How does the European Union work?
After the Second World War, the European States agreed that another war in Europe must never happen again.
They put in common the management of carbon and steel (the main raw materials needed to make a war) and to use jointly the funds coming from the Marshall Plan (a package of financial help for reconstruction given by the United States).
The idea of a United Europe was not new in Europe. Many people at the time were federalists and wanted to create the United States of Europe. For others, the idea of a single market without barriers to movement or trade was very appealing.
You are probably familiar with how local and national government works.The European Union system is different, because the division between “government” and “legislative bodies” is more blurred.
There are four main institutions:
The European Council
The European Council is composed of the heads of state and government of European Union members. The prime minister or president of your state will sit on the Council.
The Council meets every three to four months, although they can also call emergency meetings outside of that cycle. Members work together to reach agreements on issues where the maximum political legitimacy is needed – for example, investing in new initiatives, or responding when a member of the Union is acting in a problematic manner. The European Council also plays an important role in showing the direction the Union should take in situations of crisis.
The Council of the EU
This second body is composed of ministries from your own government.
They are grouped into 11 configurations and each one has a specific responsibility. For example, one group is responsible for agriculture, one for finances, one for youth and education etc.
The President of the Council of the EU is given every six months to a different member state and is responsible for coordinating the Council’s work. Together with the Parliament, the Council can discuss, amend and approve the European laws. For some pieces of law, the Council alone can decide without the Parliament.
The European Parliament
There are 705 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) from all 27 EU member states. They are directly elected by people in their own countries every five years in the European elections. You can find the MEPs of your country here. They discuss, amend and approve the European laws together with the Council of the EU and keep the Commission accountable.
The European Commission
The European Commission is led by the President of the European Commission, together with a group of Commissioners. Each member state has one commissioner who is independent from a political party and is in charge of a portfolio of policies.
The Commission’s President is elected by the European Parliament following a proposal put forward by the European Council after having had regard to the results of the European elections. The whole Commission needs to be approved by the European Parliament.
The European Commission puts together the proposals for legislation which are then discussed by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament. It implements EU policies by executing the budget of the European Union.
All the parties in your country belong to a European political family.
These are groups which bring a range of parties from different member states together who all share a certain political inspiration.
For example, the center right parties tend to belong to the European People’s Party (EPP). The center left political parties are often members of the Party of European Socialists (S&D). Meanwhile, liberal parties tend to belong to the Renew Europe group.
Members of the European Parliament are also divided into groups according to their affiliation with their political family. For example, MEPs affiliated with a center-right party belong to the EPP group, the MEPs affiliated with a center-left party belong to the S&D group, the MEPs affiliated with a liberal party are part of the group Renew Europe.
Questions for further research & reflection
- Who is your MEP? How much did they win by? What do you think of their politics? What political group do they sit within in the European Parliament?
- Is a Minister from your country chairing the Council in the coming years and months?
- Who would you like to ‘win’ the next European election, as the organisation with the most MEPs?