The European Parliament
The European Parliament (EP) is elected by the citizens of the European Union to represent their interests. Its origins go back to the 1950s and the founding treaties, and since 1979 its members have been directly elected by the people they represent.
Elections are held every five years, and every EU citizen is entitled to vote, and to stand as a candidate, wherever they live in the EU. The latest elections were in June 2004. Parliament thus expresses the democratic will of the Union's citizens (more than 490 million people), and represents their interests in discussions with the other EU institutions. The present parliament has 785 members from all 27 EU countries. Nearly one third of them are women. In principle, the number of Members of the European Parliament shall not exceed 736 from the next parliamentary term on (i.e. 2009 - 2014). Since Bulgaria and Romania joined the Union in the course of the 2004-2009 parliamentary term, the current maximum number of 732 seats in the EPwill be temporarily exceeded.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) do not sit in national blocks, but in seven Europe-wide political groups. Between them, they represent all views on European integration, from the strongly pro-federalist to the openly Eurosceptic.
Hans-Gert Pöttering was elected President of the EP in 2007 and is to hold that post until the 2009 elections.
The Council of Ministers
The Council is made up of ministers from national governments of each of the member states.
The Council of the European Union is, together with the European Parliament, the EU's main decision-making institution.
It was formerly known as the 'Council of Ministers', and for short it is simply called 'the Council'. Which Ministers attend each Council meeting varies according to the subject.
Thus, Ministers of Transport deal with transport issues while Foreign ministers, known as the General Affairs Council, deal with external relations and general policy questions. The frequency of Council meetings varies according to the urgency of the subjects dealt with. The General Affairs, Economic and Financial Affairs and Agriculture Councils meet once a month, while the Transport, Environment or Industry Councils meet two to four times a year
The Councils work is prepared by diplomats and officials in a committee called Coreper, involving the permanent representations to the EU of each member state.
Some 2,600 staff, based in Brussels support the Council.
The Presidency of the Council is held by each member state, in rotation, for a period of six months. The country holding the presidency chairs a meeting of the heads of state and government twice every six months, known as the European Council.
The European Commission
The EUs administrative and executive body, the Commission is headed by Commissioners who are charged with making proposals for legislation and EU policy. From 1st May, there are 30 Commissioners.
From November 2004 onwards, when a new Commission will be sworn in, the European Commission counts 25 Commissioners.
The Commission is also responsible for the implementation of the EU policy.
The initial proposals for legislation and policy drafted by the Commission are forwarded for consideration and decision by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
The Commissioners, who serve for five years, are nominated by national governments and approved by the European Parliament. MEPs have the power to sack the Commission. The headquarters of the Commission is in Brussels where most of its permanent staff of around 16,000 is based.
The European Court of Justice
Based in Luxembourg, the Court, which has a judge from each member state, adjudicates on all legal issues and disputes involving Community law. The advocates-generals, who give a preliminary ruling on each case before a final judgement, assist the judges.
The Court deals with two main types of actions: those referred to it by national courts for rulings of interpretation of Community law; and those started by one of the other institutions (usually the Commission against a member state).
The Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors, based in Luxembourg, checks that the EUs money is being properly spent. It presents an annual report to the European Parliament. It also carries out special investigations into specific spending areas. Based in Luxembourg, checks that the EUs money is being properly spent. It presents an annual report to the European Parliament. It also carries out special investigations into specific spending areas.
The Economic and Social Committee
This is an advisory body of representatives nominated by the member states every four years from industry, unions, and other interest groups. It gives opinions on proposals for EU legislation. The Committee is based in Brussels.
The Committee of the Regions
Established in 1994, its members are appointed by member states, drawn from local and regional government. Based in Brussels, the Committee has a consultative role and a particular interest in issues such as regional development and transport that are important to local government.
The European Ombudsman
The Ombudsman is appointed by the European Parliament to investigate complaints of maladministration against any of the EU institutions. The Ombudsman submits an annual report to Parliament. The Frankfurt based ECB is the central bank for the Euro zone. Its main objective, as defined in the Maastricht Treaty, is to ensure price stability- in other words, the interest rate and other measures to preserve the stability of the single currency.
The European Investment Bank
The EIB is the EUs long-term lending institution, set up in 1958 under the Treaty of Rome. It facilitates the financing of capital investment projects. Its headquarters are in Luxembourg.
Various tasks have been devolved to separate agencies, which are spread across the member states. Visit their websites for further information