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BrusselBobla Episode 1

The EU-Institutions in brief

What is the EU and how does it work? It can be difficult to distinguish between the different EU institutions, and in this article we will try to clarify what the EU is han how it works - institution for institution. If you want to learn more about this topic or just hear about it instead of reading it, you can follow and listen to BrusselBobla, a podcast made by UiB and the Student Radio in Bergen (in Norwegian).

European Union Flag
The Flag of the European Union
European Council


The European Union is complex for many to fully understand. The EU is first and foremost a membership-based supranational organization that consists of 27 member countries. In the EU, the 27 member states come together to create common and uniting politics for the EU as a whole.  

The European Union consists of 3 main institutions, the Council, the Parliament, and Commission. The Council has several constellations and usually we speak about two different Councils: The European Council and the Council of the European Union. In this article we will explain a little bit more about how the various institutions and where you can find more information on the EU, its institutions and how it works.  

The European Council 

The European Council consists of the state-leaders of the European Union’s member countries. This can be presidents or prime ministers that meets at least four times a year. These meetings are called summits. Here, the state leaders discuss the EUs main political priorities and guidelines, and it is viewed as the highest level of cooperation between members countries.  

The Council of the European Union / Minister council 

The second Council of the council represents the governments of the member states. They meet more frequently and discusses EU-matters concerning different topics. This is where ministers for the respective topic meets. Depending on the matter to be discussed the relevant minister represents his or her country in this meeting. Let us say the topic is energy, then the relevant energy-minister of each member country will participate, hence the name Minister Council.  

The Minister Council is one of the two decision-making organs of the EU, together with the Parliament. These two votes on new EU laws as well as the budget. There are two ways of voting applied: unanimity or qualified majority voting (QMV), nevertheless all member states must agree on the voting method used.  

The Minister Council has a rotating presidency. This means that the leadership changes every six months. Each member state will lead the council for six months and the country which has the presidency will have the opportunity to influence the priorities and agenda of the council, and it often reflects on the country`s passions. Usually, three consecutive presidencies of the council will join forces and plan a joint program for their period in the council. The current trio consists of France that has the presidency from January to June 2022, Czech Republic from July to December 2022 and Sweden January to June 2023.  You can read their trio program here: https://presidence-francaise.consilium.europa.eu/en/programme/trio-programme/ 

Here you can see the full list of upcoming council presidencies: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32016D1316...

The Parliament   

The second decision-making organ of the EU is the European Parliament and can more or less be compared to the Norwegian Stortinget. It has 705 members that are directly elected by member countries citizens for five years at a time. It is also a representative organ, meaning that the number of members from each country is based on the size of the country. The European Parliament and the Council must both agree on a proposal for it to become EU law. The parliament also vote over the budget, as is done by the Council. Another task of the Parliament is to elect the president for the European Commission.  

There are different types of meetings in the parliament where the plenary session is where everyone meets, all 705 members. This happens twelve times a year in Strasbourg and up to six times a year in Brussels. Since the parliament is very big, they also structure their meetings in thematic committees. You can read more about them here: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/about/list-of-committees  

The Commission  

The Commission consists of 27 commissioners, one representative per member state. They are put forward by their own government and approved by the European Parliament and sits for five years at a time. Even though they are suggested by their own government they are supposed to represent the EU, be the face forward, and work towards EU goals. Each commissioner is responsible for one topic of relevance for the EU like trade, climate, energy etc. These can be compared to the ministers in Norway where the minister leads an entire ministry on specific topics. In the EU they call them Directorate-Generals or as we call them in Brussels DGs, and attached agencies. 

Here you can see a complete list of all the EUs DGs and agencies https://ec.europa.eu/info/departments_en 

And here you can read more about the college of the Commission which are the 27 leaders: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/commissioners/2019-2024_en 

The job of the Commission is to propose new laws but before they do this, they put out hearings for organizations, governments, businesses, universities and citizens to answer. When the Commission puts forward a proposal it is sent to the EU Parliament and Council for evaluation. The Parliament and the Council which needs to figure out whether or not they agree on the proposal will have internal debates, possibly propose amendments before they agree to accept the proposal or not. During this step the proposal usually goes back and forth before they find common ground, and an agreement is made. The Council, the Parliament and the Commission also sits down together to discuss proposals, this mechanism where representatives from all institutions sits down together is called a trilogue.  

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