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Functions of the EU Commission

Info: 2699 words (11 pages) Law Essay
Published: 17th Jul 2019

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Jurisdiction(s): EU Law

With reference to the structure, role and functions of the EU Commission, the EU Council of Ministers and the EU Parliament, critically explain to what extent you consider the EU to be a democratic organization.

Due to the expansion of the European Union’s power, the EU’ s institutions are able to legislate and enjoy jurisdiction over all the Member States that are a part of the EU. This shift in sovereignty from national to international sovereignty has caused great unease with those Member States and in particular with regards to the democracy of the EU’ s institutions. This paper will investigate the structure, role and functions of the EU’ s institutions and whether they can truly purport to be democratic international institutions.

The Institutions

Due to the sui generis nature of EU law, the EU’ s institutions do not fall into the typical national categories of legislature, executive and judiciary as such. Therefore, a formal separation of power is not applicable when dealing with EU law. There is much overlap between the functions of each institution. There are five institutions in total: the European Commission; the Council of Ministers; the European Parliament; the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance. Concentrating on the first three only, we shall now look at their respective functions, composition and structure.

The EU Commission (The “Commission”)


The Commission is a supranational institution as its members seek to achieve what is in the best interests of the EU. Article 211 of the EC Treaty sets out the Commission’s functions but in short, the Commission’s function consists of considering, proposing and legislating. Many policies start at the Commission and then it administers them whilst checking that the EU’ s other organs are implementing them correctly. It drafts legislation and often, rather than legislating itself, passes it on to the Council or the Parliament to legislate. Two important sources of the Commissions influence derives from its ability to deliver opinions on any EU matter, and its obligation to publish an annual report on the activities of the EU as both of these give the Commission scope to influence policy debates. In practice, the Commission is the most relevant with regards to interaction with the legal profession as it decides matters that are directly relevant to issues that relevant to their clients.


The Commission comprises of 27 members, each one nominated by each Member State. One of the Commissioners serves as its President and there are five Vice- Presidents. Each Member State agrees first on a candidate to become the President of the Commission and then the other members follow. The Member States then nominate the other members of the Commission along with the President’s approval. The Parliament must approve en bloc the composition of the Commission as it may block the whole of it. Art 213 EC shows that each member must act independently from their Member States instructions thus emphasizing the independent nature of the Commission.


Each Commissioner is responsible for their respective specific portfolio. The Commission can be split into three broad departments where its own Commissioner heads it. The policy department deals with economic, environmental, social, agricultural issues. The external relations department deals with development, expansion, aid and trade. The services department works on advising on policy, informatics, infrastructure and logistics, legal services and administration.

The EU Council Of Ministers (The “Council”)


Under Art 202 of the EC Treaty, the Council is to be regarded as the political and law-making organ where it maintains co-ordination of economic policies of Members States. It makes decisions and confers powers to the Commission. It is not an independent organ; it represents the national interests of Member States and differs to the Commission.


Art 203 EC states that the Council is to comprise of a representative from each Member State who is then authorized by its government to bind that Member State. It is usually the Foreign Minister of each state who fulfils this role. However, if the Council has to discuss a specific issue (i.e. agriculture) then the Agricultural Minister from all Member States would be required to attend. A President presides over the Council and is chosen from one Member State for six months. This is then rotated amongst the Member States. Gaining Presidency is significant as the President has the ability to set the agenda for the Council and so matters that are pertinent to that Member State shall be given a high priority.


The Council votes on issues via a majority of its members and is regarded as the primary decision-making institution. The population of each Member State determines the weighting of voting. Most of the Council’s work is completed by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) are permanent diplomats who supplement the Council. Most Commission proposals are given to COREPER who then attempt to reach a consensus and around 90 per cent of decisions are taken at this level.

The EU Parliament (The “Parliament”


Art 192 has cemented the role of the Parliament as a key legislative organ as it adopts regulations and directives. By a majority of its members, the Parliament can request the Commission to submit any appropriate proposal on issues that require Community legislation for the purposes of implementing the EC Treaty. The Parliament supervises the Commission and as stated above can require proposals from it. The Parliament is the EU’s budgetary authority and has as an ombudsman who hears complaints regarding the EU’s institutions. The functions of the Parliament have grown over recent years and many see this trend will continue.


Art 189 states that the Parliament is to comprise of representatives of the ‘peoples of the States brought together in the Community’. The members are elected by the holding of elections across the EU. Each Member State sends a number of representatives to the Parliament for a period of five years. These MEPs do not sit in relation to their Member States but rather in political groups. The number of MEPs is not linked to population as Luxembourg has more MEPs per head population than the UK.


The Parliament is the only directly elected EU institution and so is afforded democratic respect that the other institutions lack. However, it does not enjoy the power of the Council, as it has no power to dismiss the Council. With regards to the Commission, it has no control over it whatsoever. This is a significant point and one that raises questions relating to the ‘democratic deficit’ that is inherent in this structure of organs.

The ‘Democratic Deficit’

The legitimacy of the law making procedures has dominated the debate that surrounds the Community’s legislative process. The greater the economic and political power that has shifted, the more concerned critics have become to the lack of democratic process and accountability. Chalmers notes that ‘democratic deficit’ refers to three critiques that we shall turn to.

