European Union (ES)

European Union

The European Union (EU) is a family of democratic European countries, committed to working together for peace and prosperity. It is not a State intended to replace existing states, but it is more than any other international organisation. The EU is, in fact, unique. Its Member States have set up common institutions to which they delegate some of their sovereignty so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at European level.

The historical roots of f the European Union lie in the Second World War. The idea of European integration was conceived to prevent such killing and destruction from ever happening again. It was first proposed by the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in a speech on 9 May 1950. This date, the “birthday” of what is now the EU, is celebrated annually as Europe Day.

In the early years, much of the co-operation between EU countries was about trade and the economy, but now the EU al lso deals with many other subjects of direct importance for our everyday life.

Europe is a continent with many different traditions and languages, but also with shared values. The EU defends these values. It fosters co-operation among the peoples of Eu

urope, promoting unity while preserving diversity and ensuring that decisions are taken as close as possible to the citizens.

In the increasingly interdependent world of the 21st century, it will be even more necessary for every European citizen to co-operate with people from other countries in a spirit of curiosity, tolerance and solidarity.

EU – Lithuania Relationship

A Brief History

Official relationship and co-operation between Lithuania and the European Community started on 27 August 1991 when the European Communities (as the predecessor of the EU, which was founded only through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992) decided to recognise the independence of Lithuania. The following year, an Agreement on Trade and Commercial and Economic Co-operation was signed between the EC and the Republic of Lithuania.

In 1993 at the European Su ummit Meeting in Copenhagen the EU for the first time clearly formulated its position on the membership of the Central and East European countries in the EU (referred to as the Copenhagen Criteria): countries that wanted to become a member of the EU had to comply to the political and economic basic principles of the Union and to be able to adopt the body of EU-laws (Acquis Communautaire)

In 1994, a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Lithuania was signed, followed in

n 1995 by a Europe Agreement (also known as Association Agreement), which completed and extended the scope of the Free Trade Agreement.

On 8 December 1995 the Government of the Republic of Lithuania submitted an official membership application. In July 1997 the European Commission published an official opinion recommending to immediately start membership negotiations immediately with five associate Central and East European countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, whereas five other countries, including Lithuania and Latvia, were deemed not to be ready for accession negotiations.

It was in 1999 when Lithuania was finally invited for accession negotiations, together with the other countries belonging to the so-called second group (Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria). On 15 February 2000, Lithuania started negotiations for the EU membership. 31 Chapters, ranging from Agriculture to Telecommunications, had to be dealt with individually. Membership negotiations were officially closed on the Copenhagen Summit in December 2002, and the Accession Treaty was signed by Prime Minister Brazauskas and Foreign Minister Valionis in Athens on 16 April 2003. At the referendum on 11 May 2003, the people of Lithuania voted with 91.07% in favor of joining the EU. Finally, on 1 May 2004, Lithuania became a full member of the European Union together with 9 other countries (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Po

oland, Slovakia, Slovenia).

What the future holds:

Although being a full member of the EU, integration is not yet complete in all sectors: there are a number of transitional periods as, for example, in the field of free movement of citizens, the restriction to buy land for foreigners or the right to maintain lower excise rates for cigarettes (a full list of all transition periods can be found at, by becoming a member of the EU, Lithuania did not automatically become a member of the Euro zone or the Schengen space. In order to joint these two zones, Lithuania has to qualify separately by fulfilling a certain number of conditions (respecting the convergence criteria for the Euro and to prove its ability to protect the common external borders for Schengen). It is expected that Lithuania will introduce the Euro and become a member of the Schengen zone in 2007.


Europe is changing its currencies
As from January 1, 2002, 12 European countries gave up their national currency forever, and adopted a common currency: the euro.
The new euro banknotes and coins circulated alongside the respective national currencies during a changeover period, which varied slightly from country to country. On 1 March 2002, however, it became sole legal tender th

hroughout the euro zone.
The following information is designed to give a basic understanding of the euro and the practical implications of the introduction of the notes and coins. Should you require further information please also see the website of the European Commission at or the European Central Bank at

Which countries are adopting the euro?

12 of the 15 European Union’s member countries are participating in the common currency. They are:
• Belgium
• Germany
• Greece
• Spain
• France
• Ireland
• Italy
• Luxembourg
• The Netherlands
• Austria
• Portugal
• Finland
(Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom are members of the European Union but are not currently participating in the single currency).
(Denmark is a member of the Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II) which means that the Danish krone is linked to the euro, although the exchange rate is not fixed.).
Over a period of just a few days,more than 14 billion euro banknotes and 50 billion euro coins will replace almost as many national currency banknotes and coins. Over 300 million people will be affected by this change. Never before had such an operation been undertaken on this scale.
What is the symbol for the euro?
The euro symbol – – , developed by the European Commission, was inspired by the Greek letter epsilon and also denotes the first letter of the word “Europe”. The two parallel lines refer to the stability inside the euro area.
The official international abbreviation for the euro is EUR.
What are the advantages of the euro?
When traveling in the euro area
You only have to change money once; one currency is all you need now. For instance, when you visit a museum in Italy, you can pay the entrance fee using euro coins left over from your stay in Greece; you can buy a meal in France with euro banknotes you got from a cash dispenser in Spain; etc. All this will save both time and money.
When shopping in the euro area
Prices are displayed in the same currency; they are easier to compare and help you make the right choice.
When doing business with the euro area
There is no longer any risk of fluctuation between currencies. Interest and inflation rates are much lower. You buy, sell and borrow within a larger and more competitive market. Managing your business is easier and less expensive.
European Parliament

Elected every five years by direct universal suffrage, the European Parliament is the expression of the democratic will of the Union’s 374 million citizens. Brought together within pan-European political groups, the major political parties operating in the Member States are represented.

Parliament has three essential functions:

It shares with the Council the power to legislate, i.e. to adopt European laws (directives, regulations, decisions). Its involvement in the legislative process helps to guarantee the democratic legitimacy of the texts adopted;
It shares budgetary authority with the Council, and can therefore influence EU spending. At the end of the procedure, it adopts the budget in its entirety;
It exercises democratic supervision over the Commission. It approves the nomination of Commissioners and has the right to censure the Commission. It also exercises political supervision over all the institutions.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The European Parliament can trace its origins back to the 1950s, but it was not elected by universal suffrage by the citizens of the Member States until 1979. It is therefore the direct democratic reflection of the will of the European Union’s citizens, and their main representative vis-à-vis the Community institutions.

