Did EU know? is our series on the European Union, its institutions and processes, and their jargon. You may find the other articles here
What are European Institutions and bodies?
There are 13 EU Institutions and bodies that ensure the functioning of the European Union, There are also 4 so-called Interinstitutional bodies, that support the work of the others (for example with recruitment, cybersecurity and publications). From these only 7 are classified as principal decision-making bodies, meaning that they have the power to make decisions.
6 Institutions at a Glance
We work most closely with 6: European Commission, European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the EU Ombudsman and the European Economic and Social Committee. We will present these institutions in more detail separately in our next ‘Did you know?’ series. For now, let’s take a quick look.
The European Parliament is composed of 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are directly elected by EU citizens every 5 years. MEPs reviews, proposes changes and debates legislation proposed by the Commission and have a say in the strategy and the budget of the EU, however, they cannot create new legislation. They vote on legislation during Plenary sessions (in Strasbourg), but deeper analysis and reports are done in Committees. These are smaller groupings of MEPs that work in areas of expertise, such as Employment, Internal Market or Civil Liberties.
Members of the European Parliament also have a budget to organise visits for groups of citizens that want to understand more about the EU and discuss issues that impact, so don’t hesitate to contact your MEP.
The Commission is the executive body of the EU. It can be roughly compared to a national government. There are two levels on the Commission: 28 Commissioners (which function as ministers would in the government), that oversee strategy and policies on different areas, such as transport, education, health,). and administrative bodies called Directorate-Generals and Agencies which manage EU funds, draft the first proposal of laws and managing other day to day operations.
The European Council and the Council of the European Union
The European Council is made up of the heads of state or government of the 28 EU member states, the European Council President and the President of the European Commission. They convene (usually 4 times a year, excluding extraordinary meetings) to define the overall priorities, or to solve urgent issues. Those are the high-level political meetings you usually hear about in the media.
When government ministers (and not heads of state) meet, the body is called the Council of the European Union. In practice, it is a combination of different committees: groups of different ministers to discuss issues in their area (Agriculture, Employment, among others). When Finance ministers meet, it’s also called the Eurogroup.
They are not to be confused with the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is an international organisation, independent from the EU, with 47 member states, which aims to uphold human rights and the rule of law.
The European Ombudsman ‘s role is to investigate complaints of bad administration by EU institutions: discrimination, negligence, fraud, among others. Any EU citizen or organisation can submit a complaint.
Decisions of the Ombudsman are not binding, which means that Institutions may choose not to follow them. However, there is a generally high compliance rate. The Ombudsman has investigated disability-related complaints, such as inaccessible recruitment processes and funding of residential institutions.
European Economic and Social Committee
The European Economic and Social Committee is a consultative body of the EU. This means it can provide recommendationss to other bodies, either at their request or by its own initiative. The Committee has 350 members representing so-called “social partners”: employers, employee organisations (such as trade unions) and representatives from “various other interests”. This third group includes civil society, such as representatives of persons with disabilities.
In fact, two members of our Executive Committee are also EESC members: Our President Yannis Vardakastanis (also Vice-President of this third group) and Gunta Anca. The Committee has a study group on the issues of persons with disabilities.