1. Representative Democracy And Member States

Representative democracy refers to the Parliament’s input and the extent that Community legislation undermines the sovereignty of democratically elected parliaments in Member States. This transfer of powers, from Member States to the Council and Commission has ignored a shift in power to the EU Parliament. As stated above, the legislation is proposed by the Commission, then negotiated amongst those in COREPER and is then adopted by the Council. It is evident that the Parliament’s powers have not increased and so concentrates on the role of national parliaments when legislating. Weiler contends that the Parliament remains shamefully ‘debilitated’, both by ‘its formal absence of powers’ and by its ‘structural remoteness’ from the ‘peoples’ it claims to represent

2. Participatory Democracy

The participatory democracy refers to the criticism that Community law making is ‘insufficiently plural’ and fails to take into account the interests of different parties. It is not a single political community that can lay claim to the ‘primary political allegiances of its members in the same way as the nation-state’. Chalmers states that due to the mixed nature of the EU, it favours republican models that are concerned with placing democracy in organs that are not centered around one political community but a ‘community of communities’. This can lead to problems as such diversification of interests can lead to a situation where only the interests with greatest support will prevail.

Weiler notes that the EU advocates a principle of ‘constitutional tolerance’ in that Member States are required to acknowledge a shared destiny with foreign states and the values of these states without attempting to change them. However, in practice, this acknowledgment only goes so far. Member States often acknowledge those states that are similar to them and so ignore those states that are different. The participatory democracy fails as the similar interests of different Member States are the only interests that are acknowledged and so it becomes a highly selective form of governance.

3. Deliberative Democracy And European Citizens

Habermas notes that for a democracy to be truly democratic it has to enable strangers to come together in order to decide common matter as equals and freely. Individuals respect the laws that are passed due to their participation in the process of appointing a legislator. Deliberative democracy concerns refer to the lack of public debate between citizens and the EU as its institutions concentrate on negotiations between Member States. Such debate is not present between citizens of the EU as it remains within the national sphere.

EU citizenship is regarded as a solution to this as its inclusiveness would facilitate such democratic dialogue within the EU that would transcend national boundaries. Halberstam states that the lack of openness, public accountability and effective democratic participation in the new Europe hinders such democratic development within the EU. This was evident in the poor electoral turnouts in recent European elections and referenda. The involvement of citizens within the EU in the process is crucial in attempting to legitimize the EU’s institutions. However, such calls are likely to spark debate with national legislatures.

The constitution and the reform treaty claim that the EU is founded on the value of democracy. In fact it was founded by representative democracies whose plans for the development of the European co-operation excluded democratic representation. Lack of proper democratic representation is arguably the biggest flaw in the planning of the EU. The founding institution, the European Coal and Steel Community was set up to be run by appointed officials with independent powers of decision making over its members, power to actually overrule governments. The EU now perform many functions of a state but it is not run as a democratic state .The restrictions of freedoms discernible in the charter of fundamental rights of the union and the extension of so-called ‘’ shared competences”, which can only take more and more power away from sovereign governments, reduce democratic validity and democratic control of the European Union.

In member states there are small but significant roles for citizens in making democratic system work. Political parties usually develop policies through period of discussions with their active members and their own politician who have considerable face to face contact with electors and therefore know their concern. They present the board outline of their policies to the public and on the basis of these, the party’s record and the reputations of individual politicians a party is elected to power. It‘s a crude and not entirely satisfactory system but it enjoys considerable support. In the European Union plans evolve differently and less democratically.

A typical example of euro decision making was the formulation of the ‘’Lisbon Strategy”

This plan was decided upon by the European Union Council ,meeting in private in march 2000 in Lisbon.EU heads of state decided that Europe should have ‘’the most dynamic knowledge -based economy in the world” by 2010.To achieve this EU will spend billions of euro’s on research and development and encouraging high-tech industries .By February 2005it had been decide to spend 3% of EU GDP on this plan This may well be sound policy, but it would be interesting to know which lobbying organizations on behalf of which business lobbied these decision- makers and who receive this grants. .It also be interesting to know how prominently this expensive programme featured in the election literature of these who took the decision.

It means huge hand-out for certain institutions and industries and an increase in employment in certain areas as a result. Should not other areas of human activity have a share of this funding and push for development? Renewable energy, energy conservation, low cost housing, healthcare, the arts sports and leisure might produce more benefits for society as a whole, yet the decision was taken over the heads of euro-citizens. The democratic input was approximately nil.

Better forms of democracy are common .within the EU system the best democracies are those run by the individual governments or local council. These are better democracies because they derive power directly from their people .have best local knowledge, are best motivated and are directly accountable to their people.


Even after the Treaty reforms, Maduro notes that the problems of ‘democratic deficit’ are as pregnant now as they were ten, twenty or even fifty years ago. Ward goes further by noting that the institutions of the EU are ‘devoid of democratic mandate’. Substantial reform is required to correct this democratic imbalance. Calls have been made to expand the notion of EU citizenship in order to address this as the active EU citizen is able to award these institutions with democratic legitimacy. It is evident that role of the individual in legitimizing such institutions cannot be ignored for much longer along with the need for the Parliament to be awarded with powers of veto and control over other the Council and the Commission.


Cahill, D. Kennedy, T.P. & Power, V. (2006) European Law 3rd Ed. Law Society of Ireland: Oxford University Press/

Chalmers, D. Hadjiemmanuil, C. Monti, G. & Tomkins, A. (2006) European Union Law. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Habermas, J. (1996) Between Facts and Norms. Polity: Oxford.

Halberstam, D. (2005) ‘The Bride of Messina: Constitutionalism and Democracy in Europe’ 30 European Law Review 775

Maduro, M. (2005) ‘The Importance of Being Called a Constitution: Constitutional Authority and the Authority of Constitutionalism’ 3 International Journal of Constitutional Law 332

Peterson, J. (2006) ‘The College of Commissioners’ in `The Institutions of the European Union 2nd Ed by Peterson, J & Shackleton, M. New York: Oxford University Press

Ward, I. (2009) A critical introduction to European law Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Weiler, J. (1999) The Constitution of Europe. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

David Roberts (2007) The European Union and you. Saxon Books

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