Its history is punctuated by the reforms adopted in 1970 (budgetary provisions), 1975 (financial provisions), 1986 (Single European Act), 1992 (Maastricht Treaty) and 1997 (Amsterdam Treaty), which not only turned it into a real legislative body but also strengthened its role as the democratic overseer of the European Union.
Seat and composition

The European Parliament works in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Plenary sessions, which all MEPs attend, are held in Strasbourg, the Parliament’s seat. Parliamentary committee meetings and any additional plenary sessions are held in Brussels, whilst the General Secretariat is in Luxembourg. Elected every five years, Parliament has 626 MEPs affiliated to transnational political groups which represent the main political tendencies in the Member States of the Union.


The European Parliament has three main roles:
• it exercises democratic control over all the Community institutions, in particular the Commission;
• it shares legislative power with the Council;
• it plays a decisive role in the adoption of the budget.
Democratic supervision

Parliament exercises democratic supervision over the Commission, with the appointment of the President and Members of the Commission subject to its approval. The Commission is thus politically answerable to the Parliament, which can pass a “motion of censure” calling for its resignation. More generally, Parliament exercises control by regularly examining reports submitted to it by the Commission (general report, reports on the implementation of the budget, the application of Community law, etc.). Moreover, MEPs regularly ask the Commission written and oral questions. The Members of the Commission attend plenary sessions of Parliament and meetings of the parliamentary committees, thus maintaining a continual dialogue between the two institutions. Parliament also monitors the work of the Council: MEPs regularly ask the Council written and oral questions, and the President of the Council attends the plenary sessions and takes part in important debates.

Parliament exercises democratic supervision over the Commission, with the appointment of the President and Members of the Commission subject to its approval. The Commission is thus politically answerable to the Parliament, which can pass a “motion of censure” calling for its resignation. More generally, Parliament exercises control by regularly examining reports submitted to it by the Commission (general report, reports on the implementation of the budget, the application of Community law, etc.). Moreover, MEPs regularly ask the Commission written and oral questions. The Members of the Commission attend plenary sessions of Parliament and meetings of the parliamentary committees, thus maintaining a continual dialogue between the two institutions. Parliament also monitors the work of the Council: MEPs regularly ask the Council written and oral questions, and the President of the Council attends the plenary sessions and takes part in important debates.

Other means of democratic control at its disposal include the examination of petitions from citizens and temporary committees of inquiry.

The power to legislate

Together with the Council, Parliament formulates and adopts legislation proposed by the Commission. The most common legislative procedure is codecision. This places the European Parliament and the Council on an equal footing and leads to the adoption of joint Council and Parliament acts. If the two institutions disagree, a conciliation committee is convened to find a compromise.

The codecision procedure applies, in particular, to the free movement of workers, creation of the internal market, technological research and development, the environment, consumer protection, education, culture and health.

Furthermore, Parliament’s approval is required for certain important questions of a political or institutional nature, such as the accession of new Member States, association agreements with third countries, the conclusion of international agreements, the electoral procedure for the European Parliament, the right of residence of EU citizens and the tasks and powers of the European Central Bank.

Whilst the Commission is still the main source of legislative initiative, Parliament also provides substantial political momentum, especially by examining the Commission’s annual work programme or by asking the Commission to submit an appropriate proposal.

The power of the purse

Parliament and the Council are the key players in the adoption of the annual Community budget. Each year, the Commission prepares a preliminary draft budget subject to the Council’s approval. Two successive readings give Parliament the opportunity to negotiate with the Council to amend certain items of expenditure and ensure that budgetary resources are allocated appropriately. The budget is resubmitted to Parliament for final adoption and does not come into force until it has been signed by the President of Parliament.

Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control monitors the implementation of the budget, and each year Parliament grants a discharge to the Commission with regard to the implementation of the budget for the previous financial year.

Organization of work

Parliament’s work is divided into two main stages:
• preparing for the plenary session by the MEPs in the parliamentary committees specializing in the European Union’s various areas of activity;
• the plenary session itself, attended by all MEPs, for the concerted examination of proposals. The plenary sessions are normally held in Strasbourg (one week per month) and sometimes in Brussels (two days).
At the plenary sessions, the reporters present their dossiers, and the MEPs nominated by their political groups speak on the issues on the agenda.

These are usually proposals for legislation, Council or Commission communications or topical questions relating to what is going on in the European Union or the wider world. The assembly votes on amendments to legislative proposals before coming to a decision on the text as a whole.
Council of the European Union

(The Council of the European Union should not be confused with Council of Europe. The two organizations are quite distinct. The Council of Europe is an intergovernmental organization which covers all major issues facing European society other than defense. Its work programmer includes the following fields of activity: human rights, media, legal co-operation, social cohesion, health, education, culture, heritage, sport, youth, local democracy and transfrontier co-operation, the environment and regional planning. The present 15 European Union states, however, are all members of the Council of Europe.).

The Council of the European Union is the EU’s main decision-making body. It is the embodiment of the Member States, whose representatives it brings together regularly at ministerial level.

According to the matters on the agenda, the Council meets in different compositions: foreign affairs, finance, education, telecommunications, etc.

The Council has a number of key responsibilities:

It is the Union’s legislative body; for a wide range of EU issues, it exercises that legislative power in co-decision with the European Parliament;
It coordinates the broad economic policies of the Member States;
It concludes, on behalf of the EU, international agreements with one or more States or international organisations;
It shares budgetary authority with Parliament;
It takes the decisions necessary for framing and implementing the common foreign and security policy, on the basis of general guidelines established by the European Council;
It coordinates the activities of Member States and adopts measures in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The Council represents the Member States at European Union level and constitutes the main decision-making body. The government representatives in the Council are politically responsible to their national parliament and to the citizens they represent.

The Council’s field of action relates to the three “pillars” of the European Union (the European Communities, common foreign and security policy, and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters), but with different voting procedures in different cases.

Since the Treaty came into force with the merger of the executives in 1965, a single Council has existed for all three European Communities (ECSC, Euratom and EC). In 1993, the institution took the name “Council of the European Union” to reflect the fact that it acts both in the Community domain and in the intergovernmental context of the second and third pillars created by the Treaty on European Union.
Seat and composition

The Council’s seat is in Brussels, where the ministerial meetings take place, except in April, June and October, when they are held in Luxembourg.

The Council comprises one ministerial level representative of each Member State, empowered to commit his or her government. Although there is just one Council, different groups meet as a function of the topics to be discussed, the most common being General Affairs, Agriculture, Economic and Financial Affairs, Environment, Transport and Telecommunications, Employment and Social Policy, Fisheries, Industry and Energy, Justice, Home Affairs and Civil Protection, Internal Market, Consumer Affairs and Tourism, Research, Budget, Culture, Development, Education and Youth, and Health. The Presidency of the Council is held for six months by each of the Member States in turn.


The Council of the European Union has three essential roles:
• decision-making;
• coordinating the economic policies of the Member States;
• sharing the budgetary function with the European Parliament.
Decision-making powers

The Council’s decision-making power is used to ensure the realisation of the objectives laid down in the Treaties, under the conditions provided for there. As a rule, the Council only acts on a proposal from the Commission and, in most cases, with the participation of the European Parliament in the context of a codecision, consultation or assent procedure.

