Government of the EU has always oscillated between the inter-governmental conference model, in which states retain all their powers, and the supranational model where a part of the states’ sovereignty is delegated to the Union.
In the first case, community decisions are in reality dealt with between states and must be adopted unanimously. This model, close to the principles of classic inter-governmental organisations, is defended by Eurosceptics. According to them it is the heads of state or government who have the democratic legitimacy to represent their citizens. These nations should therefore be in control of the Union’s institutions. Europhiles make the alternative case. They believe that institutions should represent the people directly. With the EU expanding between 2004 and 2007, they believe that the method of taking decisions within institutions should be adaptable so as to avoid the risk of total paralysis.
The EU employs a hybrid model of government: the Council of Ministers represents the States (decisions do not require unanimity, the votes from each State are weighted according to each State’s demographic size) and the European Parliament represents the citizens. This model is one of the keys to the struggle for influence between three European institutions: Parliament, Commission and Council.
These three are joined by other institutions making a total of five, each with a specific function:
The European Parliament (EP) is the parliamentary assembly, elected by directly by the universal suffrage of the Union’s citizens.
The Council of the European Union (CEU), previously called the Council of Ministers, is the main decision-making and legislative body in the EU. It represents the governments of the member states.
The European Commission (EC) This is the politically independent institution that represents and defends the interests of the Union as a whole, proposing legislation, policies and action programmes and being responsible for implementing the decisions of the EP and the CEU. It is the body with both executive and initiative power.
The Court of Justice of the European Union ensures compliance with the Union’s laws and has authority over the judicial powers of the member states.
The European Court of Accounts (ECA) controls the legality and regularity of the management of the EU budget.
The EU also has six important bodies: European Central bank, the European Social and Economic Committee, the Regional Committee for Europe, the European Investment Bank, the European Ombudsman and Europol.
The Decision Making Process
Documents produced by the commission (basically the “white papers”) and its treaties set out certain principles. These precede a great number of decisions. Two principles guide the decision-making processes of the EU following the Maastricht Treaty; the principle of subsidiarity and the principle of proportionality. These principles are the subject of protocols to the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997).
The European Commission has the monopoly on right of initiative through the preparation of the majority of issues concerning the first pillar of the EU (which allows it to weigh in the formation of the proceedings of Union Council and Parliament) and shares this right with member states on the other two pillars. The President of the European Commission participates in European Council meetings. At the end of the summits, the European Council directs its findings to the European Commission.
For its part the European Council gives every member state a number of votes, which decide whether laws voted on are adopted or not.
Thus, as the only institution elected by the people, the European Parliament has acquired great standing. From its beginnings as a simple consultative body, it has acquired the true power of co-decision on a par with the Council of Ministers on numerous matters. Thus, in 2004 the parliament was able to influence the nomination of the European Commission. Its representative legitimacy, however, remains hampered by rates of abstention in its elections, which are generally higher than those of national elections.
European Commission in Spain:
European Parliament in Spain: