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The European Union: what it is, goals and functioning


The European Union is made up of three institutions, each of which has separate powers and roles: 
_ the European Parliament
_ the Council of Ministers
_ the European Commission.

The European Parliament is the main democratic component of the EU system. It is made up of members directly elected by European citizens. Its mission is to follow up on the concerns and priorities of European citizens and represent their political positions by means of electoral results. Along with the Council, whose approval is required, the European Parliament is responsible for analysing, amending and approving European legislation and approving the annual EU budget, based on proposals made by the European Commission.
The Council of Ministers is an institution that represents the governments of EU Member States and is made up of ministers responsible for the subjects and issues under debate. Together with the European Parliament, whose approval is required, the Council reviews, amends and approves European legislation proposed by the European Commission.

The European Commission is the European Union’s executive body. It presents legislative proposals to the European Parliament and the Council and is responsible for implementing the legislation adopted. It is also responsible for implementing European Union policy, as well as managing programmes and actions within the EU and around the world.

The European Parliament
Parliament encompasses three types of power as part of its operations: legislative, supervisory, and budgetary.
Legislative power: 
_ passing EU laws, together with the Council, based on European Commission proposals
_ deciding on international agreements
_ deciding on enlargements
_ reviewing the Commission's work programme and asking it to propose legislation
Supervisory power:
_ democratic scrutiny of all EU institutions
_ electing the Commission President and approving the Commission as a body
_ possibility of voting a motion of censure, obliging the Commission to resign
_ granting discharge, approving the way EU budgets have been spent
_ examining citizens' petitions and setting up inquiries
_ discussing monetary policy with the European Central Bank
_ questioning Commission and Council
_ conducting election observations
Budgetary power:
_ establishing the EU budget, together with the Council
_ approving the EU's long-term budget

The number of MEPs per country is approximately proportional to the population of each country. Degressive proportionality is implemented: no country can have less than 6 nor more than 96 MEPs and the total number of MEPs cannot exceed 751 (750 and the President). MEPs are grouped by political affiliation rather than nationality.

The President represents the Parliament before other European institutions abroad and gives final assent to the EU budget.

Parliament's work comprises two main stages:
_ Parliamentary committees - to prepare legislation
Parliament comprises 20 committees and 2 subcommittees, each handling a particular policy area. The committees examine proposals for legislation, and MEPs and political groups can put forward amendments or propose to reject a bill. 
_ Plenary sessions - to pass legislation

This is when all the MEPs gather in the chamber to give a final vote on the proposed legislation and the proposed amendments. Normally held in Strasbourg for four days a month, additional sessions sometimes take place in Brussels.
Any citizen who was born or resides in the EU and wishes to request Parliament's intervention regarding a specific issue can submit a petition (by post or email). Petitions can cover any subject which comes under the EU's remit.

Companies or other organisations must be based in the EU.

Other ways of getting in touch with Parliament include contacting your local MEP or the European Parliament Information Office in your country.

_ The EU Council
The Council of the European Union meets in nine different formations and is made up of Ministers from the Governments of the Member States, depending on the formation of the Council - General Affairs and External Relations; Economic and Financial Affairs; Justice and Home Affairs; Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs; Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry and Research); Transport, Telecommunications and Energy; Agriculture and Fisheries; Environment; Education, Youth and Culture.

The work of the Council is prepared by the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States (COREPER), which is made up of permanent representatives of the Member States working in Brussels together with their assistants. The work done by this Committee is in turn prepared by around 250 committees and working groups made up of Member State delegates.

The Presidency of the Council is held successively by each Member State for a period of six months, in accordance with an order issued by the Council. The Presidency is assisted by the General Secretariat of the Council, which prepares the work and ensures that it runs smoothly. The Secretary-General of the Council is also the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy.

It is up to the Presidency to establish the provisional agenda, including items for which scheduling requests have been submitted – by a Member State or by the Commission – at least sixteen days prior to the date of the session in question. Once this period has elapsed, the inclusion of an additional item requires unanimity by the Council.

Each State has a number of votes in the Council, which are awarded according to its population. In most cases, the Council operates by means of a qualified majority, while a small number of policy areas require a unanimous vote.

The Council has six key responsibilities:
_ based on Commission proposals, approve Community legislation or legislate jointly with the European Parliament;
_ ensure that the general economic policies of the Member States are coordinated;
_ enter into international agreements between the EU and one or more States or international organisations on behalf of the EU;
_ establish the EU budget, along with the European Parliament;
_ establish the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy based on the guidelines approved by the European Council;
_ coordinate police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
_ The European Commission

Per the terms of the Treaty on European Union, the Commission ensures the application of the provisions of this treaty, as well as the measures taken by the institutions pursuant to it, and is therefore traditionally considered the guardian of the Treaties.

The Commission is made up of 27 members, but this number can be modified by the Council if decided by a unanimous vote. Commissioners are elected according to a rotational system based on the principle of equity, for a period of five years. 

As a collegiate body, they carry out their functions with complete independence from the Member States and the Council, as does each individual member. However, they are politically dependent on the European Parliament and are subject to legal control.

The Commission holds significant power of initiative (it presents proposals), giving it fundamental influence on the development of the European legislative process.

Its most important activities consist of expressing EU interests, drafting proposals for new EU policies, mediating between Member States to ensure the adoption of these proposals, and coordinating national policies.

The drafting of the Commission's proposals is the responsibility of the Commissioners in matters relating to their respective areas of responsibility, with material responsibility resting with the College of Commissioners. The Commission's decisions are taken by a simple majority of its members, in the aforementioned collegiate body.

In addition to the above-mentioned tasks, the Commission also exercises the powers assigned to it by the Council for the implementation of the rules established by it.

The Commission also participates in work carried out in the field of common foreign and security policy, as well as in relation to police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

Where extra-EU relations are concerned, particularly negotiating and entering into agreements between the EU and third countries or international organisations, the Commission presents recommendations to the Council, which authorises it to initiate the necessary negotiations.
The responsibilities of the Commission are distributed among its members by the President, who may change the distribution of these responsibilities during their term of office. The members of the Commission carry out the roles assigned to them by the President, under the latter’s responsibility.​

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