In general (e.g. for completion of the internal market, the environment or consumer protection), Community legislation is adopted jointly by the Council and Parliament under a codecision procedure. Since the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force in 1999, the field of application of this procedure has been extended to cover new areas, such as non-discrimination, free movement and residence, and combating social exclusion.

To the extent that they relate to essential components of national sovereignty, the Council plays a dominant role in common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters (JHA), areas in which the respective roles of Parliament and the Commission are more limited.

When it comes to implementation, the general principle is that the power to enforce Community legislation is conferred on the Commission. However, in specific cases, the Council may reserve the right to perform executive functions itself.

Coordinating the economic policies of Member States

The Treaty provides for the adoption of an economic policy based on the close coordination of Member States’ economic policies. To this end, the Council adopts each year draft guidelines for the economic policies of the Member States, which are then included in the conclusions of the European Council. They are subsequently converted into a Council recommendation and accompanied by a multilateral surveillance mechanism.

Moreover, the coordination provided for in the Treaty is performed entirely in the context of EMU, where the “ECOFIN” (ECOnomic and FINancial affairs) Council plays a leading role.

Budgetary powers

Parliament and the Council are the key players in the adoption of the annual Community budget. Each year, a preliminary draft budget is submitted to the Council for approval. Two successive readings give the European Parliament the opportunity to negotiate with the Council to modify certain items of expenditure and ensure that budgetary resources are allocated appropriately.

If no agreement can be reached, the Council makes the final decision on so-called compulsory expenditure (mainly agricultural expenditure and that arising from international agreements with third countries). Parliament, on the other hand, has the last word when it comes to ‘non-compulsory’ expenditure and the final adoption of the budget in its entirety.

Organization of work

The Member States have permanent representations to the EU in Brussels. The ambassadors of the Member States (or “permanent representatives”) meet weekly within the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper). The role of this committee is to prepare the work of the Council, with the exception of agricultural issues, which are handled by the Special Committee on Agriculture. The Council is assisted by working groups made up of officials from the national administrations. Of the various configurations , the “General Affairs”, “Economic and Financial Affairs” and “Agriculture” Councils meet once a month, whilst the others meet two to four times a year, depending on the urgency of the subjects tackled. The most common voting procedure provided for in the Treaty is qualified majority voting.

The threshold for qualified majority voting is 62 votes out of 87 (71% of all votes). The votes of the Member States are weighted according to population and adjusted in favour of the less populous countries in the following way: Germany, France, Italy and the UK have 10 votes; Spain has 8; Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal have 5; Austria and Sweden 4; Denmark, Ireland and Finland 3; Luxembourg 2.

The President of the Council plays a very active role in organizing its work and chairs the meetings. He or she has an important role in promoting legislative and political decisions and as an arbiter between the Member States, brokering compromises between them.

The Presidency is assisted by the General Secretariat, which prepares and ensures the smooth functioning of the Council’s work, at all levels. Since 18 October 1999, Mr Javier Solana has been the Secretary-General/High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). In addition to his role as head of the General Secretariat, Mr Solana, as High Representative of the CFSP, assists the Council in drafting, formulating and implementing political decisions and, where necessary, pursuing political dialogue on the Council’s behalf with third countries. The Secretary-General is assisted by a Deputy Secretary-General in charge of managing the General Secretariat.
European Commission
The European Commission embodies and upholds the general interest of the Union. The President and Members of the Commission are appointed by the Member States after they have been approved by the European Parliament.

The Commission is the driving force in the Union’s institutional system:

It has the right to initiate draft legislation and therefore presents legislative proposals to Parliament and the Council;
As the Union’s executive body, it is responsible for implementing the European legislation (directives, regulations, decisions), budget and programmers adopted by Parliament and the Council;
It acts as guardian of the Treaties and, together with the Court of Justice, ensures that Community law is properly applied;
It represents the Union on the international stage and negotiates international agreements, chiefly in the field of trade and cooperation.
European Commission’s Central Library


Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The European Commission embodies the general interests of the European Union and acts as a driving force in the integration process. It proposes directions to take and implements the measures decided on by the Council and Parliament. It is politically answerable to the European Parliament, which has the power to dismiss it by adopting a motion of censure.

The origins of the European Commission can be traced back to the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was the precursor of the Commission we know today. Since the treaty to merge the executives came into force in 1967, a single Commission has served all three European Communities (ECSC, Euratom and EC).

Seat and composition

The seat of the Commission is in Brussels.

The Commission has a college of 20 members. The President, the two Vice-Presidents and the 17 other Members of the Commission are chosen for their general competence, and all present guarantees of independence. They have all held political positions in their countries of origin, often at ministerial level. (some reference to post enlargement agreement would be relevant for Lithuania).

The Commission is reappointed every five years, within six months of the elections to the European Parliament. This interval gives the new Parliament time to approve the Commission President proposed by the Member States, before the President designate constitutes his future team, in collaboration with the governments of the Member States. Parliament then gives its opinion on the entire college through a process of approval. Once accepted by the Parliament, the new Commission can officially start work the following January.


The European Commission has four main roles:
• to propose legislation to Parliament and the Council;
• to administer and implement Community policies;
• to enforce Community law (jointly with the Court of Justice);
• to act as a mouthpiece for the European Union and negotiate international agreements, mainly those relating to trade and cooperation.
Initiator of Community policies

The Commission’s proposals relate to fields defined by the Treaties, in particular transport, industry, social policy, agriculture, the environment, energy, regional development, trade relations and development cooperation.

Under the “subsidiary principle”, the Commission’s initiatives relate only to those areas where Community-level action would be more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level. The aim of these proposals is to defend the interests of the Union and its citizens, not those of specific countries or sectors.

Once a Commission proposal has been presented to the Council and the European Parliament, the three institutions work together to reach a satisfactory result. The Council generally decides on Commission proposals by qualified majority voting (or unanimity if it decides to reject a proposal), and the Commission examines the European Parliament’s amendments carefully before presenting an amended proposal, if appropriate.


The Commission is the European Union’s executive in all the fields in which the Union acts, but its role is particularly important in certain sectors such as competition policy (monitoring cartels and mergers, removing or monitoring discriminatory state aid), agriculture (drawing up regulations) or technological research and development (promotion and coordination via the Community framework programme). The Commission is responsible for managing the Community budget, under the supervision of the Court of Auditors. The common goal of both institutions is to ensure good financial management. The European Parliament uses the Court of Auditors’ annual report to grant the Commission discharge for the implementation of the budget.

