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European Union Research Guide

This guide provides information on the European Union and how to navigate among EU documents.

Institutions and Bodies

The EU provides its own explanations of its many and varied institutions, bodies, and agencies here: EU Institutions and other bodies. There are seven official EU institutions, each of which will be briefly described below with links to the respective websites.

  • The Commission has both executive and administrative roles. There are 27 commissioners—one for each member country. The Commission focuses on the day-to-day tasks of implementing EU laws and managing EU finances. The Commission proposes new laws to Parliament and the Council of the EU as well as enforcing laws. It also represents the EU internationally by negotiating agreements between the EU and other countries. Commission documents include proposed legislative texts and explanatory memoranda. Proposed legislative texts can be found in the C series of the Official Journal (OJ). Both proposed legislative texts and explanatory memoranda are found in “COM” documents (more on both of these publications later).

In a move that is not at all confusing or redundant, the EU contains both a European Council and a Council of the European Union:

  • The European Council oversees the EU’s political policies and major initiatives but has no actual law-making capabilities. This group meets approximately four times during the year and is chaired by a permanent president.
  • The Council of the European Union (referred to hereafter as the Council of the EU or EU Council), representing the Member States, acts on Commission proposals and is the final legislative authority. The Council of the EU may request that certain legislation be proposed and may conduct any necessary studies to help achieve treaties’ goals. The EU Council also has treaty-making power. There is little public dissemination of EU Council documents.

Once the confusion over the councils has cleared (let’s not even discuss the Council of Europe, which is not an EU body at all), we can focus on the remaining institutions, starting with Parliament.

  • The European Parliament is meant to represent the people of the EU. Each member (MEP) is directly elected by the populations of the member states. The European Parliament has three duties. First, it assists the EU Council in debating and passing laws. Second, it scrutinizes other institutions, like the Commission, to ensure that they are functioning in a democratic manner. Finally, it works with the Council of the EU to adopt a budget. The Parliament produces reports which detail its readings and recommendations of Commission proposals as well as draft opinions. Minutes from sessions that consider reports are found in the C series of the OJ; parliamentary debates are found in the annex of the OJ.

Now that we've covered the law-making institutions, let’s discuss the financial and judicial institutions. 

  • The European Central Bank manages the Euro and safeguards price stability for the EU. It also acts to implement EU monetary and economic policies by working with the central banks within each of the member states. Only 17 of the 27 member countries have adopted the Euro, and in these countries (known as the eurozone), the Central Bank works especially closely with the member countries’ banks to authorize issuance of euro banknotes.
  • The Court of Justice of the European Union interprets EU law to ensure that each member country is applying the law consistently. It also settles disputes between member countries and EU institutions. Individuals may also bring cases before this court if they feel that an EU institution has violated their rights. Judges on the CJEU panel represent each of the member countries. Eight advocates-general present public and impartial opinions to the court regarding the cases before it. A general court, or court of first instance, was created in 1989 to hear disputes between civil servants and their institutions, companies, and competition law. Court opinions are officially available in the European Court Reports series and unofficially from other publishers, like CCH.
  • The Court of Auditors is not a court and has no legal powers—rather, it is an agency that audits EU finances. Any person or organization that uses EU funds is subject to auditing on the spot. If the Court of Auditors finds fraud or irregularities, it submits its findings to the European Anti-Fraud Office.

Those are the 7 official institutions of the EU. Before we move on, let's mention one of the other bodies that makes up the European Union.

  • The Economic and Social Committee, representing industry, labor and consumers, is composed of members appointed by the Member States. During the legislative process, the Council of Ministers may be required to or may decide to seek the opinion of the Committee. The texts of this committee may be found in the C series of the OJ.