President since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force. The President does not hold any other political office: his or her task is to ensure the continuity of the work of the European Council, which meets at least four times annually.

Council of the European Union

In the Europa building, a meeting is underway in the main meeting hall with its brightly coloured ceiling. The Europa building hosts EU summits, multilateral summits, ministerial meetings and other high-level meetings.
The Europa building hosts EU summits, multilateral summits and ministerial meetings. © European Union

SinceThe Council of the European Union – also known as the Council of Ministers or the Council – is the central legislative and decision-making body of the EU. The Council adopts new EU legislation, usually together with the Parliament, and concludes international agreements on behalf of the EU. The members of the Council of Ministers are ministers of the member states but not fixed as such: each country sends the minister for the policy being discussed (i.e. the agricultural minister on agricultural issues). The presidency of the Council is rotated every six months among member states. Most decisions are taken by a qualified majority (ordinary legislative procedure). The Council of Ministers adopts the general annual budget jointly with the European Parliament.

European Parliament

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg with the river reflected in the glass facade.
Members of parliament, who are directly elected by EU voters, convene at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (shown in the picture) and in Brussels. © European Union 2017

Since 1979 the citizens of the EU member states have directly elected their representatives to the European Parliament for a five-year term. It is a professional parliament with of a total of 705 members elected across the 27 member states of the enlarged European Union. The Parliament meets in its entirety one week per month in Strasbourg and three weeks per month in Brussels. The seating arrangement in the hall is based on party affiliation, not nationality. The European Parliament was given significantly more power under the Treaty of Lisbon, for instance it was recently delegated the authority to approve EU agreements with third countries. The Parliament shares decision-making authority with the Council of Ministers with regard to the creation of new EU law and the adoption of the general budget. The Council of Ministers is a controlling organ in that it approves or rejects the appointment of the Commission as a whole, and has the power to force the Commission as a body to resign.

European Commission

The contemporary interior of the Europa building in Brussels. The walls and facade are made of wood and glass.
The Berlaymont complex, used by the European Commission, opposite the Europa building in Brussels. © Charles Lecompte 2010

The European Commission is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the EU. It has the sole right to formally propose new EU legislation, but it is the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers that jointly adopt it. The European Commission manages common EU policies, for instance, in the areas of agriculture and regional politics. It also monitors member states’ compliance with EU law and the budget. The President of the European Commission is chosen by the governments of member states, while the other commissioners are designated by their respective national governments and confirmed in consultation with the European Commission President. The European Parliament approves the choice of EC commissioners and President as a collegium.

Court of Justice of the European Union

The Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg with its golden towers shimmering against a blue sky.
The Court of Justice of the European Union based in Luxembourg. © Quartier Européen Nord, Kirchberg, sprklg 2008

The Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU (formerly known as the European Court), was re-named under the Treaty of Lisbon. Based in Luxembourg, it is the highest judicial authority of the EU. The Court is responsible for ensuring that EU legislation and treaties are uniformly interpreted and applied. The CJEU consists primarily of the Court (27 judges and 11 advocates-general) and the Court of First Instance (27 judges). The judges and advocates-general are appointed by the governments of the member states for six-year terms.

European Court of Auditors

Flags of the EU member states flutter in the wind outside the European Court of Auditors building in Brussels.
The European Court of Auditors is composed of one member from each EU member state, appointed by the Council after consultation with the European Parliament. © European Union

The European Court of Auditors has its seat in Luxembourg and is responsible for auditing the revenues and expenditures of EU institutions. It checks for sound financial management and assists the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament with budgetary and accounting matters.

European Central Bank

Modern high-rise in Frankfurt am Main, with glass facade, lit up against the evening sky.
The European Central Bank building in Frankfurt am Main. © European Central Bank, Kiefer 2015

The European Central Bank (ECB), headquartered in Frankfurt am Main, is responsible for the monetary policy of the Economic and Monetary Union, the euro area. The aim of ECB policy is to maintain price stability within the euro area, to support economic growth and thereby to secure jobs. The ECB is managed by an executive board composed of six members who are elected for a term of eight years. The members may not be re-elected. The executive board is supported by a governing council and a general council.