Guardian of the Treaties

The Commission ensures that European legislation is applied correctly in the Member States in order to maintain a climate of mutual confidence between the Member States, economic operators and private individuals.

It takes steps to deal with infringements of Community obligations (e.g. against a Member State that is not applying a directive).

If a situation cannot be settled through the infringement procedure, the Commission must then refer the matter to the Court of Justice, which ultimately ensures that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties. Court of Justice judgments are binding on Member States and the European institutions.

The Commission also monitors companies’ respect for the competition rules, under the supervision of the Court of Justice.

Mouthpiece on the international stage

The European Commission is an important mouthpiece for the European Union on the international stage, in particular when it comes to negotiating international agreements on the external aspect of EU policies.

The Lomé Convention, which associates the EU with developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP), is just one example.

Organization of work

The “Commission”, as a political body, is a college made up of 20 members. It is assisted by an administration comprising general services (Secretariat-General, Legal Service, Euro stat, etc.) and the Directorates-General (DGs), each of which is headed by a Director-General answerable to the relevant Commissioner.

The Commission usually meets once a week, on Wednesdays in Brussels, except during the plenary sessions of Parliament, when it meets in Strasbourg.

During these meetings, each item is presented by the Commissioner responsible for that area. If necessary, decisions are put to a simple majority vote of the 20 members of the College. Once a decision has been adopted, it becomes an integral part of the Commission’s policy and has the unconditional support of all the members of the Commission.

In exercising its powers, the Commission consults widely in order to garner the opinions of parliaments, national administrations and professional/trade union organizations. On the more technical details of legislative provisions or proposals, the Commission systematically consults the experts that meet in the committees and working groups it organizes . It is assisted in the adoption of many implementing measures by committees made up of representatives from the Member States. The Commission works closely with two advisory bodies, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, which are consulted with regard to many proposed pieces of legislation. The Commission attends all the sessions of the European Parliament, where it must clarify and justify its policies. It also replies regularly to written and oral questions posed by MEPs.
Court of Justice of the European Communities
The Court of Justice ensures that Community law is uniformly interpreted and effectively applied. It has jurisdiction in disputes involving Member States, EU institutions, businesses and individuals. A Court of First Instance has been attached to it since 1989.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The Court of Justice ensures that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties.

As the judicial institution of the Union, it ensures that Community law is interpreted and applied in the same way in each Member State, in other words that it is always identical for all parties and in all circumstances.

Since its creation in 1952, the Court has had many thousands of cases brought before it. To cope with this influx and improve the legal protection offered to citizens, a Court of First Instance was created in 1989. This Court is responsible for ruling on certain categories of case in the first instance, particularly those relating to competition rules and actions brought by private individuals.
Seat and composition

The seat of the Court of Justice is in Luxembourg.

The Treaty does not lay down any composition by nationality but, in practice, the Court comprises one judge per Member State, so that the various national legal systems are represented. The Court is aided by eight advocates-general, whose role is to present publicly and impartially reasoned opinions on the cases brought before the Court.

The judges and the advocates-general are appointed by joint agreement of the governments of the Member States for a renewable term of six years, with partial reappointment every three years. These are members of the highest national judiciary or jurisconsults of recognised competence presenting all the guarantees of independence.

The Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance each have a President, appointed for a term of three years.


In order to ensure that the law is observed in the interpretation and application of the Treaties, the Court has wide jurisdiction that it exercises in the context of the various categories of proceedings, of which the following are the most common:
• preliminary rulings;
• proceedings for failure to fulfil an obligation;
• proceedings for annulment;
• proceedings for failure to act.
The preliminary ruling

To ensure the effective application of Community legislation and avoid differences of interpretation between the national courts, the Treaties introduced the preliminary ruling procedure which, without creating a hierarchy, institutionalised cooperation between the Court of Justice and the national courts. With regard to cases coming under Community law, national courts, if in doubt about the interpretation or validity of this law, may, and sometimes must, ask the Court for advice.

The preliminary ruling principle demonstrates clearly that the national courts too are guarantors of Community law. This is why the Community legal system is based on successful cooperation between the Community and national courts.

Proceedings for failure to fulfil an obligation

Such proceedings allow the Court to monitor Member States’ fulfilment of their obligations under Community law. They may be initiated either by the Commission (most commonly) or by a Member State. If found to be in default, the Member State concerned must rectify the situation without delay.

Proceedings for annulment

Proceedings for annulment allow the Member States, Council, Commission and, under certain conditions, Parliament to request the annulment of a Community provision and private individuals to request the annulment of legal acts that affect them directly and individually. They also give the Court the opportunity to examine the legality of acts adopted by the Community institutions. If the proceedings are found to be justified, the disputed act may be declared null and void.

Proceedings for failure to act

This is where, contrary to the Treaty, the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission fails to make a decision. In such a case, the Member States, the other Community institutions and, under certain conditions, natural or legal persons can lodge a compliant with the Court with a view to having this violation officially recorded.

Organization of work

Cases are submitted to the registry and distributed among the judges. Each file is followed by a specific judge and advocate-general.

A judge appointed as judge-reporters has to draw up a report for the hearing, summarizing the legal background of the case and the observations of the parties submitted in the first, written phase of the procedure. In the light of the conclusions of the advocate-general appointed to the case, the judge-reporter draws up a draft ruling which is submitted to the other members of the Court for examination.

The procedure before the Court therefore has a written and an oral phase. The written procedure comprises an exchange of statements between the parties and the establishment of the report by the judge-reporter. At the public hearing, the parties’ lawyers are invited to put their case before the judges and the advocate-general, who can question them. The advocate-general then gives his or her conclusions before the judges deliberate and deliver their judgment.

In principle, the Court meets in plenary session, but it can also create chambers of three or five judges, depending on the importance or complexity of the case. Judgments of the Court are decided by a majority and pronounced at a public hearing. Dissenting opinions are not expressed, and judgments are signed by all the judges who participated in the deliberation.

