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The European Commission (“EC”) is the European Union’s politically independent executive arm.

It is alone responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

  • The European Parliament is the EU’s law-making body. It is directly elected by EU voters every 5 years.
  • In the Council of the EU, government ministers from each EU country meet to discuss, amend, and adopt laws, and coordinate policies. The ministers have the authority to commit their governments to the actions agreed on in the meetings.
  • Together with the European Parliament, the Council is the main decision-making body of the EU.

What does the European Commission do?

Its role is to promote the general interest of the EU by proposing and enforcing legislation as well as by implementing policies and the EU budget.

Proposes new laws

Its job is to develop laws for member states and enforce them.

Based in Brussels, it’s the only EU body that can draft laws.

It employs more than 32,000 staff in total and its running costs this year are €3.6bn.

Once its proposals have the approval of the European Parliament and a council of 28 ministers from the EU states, they can become law.

The laws it proposes cover many areas.

Manages EU policies & allocates EU funding

  • Sets EU spending priorities, together with the Council and Parliament
  • Draws up annual budgets for approval by the Parliament and Council
  • Supervises how the money is spent, under scrutiny by the Court of Auditors

Enforces EU law

Together with the Court of Justice, the EC ensures that EU law is properly applied in all the member countries.

Represents the EU internationally

The EC speaks on behalf of all EU countries in international bodies, in particular in areas of trade policy and humanitarian aid

It also negotiates international agreements for the EU.

How is the European Commission structured?

Political leadership is provided by a team of 27 Commissioners (one from each EU country) – led by the Commission President, who decides who is responsible for which policy area.

The College of Commissioners is composed of:

  • The President of the Commission
  • 8 Vice-Presidents
  • 3 Executive Vice-Presidents
  • The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
  • 18 Commissioners, each responsible for a portfolio

The day-to-day running of Commission business is performed by its staff (lawyers, economists, etc.), organized into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs), each responsible for a specific policy area.

Appointing the President

Every five years, the 28 commissioners are replaced.

New commissioners – one from each country – and a president of the commission are put forward to be voted on by a newly-elected European Parliament.

These candidates all have to be approved by a clear majority of the parliament, which has 751 MEPs.

The candidate is put forward by national leaders in the European Council, taking account of the results of the European Parliament elections.

He or she needs the support of a majority of members of the European Parliament in order to be elected.

Selecting the team

The Presidential candidate selects potential Vice-Presidents and Commissioners based on suggestions from the EU countries.

The list of nominees has to be approved by national leaders in the European Council.

Each nominee appears before the European Parliament to explain their vision and answer questions. Parliament then votes on whether to accept the nominees as a team.

Finally, they are appointed by the European Council, by a qualified majority.

The current Commission’s term of office runs until 31 October 2024.

How does the European Commission work?

Strategic planning

The President defines the policy direction for the Commission, which enables the Commissioners together to decide strategic objectives, and produce the annual work program.

Collective decision making

Decisions are taken based on collective responsibility. All Commissioners are equal in the decision-making process and equally accountable for these decisions. They do not have any individual decision-making powers, except when authorized in certain situations.

The Vice-Presidents act on behalf of the President and coordinate work in their area of responsibility, together with several Commissioners.

Priority projects are defined to help ensure that the College works together in a close and flexible manner.

Commissioners support Vice-Presidents in submitting proposals to the College. In general, decisions are made by consensus, but votes can also take place. In this case, decisions are taken by a simple majority, where every Commissioner has one vote.

The relevant Directorate-General (headed by a Director-General, answerable to the relevant Commissioner) then takes up the subject. This is usually done in the form of draft legislative proposals.

These are then resubmitted to the Commissioners for adoption at their weekly meeting, after which they become official, and are sent to the Council and the Parliament for the next stage in the EU legislative process.