As part of the EU in Focus series Professor Nicoló Conti presented a dialogue about the structure of the European Union. Conti begins by clarifying that the EU is a governing body unlike anything else the world has ever seen, and trying to understand it through the lens of other governing bodies is not only unfeasible, but limits an understanding of what the EU is and how it works. Several factors make the EU unique, important among them is the fact that the EU makes decisions based on collective agreement rather than decision making by a leader. Throughout the dialogue Conti highlighted the roles of four main EU bodies; giving a crash course in how policy is made in the EU. The European Council, Council of the European Union, European Union Parliament, and European Commission are arguably the most important bodies operating in the EU.
The executive body of the EU is the European Council, which is the branch of the EU that is in charge of agenda setting . The European Council is made up of the heads of state and government of the 28 member countries in the EU. The Council meets twice a semester to discuss long and mid-term goals of the EU, but will also also meet for emergency situations. Emergency situations are not very rare, and recent examples include the collapse of the Greek economy as well as the current immigration crisis. While the European Council provides the long term strategy for the EU, it does not have the power to create any legislation.
The European Commission is the branch in charge of legislature, and the only branch with the power to initiate legislation. The Commission is made up of 28 Commissioners, one f for every EU member country, who all swear to operate in the best interest of the union as a whole rather than any one country. Each member state nominates their commissioner , who is usually someone very technically skilled in a particular policy area. The European Council can formally request that the European Commission legislates on certain issues, however, this is not a guarantee that the Commission will do so. When the Commission proposes legislature it must be voted on by the Council of the EU, and the European Parliament.
The European Union has a two chamber legislature. The first chamber is the Council of the EU. not to be confused with the European Council, which is made up of all the national ministers from each of the EU member countries. Attendance of a Council of the EU meeting will vary depending of the topic being discussed. If a meeting concerns financial matters, ,then the 28 national Ministers of Finance will meet, and if the matter is agricultural, the member states’ Agricultural Ministers will meet and so forth. The duty of the Council of the EU is to veto, approve, or amend the legislation proposed by the European Commission. Furthermore, the Council of the EU has control of the EU budget along with the Parliament of the EU.
The second legislative chamber of the EU is the European Parliament. This chamber is unique in that is the only EU body that is directly elected by the people specifically for the purpose of governing the EU. The duties of the European Parliament are similar to that of the Council of the EU. They vote on legislation proposed by the European commission and may amend it. If either the Council of the EU or the European Parliament amend an initiative, the other branch must vote to approve the amendment.
The power in the EU is diffused across many borders, a fact that Conti calls a miracle. The complicated structure allows for a greater input from the people and state heads, and ensures that laws are in the best interest of all parties involved. The system may seem inefficient, but it is purposefully so. No single country or branch can dominate the EU, which should comfort those who worry about a loss of sovereignty.