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Thursday, 18th April 2024
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EU institutions – at a glance Back  
With Charlie McCreevy soon to take up his new role as European Commissioner for the Internal Markets, and two of Ireland's Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Eoin Ryan and Gay Mitchell, sitting on the Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON) Ireland's role and influence in the EU is increasing. But what is the difference between the Commission and the Parliament? FINANCE the opportunity to look at the structure and roles of the various European Union institutions.
The European Parliament
The European Parliament (EP) is the democratic voice of the peoples of Europe. Directly elected every five years, the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sit not in national blocs but in seven political groups. Each group reflects the political ideology of the national parties to which its members belong. Some MEPs are not attached to any political group. In the European election of June 1999, nearly 30 per cent of the MEPs elected were women.

Parliament’s principal roles are as follows:
• To examine and adopt European legislation. Under the co-decision procedure, Parliament shares this power equally with the Council of Ministers
• To approve the EU budget
• To exercise democratic control over the other EU institutions, possibly by setting up committees of inquiry
• To assent to important international agreements such as the accession of new EU Member States and trade or association agreements between the EU and other countries
As with national parliaments, the EP has parliamentary committees to deal with particular issues (foreign affairs, budget, environment and so on). Via one of these, the Committee on Petitions, European citizens can also submit petitions directly to the European Parliament. The Parliament elects the European Ombudsman, who investigates complaints from citizens about maladministration in the EU. Josep Borrel Fontelles is the president of the European Parliament.

The European Commission
The European Commission does a lot of the day-to-day work in the European Union.
It drafts proposals for new European laws, which it presents to the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission makes sure that EU decisions are properly implemented and supervises the way EU funds are spent. It also keeps an eye out to see that everyone abides by the European treaties and European law.
The European Commission consists of 20 women and men (more in 2004), assisted by about 24 000 civil servants. The President is chosen by the governments of the EU Member States and must be approved by the European Parliament. The other members are nominated by the member governments in consultation with the incoming president and must also be accepted by Parliament. The Commission is appointed for a five-year term, but it can be dismissed by Parliament.

The Commission acts independently of the governments of the Member States. Many, but not all, of its staff work in Brussels, Belgium. Jose Manuel Barroso is the incoming president of the European Commission.

The Council of the European Union
The Council of the European Union - formerly known as the Council of Ministers - is the main legislative and decision-making body in the EU. It brings together the representatives of the all the Member State governments, which you elect at national level. It is the forum in which the representatives of your governments can assert their interests and reach compromises. They meet regularly at the level of working groups, ambassadors, ministers or - when they decide the major policy guidelines - at the level of presidents and prime ministers, i.e. as the European Council.

The Council - together with the European Parliament - sets the rules for all the activities of the European Community (EC), which forms the first "pillar" of the EU. It covers the single market and most of the EU’s common policies, and guarantees freedom of movement for goods, persons, services and capital.
In addition, the Council is the main responsible for the second and third ‘pillars’, i.e. intergovernmental cooperation on common foreign and security policy and on justice and home affairs. That means, for example, that your governments are working together within the EU to combat terrorism and drug trafficking. They are joining their forces to speak with one voice in external affairs, assisted by the High Representative for common foreign and security policy.

European Court of Auditors
The funds available to the EU must be used legally, economically and for the intended purpose. The Court of Auditors, an independent EU institution located in Luxembourg, is the body that checks how EU money is spent. In effect, these auditors help European taxpayers to get better value for the money that has been channelled into the EU.

The European Central Bank
The European Central Bank is in charge of the single currency, the euro. The Bank independently manages European monetary policy - deciding, for example, how high interest rates should be. The Bank’s main objective is to ensure price stability, so that the European economy will not be damaged by inflation. But the monetary policy also supports other political objectives decided in the EU. The European Central Bank is based in Frankfurt in Germany. It is managed by a president and an executive board in close cooperation with the national central banks of the EU countries.

European Investment Bank
The Bank lends money for investment projects of European interest, in particular projects that benefit less well-off regions. It finances, for example, rail links, motorways, airports, environmental schemes, and (via partner banks) investment by small businesses (SMEs) that helps create jobs and growth. Loans also support the Union’s enlargement process and its development aid policy. The Bank is based in Luxembourg and raises its funds on the capital markets. As a non-profit organisation it is able to lend on favourable terms.

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