At an administrative level, the judges recruit their staff directly to form their cabinets, which comprise three law clerks to the Court and two to the Court of First Instance. Their role is to help the judges draw up their reports and draft rulings. The Court’s administrative services are led by the registrar, who is also responsible for following cases procedurally.
Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors checks that all the Union’s revenue has been received and all its expenditure incurred in a lawful and regular manner and that financial management of the EU budget has been sound.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The Court of Auditors was established in 1977 with the revision of the budgetary arrangements in the Treaties and became an institution in its own right with the entry into force of the Treaty on European Union in 1993.
In 1999, following the Treaty of Amsterdam, its auditing and investigation powers were extended so that it could combat fraud against the Community budget more effectively.
Seat and composition

The seat of the Court of Auditors is in Luxembourg.
It comprises 15 members appointed by the Council for a renewable term of six years, ruling unanimously after consultation with the European Parliament.
The members of the Court of Auditors are chosen from the ranks of those who, in their respective Member State, have worked for an auditing institution or are specifically qualified for that work. Each member must meet certain criteria with regard to his or her competence and independence and must work full-time for the Court.
The members elect a president from their number for a term of three years.
The main role of the Court of Auditors is to monitor the correct implementation of the EU budget, i.e. the legality and regularity of Community income and expenditure. It also ensures sound financial management and contributes to the effectiveness and transparency of the Community system. Whilst retaining its independence, which is vital for its auditing function, the Court of Auditors maintains a dialogue and collaborates closely with the other Community institutions. One of its key functions in the institutional system is to help the budgetary authority (the European Parliament and the Council) by presenting them every year with observations from the annual report on the previous financial year. The observations in this report play a very important role in Parliament’s decision on whether or not to grant the Commission discharge with regard to the implementation of the budget. The Court of Auditors also submits to the Council and Parliament a statement of assurance as to the proper use of European taxpayers’ money.

In its reports, the Court of Auditors draws the Commission’s and Member States’ attention to any outstanding problems. These reports are the result of investigations of documents and, if need be, in situ investigations of any organization managing income or expenditure on behalf of the Community. Finally, the Court of Auditors gives an opinion on the adoption of financial regulations. It can, at any time, submit observations on specific issues or give an opinion at the request of one of the European institutions.

Organization of work

The Court of Auditors performs audits and produces reports independently, and is free to decide on the organization of its work, in particular the scheduling of auditing activities, the time and way to present its observations, and the publicity to be given to its reports and opinions.

It has approximately 550 highly qualified staff, of whom about 250 are auditors. The auditors are divided into “audit groups” for their auditing work. They prepare draft reports which the Court of Auditors then decides upon.

The Court of Auditors undertakes many auditing missions to the other EU institutions, Member States of the Union and all third countries benefiting from Community aid. In fact, although the Court’s work largely concerns the European Commission (i.e. the income and expenditure administered under the Commission’s responsibility), 90% of all income and expenditure relating to the administration of Community policies is managed by the national authorities.

The Court’s auditors verify the supporting documents for financial operations and visit the direct administrators and beneficiaries of Community funding. In general, the auditing missions to Member States last one to two weeks and are carried out in collaboration with national auditing bodies or the competent national authorities.
Audit reports must mention all the details of the audits performed, underline any weaknesses observed in the implementation system, list any errors, irregularities or fraud that have been found and suggest any follow-up measures.
The Court of Auditors has no juridical powers of its own. When auditors discover frauds or irregularities, the information is communicated as quickly as possible to the Community bodies responsible, for them to take the appropriate action.
The Court of Auditors informs the citizens of Europe, the Member States and the European institutions of the results of its work in an objective and open manner through the publication of its reports, in particular:
• an annual report concerning the implementation of the European Union budget for the previous financial year;
• a “statement of assurance” on the reliability of the accounts and the correctness of the underlying transactions for the previous financial year;
• specific annual reports concerning certain Community bodies in various fields (especially vocational training, improving living and working conditions, and the environment);
• special reports on subjects of particular interest (e.g. the financial impact of reform of the CAP or financial aid to overseas countries and territories).
European Central Bank

The European Central Bank and the national central banks together constitute the Euro system, the central banking system of the euro area. The main objective of the Euro system is to maintain price stability: safeguarding the value of the euro.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The arrival of Monetary Union in Europe has brought with it a new currency, the euro, and a new central bank, the European Central Bank (ECB).

The ECB and the central banks of the countries that have adopted the euro make up a new entity known as the “Euro system”. As certain Member States of the European Union have not yet adopted the euro, it is important to make a distinction between the Euro system of 12 countries and the European System of Central Banks (ESCB), which comprises 15 countries.

Founded on 1 June 1998, the European Central Bank (ECB) took over from the European Monetary Institute (EMI), which had played a central role in preparing for the launch of the euro on 1 January 1999.
Seat and composition

The seat of the European Central Bank is in Frankfurt am Main (Germany). Its staff come from all the Member States of the European Union.

It enjoys total independence in its work. Neither the ECB, the national central banks of the Euro system, nor any member of their decision-making bodies can ask for or accept instructions from any other body. The European institutions and Member State governments must respect this principle and must not seek to influence the ECB or the national central banks.

The ECB works in close collaboration with the national central banks in order to prepare and implement the decisions taken by the decision-making bodies: the Governing Council, the Executive Board and the General Council.

The President of the ECB and the other five members of the Executive Board are appointed by the Member States for a non-renewable term of eight years.


The European Central Bank is the pivot of the Eurosystem. It guarantees that the tasks delegated to it are performed either by itself or via the participating national central banks.

In pursuit of its primary objective, price stability, the ECB’s main missions are to:
• define and implement the monetary policy of the euro zone;
• conduct foreign exchange operations, hold and manage the official exchange reserves of the countries of the euro zone;
• issue notes in the zone euro;
• promote the smooth operation of payment systems.
It is also responsible for:
• collecting the necessary statistical information, either from the national authorities, or directly from economic agents such as financial institutions;
• following developments in the banking and financial sectors, and promoting the exchange of information between the ESCB and the banking authorities.
The main objective of the Euro system is to maintain price stability in the euro zone, thus preserving the euros purchasing power. The strategy is based on two pillars:
• a prominent role for money, as signaled by the announcement of a quantitative reference value for the growth of the money supply in the broadest sense, with inflation seen as the consequence of an excessive money supply compared to the supply of goods and services;
• a broadly based assessment of future price trends and risks to price stability in the euro zone as a whole (wages, exchange rates, long-term interest rates, various measures of economic activity, etc.).
In order to allow the public to gauge the success of the single currency policy, the ECB has announced a precise definition of its main objective. Price stability is defined as a year-on-year increase in consumer prices of less than 2%.
Organization of work
The European Central Bank’s work organization is based on the operation of the decision-making bodies that generally meet at the ECB.
The Governing Council

The Governing Council is the European Central Bank’s highest decision-making body. It comprises the six members of the Executive Board and the governors of the 12 central banks of the euro zone. It is chaired by the president of the ECB.

Its primary mission is to define the monetary policy of the euro zone, and, in particular, to fix the interest rates at which the commercial banks can obtain money (i.e. liquid funds) from the central bank.

The Executive Board

The Executive Board comprises the President, Vice-President and four other members, all appointed by common accord of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States in the euro zone. It is responsible for implementing monetary policy, as defined by the Governing Council and, in this context, for giving the necessary instructions to the national central banks. It also prepares the Governing Council meetings and is responsible for the day-to-day management of the ECB.

