The European Union institutions and the Presidency
The European Council is the EU’s supreme body, which defines the EU’s general political direction and priorities. The European Commission presents proposals for EU legislation and supervises compliance with laws. The Council of the European Union and the European Parliament pass laws and also approve the EU budget.
The European Parliament handles political control and advises in accordance with the EU Treaties. The European External Action Service is responsible for the Union’s activities and representation in third countries.
The European Council meetings, or EU summits, set the broad political directions and guidelines for the European Union but do not act as the legislature. The European Council brings together the Heads of State or Government of every EU country, the Commission President and the President of the European Council. The President of the European Council is also the President of the EU, who chairs the EU Heads of State meetings.
The European Council defines the Union’s strategic advantages and objectives, which pertain to the Common Foreign and Security Policy and other fields of the Union’s external action. The High Representative is responsible for the Union’s foreign affairs and security policy. The High Representative chairs the Foreign Affairs Council and acts as Vice-President of the Commission.
The President of the European Council guides the work of the European Council and endeavours to reconcile the various views of the individual Member States. The President also chairs Summit meetings between the European Union and other countries (countries outside the EU).
The President of the European Council represents the European Union at Head of State level meetings. As the President of the EU, he strives for his part to increase the visibility of the European Union and to influence the strengthening of the EU’s position as a global player.
The term of the President of the European Council lasts for 2.5 years and is renewable once. The first person to serve as President of the European Council is Herman van Rompuy, who has also been selected for a second term which continues until the end of 2014.
The Council of the European Union together with the European Parliament passes EU laws and exercises budgetary power. At EU Council meetings, national ministers representing the Union’s Member States coordinate EU policy and approve legislation proposed by the Commission. The country holding the EU Presidency has the main responsibility for the work of the EU Council during its Presidency term.
The European Commission upholds the interests of the European Union as a whole and ensures compliance with the Treaties and the measures adopted under them. The European Commission presents proposals for EU legislation and supervises the implementation of and compliance with laws. The Commission is also responsible for supervision associated with the practical implementation of EU policy and the use of funds. The European Commission also has important external relations tasks, for instance in the sectors of trade and development policy.
The Commission consists of 28 appointed Commissioners, one from each EU Member State. Each Commissioner is responsible for a particular EU policy area. The President of the European Commission participates in the work of the European Council together with Heads of State or Government from the Member States. The European Council appoints the President and, in agreement with the new President, the other members of the Commission. The European Parliament approves the appointment of the President, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and other members of the Commission as a body. The President of the European Commission is José Manuel Barroso, who is now serving his second term of office.
The European Parliament passes laws and approves the EU budget together with the Council of the European Union. The European Parliament also supervises the work of other EU institutions and ensures that they operate democratically. The European Parliament works in close cooperation with the national parliaments of the EU countries. The European Parliament is an increasingly influential player both in the EU and internationally. In external relations, this is seen, e.g. as the strengthening of the Parliament’s role in international agreements.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected directly by voters for a term of five years. The number of MEPS elected from each country is proportional to the country’s population. The Members of Parliament are grouped not by nationality but by political affiliation. The most recent European Parliament elections took place in the EU Member States between 22 and 25 May 2014.
The Presidency of the EU changes every six months in accordance with a previously agreed schedule. The Presidency’s role is central to the internal workings of the European Union, but nowadays it is less visible outside the EU.
The Presidency country has the primary responsibility for the work of the Council of the European Union and a significant opportunity to influence the issues raised to the fore and discussed during its Presidency.
The Member State that holds the Presidency steers the work of the Council of Ministers (with the exception of the Foreign Affairs Council) and the public servants’ working groups preparing the Council’s meetings. The working groups prepare the groundwork for EU decisions and future legislation, on which the Ministers take decisions.
Finland has held the rotating Presidency of the European Union twice, in 1999 and 2006. Finland’s next Presidency term will take place in 2020.
- 2014 Greece, Italy
2015 Latvia, Luxembourg
2016 Netherlands, Slovakia
2017 Malta, United Kingdom
2018 Estonia, Bulgaria
2019 Austria, Romania
2020 Finland, Germany
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