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The European Commission

European Commission (Brussels), © MAEE, F. de La Mure European Commission (Brussels) © MAEE, F. de La Mure

The European Commission was established under the EU's founding Treaties. The Commission is an institution that is the guardian of European general interest. It represents and upholds the interests of the European Union as a whole.

What are the Commission's powers?

Proposing legislation: the Commission has a right of initiative enabling it to make proposals on matters covered by the Treaty. It has exclusive power of initiative in the Community domain but shares this power with the Member States in the areas of Common Foreign and Security Policy and as regards certain Justice and Home Affairs issues. In addition, the Commission may be asked by the Council and the European Parliament to draw up initiatives if they think this is necessary.

Implementing EU policies and managing the EU Budget: the European Commission is also the Union's executive body since it is responsible for implementing the decisions adopted by the Parliament and the Council. Practically speaking, the scope of the implementing powers conferred on the Commission by the Council is specified in each legislative instrument. In this context, the Treaty provides for the Commission to be assisted by a committee, according to the procedure known as "comitology".

Comitology is an important aspect of the functioning of the European institutions. Within various committees, the Commission is assisted by representatives from Member States to adopt the measures for the implementation ("implementing measures") of EU legislative instruments. These committees enable the Commission to establish dialogue with the national administrations before adopting implementing measures. The Commission thus ensures that these measures reflect as closely as possible the situation in each of the countries concerned.

The Commission is also responsible for managing the day-to-day business of the Union, i.e. implementing common policies and Community programmes. Budget funds are allocated by the Commission.

Enforcing Community law: the European Commission acts as "guardian of the Treaties". It is therefore required, together with the Court of Justice of the European Communities, to ensure that EU law is correctly applied in all the Member States. If the Commission finds that an EU country is not applying an EU law, it launches a legal process called the "infringement procedure". This involves sending that country's government an official letter stating the reasons why the Commission considers that the country in question is infringing EU law and setting its government a deadline for sending the Commission a detailed reply. If this procedure fails to resolve the problem, the Commission refers the matter to the Court of Justice which is empowered to impose penalties as its judgments are binding on the Member States and EU institutions.

Negotiating international agreements: the Commission is mandated by EU Member States to conduct international negotiations in the key areas of trade (negotiations in the World Trade Organization) or development assistance (Cotonou Agreement which provides for co-operation in development assistance and trade between the European Union and countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific).

How does the Commission operate?

The Commission consists of a college of twenty-seven "Commissioners" from each of the Member States. Commissioners are designated to run the Commission and adopt decisions by common accord. During Commission meetings, each item on the agenda is presented by the Commissioner responsible for that policy area, but decisions are adopted by the college which bears collective responsibility for them (this is known as the "principle of collegiality"). Commissioners are mostly key political figures in their countries of origin. Yet, as members of the Commission, they are required to act in the general interest of the European Union, not in that of their countries of origin.

A new Commission is appointed every five years according to a procedure involving the Member States and the European Parliament. The governments of Member States agree together on who to designate as the new President of the Commission. This decision is then approved by the European Parliament. The Commission President-designate then chooses the other Commission Members in consultation with the Member States' governments. The list of Commission nominees, including the President-designate, is submitted, as a college, to the European Parliament for approval. The present Commission's term of office ends on 31 October 2009. Its President is José Manuel Barroso.

The Commission is accountable to the European Parliament for its management of EU policy. The Parliament has the power to dismiss the whole Commission by voting a motion of censure.

  • Updated: 24.09.2008
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