The General Council

The General Council is the third decision-making body of the European Central Bank. It comprises the President and the Vice-President of the ECB and the governors of the national central banks of all 15 EU Member States. The General Council contributes to the ECB’s advisory and coordination work and helps with preparations for the future enlargement of the euro zone.
European Economic and Social Committee
The European Economic and Social Committee represents the views and interests of organized civil society vis-à-vis the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament. The Committee has to be consulted on matters relating to economic and social policy; it may also issue opinions on its own initiative on other matters which it considers to be important.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The Economic and Social Committee (ESC) is an advisory body ensuring that the various economic and social interest groups (employers, trade unions, farmers, consumers, etc.) are represented in the institutional framework of the European Union.

Founded in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome, the ESC is both a forum for dialogue and the institutional platform that gives groups involved in economic and social life the opportunity to be an integral part of the Community’s decision-making process. Through its opinions, the ESC contributes to the definition and implementation of the European Union’s policies.

The ESC therefore plays a special role in the institutional structure of the Community: it is where Europe’s organized civil society, of which socio-professional organizations are a vital part, is represented, can take part in debates and make its voice heard. It is thus a bridge between Europe and its citizens.

The entry into force of the Treaty of Maastricht (1993) gave the ESC a status similar to that of the other institutions, especially with regard to its rules of procedure and budget, the reinforcement of its right of initiative and the management of staff in its Secretariat-General. In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam significantly broadened its field of action, notably in social matters.
Seat and composition

The seat of the ESC is in Brussels, where most of its meetings and the plenary sessions are held. Meetings are also organized at other locations.

The members of the Committee are put forward by the governments of the Member States and appointed by the Council of the European Union for a renewable term of four years. The 222 members are totally independent, and the number from each Member State approximately reflects the population size (24 members for France, Germany, Italy and the UK, 21 for Spain, 12 for Austria, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden, 9 for Denmark, Finland and Ireland, and 6 for Luxembourg).

The Committee has a Plenary Assembly, a Bureau, three Groups, six Sections and a Secretariat-General. It elects its President and two Vice-Presidents for a two-year term. The President represents the ESC externally.


The Economic and Social Committee has three main roles:
• to advise the three large institutions (Council, Commission and, since the Treaty of Amsterdam, the European Parliament);
• to promote a greater commitment/contribution from organized civil society to the European venture, thus promoting a more participatory, more inclusive and therefore more democratic society;
• to bolster the role of civil society organizations and associations in non-Community countries by fostering structured dialogue with their representatives and, whilst respecting their economic, social and cultural realities, to support the creation of advisory structures.
Organization of work

To achieve all this, the Committee can issue three different kinds of opinion:
• opinions on matters referred to it by the Commission, Council or European Parliament;
• own-initiative opinions, which enable the Committee to express its views on any issue it considers of interest;
• exploratory opinions, where it is asked by the Commission or the European Parliament to reflect on and make suggestions with regard to a particular subject which could subsequently lead to a proposal for European legislation.
Furthermore, the Committee can have one of its sections draw up an information report on a general or topical question.

ESC opinions help decision-makers to assess the impact of Commission proposals on those directly affected and to come up with any amendments. The Committee also provides valuable technical assistance, and its own-initiative opinions and information reports provide food for thought which, in many cases, leads the Commission to make proposals.

Working in their countries of origin, the members of the Committee act as links with the national organizations from which they come. In most cases, they only travel to Brussels for working meetings. Three groups have been formed within the ESC to represent employers, workers and various economic and social interests.

Employers (Group I)

The Employers’ Group (Group I) has members from private and public sectors of industry, small and medium-sized businesses, chambers of commerce, wholesale and retail trade, banking and insurance, transport and agriculture.

Workers (Group II)

The vast majority of Group II members come from national trade union organizations belonging to the European Trade Union Confederation. Others are members of the European Confederation of Executives and Managerial Staff.

Various Interests (Group III)

The unique feature which forges Group III’s identity is the wide range of categories represented within it: its members are drawn from farmers’ organizations, SMEs, the crafts sector, the professions, cooperatives and non-profit associations, consumer organizations, environmental organizations, and associations representing the family, women, persons with disabilities, the scientific and academic communities, NGOs, etc.

These diverse groupings are bound together by their sense of duty towards the large proportion of the EU population whose interests they represent. Since Group III’s foundation, this sense of duty has led it to ask for its organizations to be effectively involved in the shaping of EU decisions.

The sections

The Committee has six sections dealing with the main areas covered by the Treaties:
• Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment
• Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion
• Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship
• External Relations ” The Single Market, Production and Consumption
• Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society
For the preparation of their opinions, the sections generally convene internal study groups comprising a reporter assisted by experts. For certain special subjects or ones that relate to several sections, the Committee may make use of a temporary ad hoc structure: the sub-committee. A sub-committee operates in a similar way to the sections, but its role is limited to examining a specific problem at a specific time.

Each section has a bureau responsible for coordinating its work with the president of the section.

Formulation of opinions

The Committee’s opinion-drafting procedure generally follows the following stages:
1. The request for an opinion is usually sent to the President of the Committee by the Council, but it can also be from the Commission or, now, from the European Parliament.
2. The Bureau decides which section should prepare the work.
3. The section sets up a study group (on average nine people) and appoints a rapporteur assisted by experts (normally four).
4. Based on the work of the study group, the section adopts an opinion by a simple majority, which is then placed on the agenda for the plenary session.
5. The Committee, in plenary session, adopts its opinion by a simple majority, based on the opinion presented by the competent section.
6. This opinion is addressed to the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament.

Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions ensures that regional and local identities and prerogatives are respected. It has to be consulted on matters concerning regional policy, the environment and education. It is composed of representatives of regional and local authorities.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The Committee of the Regions is an advisory body which ensures that local and regional authorities are represented at the heart of the European Union.

Provided for in the Treaty on European Union, it was created in 1994 and plays a complementary role in the decision-making process between the Commission, Parliament and Council. It allows representatives of local and regional authorities to give opinions on European Union policies. Since the Amsterdam Treaty came into force in 1999, the Committee of the Regions has had an autonomous organisational structure and its own rules of procedure (without the need for the Council’s approval in advance, as was the case before). Moreover, the Committee’s field of action has been considerably enlarged, in particular in the areas of social affairs, the environment and transport.
Seat and composition

The seat of the Committee of the Regions is in Brussels.

The 222 members of the Committee and the same number of alternates are nominated by the Council of the European Union for a renewable term of four years, at the recommendation of the respective Member States.

The members are totally independent, and the number from each Member State approximately reflects the population size (24 members for France, Germany, Italy and the UK, 21 for Spain, 12 for Austria, Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden, 9 for Denmark, Finland and Ireland, and 6 for Luxembourg).

Being municipal or regional politicians, the members of the Committee represent the entire range of local and regional government activities in the European Union. They may be regional presidents, regional parliamentarians, town councillors, mayors of large cities, etc.

