European Union Institutions
These are the seven EU institutions as set out in the Treaty on European Union.
The European Parliament is directly elected every 5 years by EU citizens. Its 751 MEPs, representing the people of Europe, are arranged into 7 groups: (left to right, approximately) GUE/NGL, S&D, Greens/EFA, ALDE, EPP, ECR and EFDD. It shares legislative and budgetary power with the Council of the EU. The main roles of the EP are to debate and pass European laws and the EU budget alongside the Council, and to scrutinise other EU institutions to ensure that they are working democratically.
The European Commission acts as the cabinet government of the EU, its 28 Commissioners nominated by each member state. Seated at the Brussels Berlaymont, the Commission proposes new legislation to the EP and the Council, and oversees implementation of EU policy on the national level, all whilst adhering to the European treaties. Its subsidiarity principle means it legislates only when a supranational approach is most effective; proportionality means it does so no more than necessary.
The European Council is composed of the leaders of the EU member states, the President of the Commission, and its own permanent President. It sets the course and long-term aims of the EU, deciding on broad political priorities and major initiatives. Typically, the European Council meets around four times a year, making decisions by majority consensus. It is not to be confused with the legislative Council of the European Union (“the Council”) where relevant national ministers vote on specific proposals.
Council of the European Union
The Council acts as the executive government of the EU. Ministers from each EU country adopt laws and coordinate policies in agreement with the Parliament, with which it shares legislative and budgetary power. The ministers present are those relevant to each issue: a budgetary negotiation requires finance ministers, an agricultural policy calls for rural and agriculture ministers, and so on. Confusingly, the name is similar to the European Council, and both share the same emblem and Europa seat in Brussels.
European Central Bank
The European Central Bank has its headquarters in Frankfurt. Its objective is to safeguard price stability in the eurozone, as well as managing the euro and the transitions of member states from their old currencies into the single currency. The ECB is also responsible for eurozone monetary policy and for supporting economic policy for the whole EU. Whilst independence from other EU institutions aids the effectiveness of ECB operation, it remains accountable to them and must regularly publish its work.
Court of Justice of the European Union
The Court of Justice of the EU, based in Luxembourg, effectively ensures that member states and EU institutions are held individually accountable for their actions. It interprets EU law to make sure it is legal, applied in the same way in all EU countries, and in keeping with EU treaties. The CJEU also settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions. Individuals, companies and organisations can bring cases before the CJEU if they feel their rights have been infringed by an EU institution.
European Court of Auditors
The European Court of Auditors is seated in Luxembourg. Its role is to inspect the accounts of all EU institutions. Moreover, the ECA examines EU finances in terms of revenue and spending; a particular focus is given to the policy areas of growth and jobs, added value, public finances, the environment, and climate change. It aims to improve EU financial management and accountability via authoritative reports to citizens and policy-makers on the use of public funds.
There is plenty in Europe besides the EU, with many of these organisations being older and every bit as important to the continent.
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and is based in the Palace of Europe in Strasbourg, across the river from the European Parliament. Separate from the EU, it comprises 47 member states from Europe, Russia, Turkey and the Caucasus; observers are admitted from even further afield. The CoE pushes for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, defending freedom of expression and minority groups; it fights corruption, intolerance and the death penalty worldwide.
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was established in 1959 from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Its case-law and binding judgements ensure that democracy is upheld in all CoE member states, so over 800 million people can live safe from abuse of their civil and political rights. The ECHR prevents capital punishment, torture, slavery and unlawful detention; it guarantees protection of property, freedom of expression and religion, and rights to life, privacy and a fair trial.
European Space Agency
ESA is comprised of 20 European members. Headquartered in Paris, its various bodies are spread across the continent. ESA presides over a vast and ambitious space programme, its scope covering our own planet, our solar system, and the Universe at large. European collaboration for space draws on far more research, resources and industry than is possible on a national level. Thus, ESA has achieved many firsts, including the celebrated Rosetta mission where Philae landed on comet 67P in 2014.