The Committee of the Regions appoints a President from among its members, for a term of two years. The President chairs the plenary sessions and represents the Committee to the outside world.


The role of the Committee of the Regions is to put forward the local and regional points of view concerning Community legislation. The cornerstone of its work is drawing up opinions on Commission proposals.

The Committee of the Regions also helps the European Union to run smoothly by safeguarding the “subsidiary principle”, according to which the Union should not intervene unless Community action would be more effective than national, regional or local action. By monitoring the proper application of this principle, the Committee facilitates the effective implementation of Community measures whilst defending the prerogatives of the regions in the fields that concern them.

The Commission and the Council must consult the Committee of the Regions on topics of direct relevance to local and regional authorities, such as:
• economic and social cohesion (regional policy and Structural Funds);
• trans-European transport, telecommunications and energy networks;
• public health;
• education, youth and culture;
• employment policy, vocational training and social policy;
• the environment;
• transport.
More generally, the Council, Commission or Parliament can consult the Committee whenever they feel they need. For its part, the Committee can adopt opinions on certain subjects on its own initiative (e.g. agriculture, protection of the environment or urban policy). These opinions are then presented to the Commission, Council and Parliament.

Organization of work

The members of the Committee of the Regions are allocated to specialist commissions responsible for preparing the five plenary sessions each year, during which the Committee’s general policy is defined and opinions adopted. There are six commissions:
• Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy (COTER)
• Commission for Economic and Social Policy (ECOS)
• Commission for Sustainable Development (DEVE)
• Commission for Culture and Education (EDUC)
• Commission for Constitutional Affairs and European Governance (CONST)
• Commission for External Relations (RELEX).
The work of the Committee and its internal commissions is organized by the Bureau, which comprises a president, 35 members and the leaders of the political groups in the Committee. The Secretariat-General is responsible for the administration of the Committee.
European Investment Bank
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the European Union’s financial institution. It finances investment projects which contribute to the balanced development of the Union.

Seat, composition, role and organization of work

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is the financial institution of the European Union. Both “bank” and “European institution”, it aids the achievement of the Union’s objectives by funding projects that promote European integration, balanced development, economic and social cohesion and the development of an innovative knowledge-based economy.

Created in 1958 by the Treaty of Rome, the EIB is financed through borrowing on the financial markets. Unlike traditional banks, it has no commercial resources from savings or current accounts. As the world’s foremost non-sovereign borrower, the EIB enjoys the highest possible credit rating (AAA) on the capital markets. This enables it to mobilise, on very competitive terms, the substantial volumes of savings needed to support its lending activity.
Seat and composition

The seat of the European Investment Bank is in Luxembourg, where it employs highly qualified and multicultural staff from all the Member States of the European Union.

The EIB’s shareholders are the Member States of the European Union. They subscribe jointly to its capital, according to a sliding scale that reflects each State’s economic weight within the Union. The EIB has a Board of Governors, a Board of Directors, a Management Committee and an Audit Committee.


The European Investment Bank is non-profit-making and does not draw on the budgetary resources of the European Union. Its mission is to fund public and private investment in projects that promote the objectives of European integration.

The substantial funds raised by the EIB on the financial markets are invested in carefully selected projects. Investments must meet the following criteria:
• they must serve as a catalyst to attract other sources of funding;
• they must relate to fields such as reinforcing the competitiveness of European industries and SMEs, creating trans-European networks (transport, telecommunication and energy transfer), protecting the natural and urban environments, and investing in the health, education and information technology sectors;
• they must relate mainly to the most disadvantaged regions.
This philosophy applies to activities both in the Member States of the European Union and in third countries. Whilst almost 90% of the EIB’s activities take place within the European Union, a significant proportion of funding goes to applicant countries, for which specific funding mechanisms have been created.

The EIB also supports sustainable development in the Mediterranean countries, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as projects of common interest in Latin America and Asia.

Finally, the EIB is the majority shareholder in the European Investment Fund (EIF), and chairs its supervisory board. Created in 1994, the EIF has its seat in Luxembourg. Its main objective is to support investment financing in SMEs.

Organization of work

The European Investment Bank borrows and lends within the framework of the economic policies defined by the Union. Each year, it presents an annual report accounting for all its activities. This report provides details of the Bank’s operations and accounts and also lists and describes the projects financed.

At the invitation of the European Parliament, the Bank takes part in certain parliamentary committees dealing with subjects relevant to its activities. It is also involved in preparing the work of the European Council and reports on its contribution to the achievement of the Union’s objectives and their likely development as a function of the needs of the economy. The Bank also cooperates with the other European institutions in the context of Community policies relevant to its activities. The President of the EIB may therefore attend Council meetings, bringing the Bank’s expertise to bear on the subjects being discussed.

Under its statutes, the EIB enjoys decision-making autonomy within the Community’s institutional system. Its management and control structures allow it to make borrowing and lending decisions exclusively on the merits of each project and the best opportunities offered by the financial markets. The EIB’s cooperation links with the EU institutions and the international banking community help it to ensure synergy between its loans and the EU’s budgetary instruments and to attract investment to projects that it supports in the interests of the Union’s economic objectives.

The Bank deals directly with the promoters of large-scale projects (at least 25 million euro), while for smaller projects (SMEs or local authorities) it works with some 180 banks and specialist financial intermediaries in Europe, which use EIB funding in accordance with EIB criteria.

Board of Governors

The Board of Governors brings together the ministers appointed by each Member State, normally the Finance Minister. It defines the general thrust of lending policy, approves the balance sheet and annual report, commits the Bank to funding projects outside the EU and decides on capital increases. It appoints the members of the Board of Directors, the Management Committee and the Audit Committee.

Board of Directors

The Board of Directors, chaired by the President of the Bank, comprises 24 members appointed by the Member States and one by the European Commission. It is responsible for making sure that the EIB is managed in accordance with the objectives assigned to it. It also approves lending and borrowing operations.

Management Committee

The Management Committee is the full-time executive of the Bank. Comprising a President and seven Vice-Presidents, it sits in Luxembourg. It collectively oversees the daily management of the EIB, and prepares and ensures proper implementation of the Board of Directors’ decisions, particularly with regard to raising capital and granting loans.

Audit Committee

The EIB has an internal and external audit structure covering all of its operations and applying the standard procedures in the banking and financial sector. This structure is headed by the Audit Committee, which examines the correctness of the Bank’s operations and its books, based on the work of internal auditing bodies and external auditors. It also cooperates with the Court of Auditors for the external auditing of EIB operations involving the budgetary resources of the European Union or its Member States.
European Ombudsman
All individuals or entities (institutions or businesses) resident in the Union can apply to the European Ombudsman if they consider that they have been harmed by an act of “maladministration” by an EU institution or body.

Seat, nomination, role and organisation of work

In accordance with the Treaties, the statute and the general conditions governing the performance of the Ombudsman’s duties were laid down by a Decision of the European Parliament on 9 March 1994, taking account of the Commission’s opinion and the Council’s approval.
Seat and nomination

The Ombudsman is appointed after each European Parliament election for a renewable term of five years, corresponding to Parliament’s legislative term. His seat is that of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg. He is assisted by a secretariat, whose principal administrator he also appoints.

The Ombudsman operates completely independently and impartially. He does not request or accept instructions from any government or organization. Moreover, during his term of office, he may not exercise any other professional activity, either paid or unpaid.

The Ombudsman’s work comes to an end either on the expiry of his mandate, or by voluntary or compulsory resignation. If the position of Ombudsman falls vacant early, his successor is appointed within three months of the vacancy arising, for the remainder of the legislative term.

If he no longer fulfils the conditions required for the performance of his duties or is guilty of serious misconduct, the Ombudsman may be dismissed by the Court of Justice, at the request of the European Parliament.


The Ombudsman is authorized to receive complaints from EU citizens or natural or legal persons residing or having their legal domicile in a Member State.

He helps to uncover maladministration in the Community institutions and bodies. Only the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance – acting in their judicial role – fall outside his jurisdiction. The Ombudsman therefore acts as an intermediary between the citizen and the Community authorities. He is entitled to make recommendations to the Community institutions and to refer a matter to the European Parliament, so that the latter can, if necessary, apply the political consequences of a case of maladministration.

Organization of work

A complaint to the European Ombudsman must be submitted within two years of the date on which the underlying facts were brought to the attention of the complainant. Moreover, any appropriate administrative steps with regard to the institutions or bodies concerned must already have been taken. A complaint is not eligible if the alleged facts are or have been the subject of legal proceedings. Furthermore, any complaint to the Ombudsman must clearly state the subject of the complaint and the identity of the complainant, who may, however, ask for the complaint to remain confidential. If necessary, the Ombudsman can advise the complainant to approach another authority.

The Ombudsman, on his own initiative or following a complaint, conducts all the inquiries he considers justified to clarify any suspected maladministration. He then informs the institution or body concerned, which can respond with its own comments. The Community institutions and bodies are obliged to provide the Ombudsman with any information he requests and to give him access to the relevant files. They can refuse to do so only on justified grounds of confidentiality.

If the Ombudsman discovers a case of maladministration, he informs the institution concerned and makes draft recommendations. The institution concerned has three months to submit a detailed opinion. The Ombudsman then submits a report to the European Parliament and the institution concerned. The complainant is also informed of the outcome of the investigations.

Every year, the Ombudsman presents a report to the European Parliament on the results of his investigations.

Decision-making in the European Union
Decision-making at European Union level is the result of interaction between various parties, in particular the “institutional triangle” formed by the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission. The Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the European Central Bank and the Economic and Financial Committee also intervene in many specific areas.
The rules for this decision-making procedure are laid down in the Treaties and cover every area in which the European Union acts. Here, we are concerned only with the legislative procedure, not the procedures for the adoption of the budget or the conclusion of international agreements. Even though there are certain areas, such as EMU, where specific arrangements apply, we can, in general, distinguish between three main procedures which, depending on the case, govern decision-making on the legislative front:
• co decision;
• assent;
• Consultation.
The legal basis

The choice of decision-making procedure depends on the legal basis of the initiative. It is up to the European Commission to determine the legal basis when it draws up a proposal. The choice must be based on objective criteria that are open to judicial review.
This choice is very important when it comes to defining the border between, say, a measure coming under the consultation procedure (e.g. in the area of agriculture) and a measure calling for co decision (e.g. in the context of the internal market). It is not possible to combine several legal bases requiring different decision-making procedures.
As the above example illustrates, the choice of legal basis mainly concerns the relative powers of Parliament and the Council, with Parliament merely giving its opinion in the case of consultation but acting as a genuine co-legislator in the co decision procedure.

The co decision procedure

The co decision procedure was introduced by the Treaty on European Union (Maastricht Treaty, 1992) and is governed by Article 251 of the Treaty establishing the European Community. It was simplified and its field of application extended by the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997).

It provides for two successive readings, by Parliament and the Council, of a Commission proposal and the convocation, if the two co-legislators cannot agree, of a “conciliation committee”, composed of Council and Parliament representatives, with the participation of the Commission, in order to reach an agreement. This agreement is then submitted to Parliament and the Council for a third reading with a view to its final adoption.


The assent procedure was introduced by the Single European Act (1986). It means that the Council has to obtain the European Parliament’s assent before certain very important decisions are taken. Parliament can accept or reject a proposal but cannot amend it.

Simple consultation

Under the consultation procedure, the opinion of the European Parliament is sought. Once it has received this opinion, the Commission can amend its proposal accordingly. The proposal is then examined by the Council, which can adopt it as it is or amend it first. However, if the Council decides to reject the Commission proposal, this must be a unanimous decision.

The areas covered by this procedure are:
• Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters
• Revision of the Treaties
• Enhanced cooperation (launch)
• Discrimination on grounds of sex, race or ethnic origin, religion or political conviction, disability, age or sexual orientation
• EU citizenship (implementation arrangements, new rights)
• Agriculture
• Visas, asylum, immigration and other policies associated with the free movement of persons
• Transport (principles likely to have a significant impact on the standard of living and employment in certain regions and the exploitation of transport facilities)
• Competition rules
• Tax arrangements
• Economic policy (changing the protocol on the excessive deficit procedure)

The Presidency (of the European Union)

The Head of State or Premier of the member state currently holding the Presidency presides over the European Council, which provides the strategic input of the European Union. On the basis of the decisions of the European Council, which normally meets twice during each presidential term, the Council of Ministers of the Union meets to examine issues of community interest and sector policy.

The Ministers of the government of the country holding the Presidency preside over the meetings of the Council of the European Union. The number of Council meetings varies: some Ministers meet at least once a month, while others hold less frequent meetings. In addition to Council meetings, which take place in Brussels and Luxembourg, the Presidency organizes informal ministerial meetings to discuss any specific points of the half-year programmer which require in-depth examination without however the need for legislative measures (consequently, no votes are taken and no formal conclusions reached).

The country holding the Presidency presides over the meetings of the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER), composed of the Ambassadors of the member states. The COREPER (divided into two parts) prepares the meetings of the various councils on the basis of the preliminary findings of over 150 work groups, which are also presided over by representatives of the member state currently holding the Presidency.


 Desmond Dinan “Encyclopedia of the European Union”
 Dick Leonard “Guide to the European Union”
 euro-symbol/e-symbol
 BUSINESS/images/top/

Leave a Comment