This blog post is part of the series ‘You&EU Institutions’.
The European Commission. Another of the seven institutions of the EU, that you have probably heard of. Who are Commissioners? What do they do? And how do they impact your life?
What is the European Commission?
The European Commission can be likened to a government cabinet in the European arena. It is an executive body that decides the EU’s political and strategic direction. It actively develops and designs the EU’s policies, monitors them and reports on them.
It is currently composed of 28 members called Commissioners, one from every member state. Each Commissioner is assigned a responsibility for a specific policy area, such as Energy Union, Trade, Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management, Regional Policy and so on. These ministries are called Directorate-Generals. You can check what your country’s European Commissioner does in the current EC team, presided by Jean-Claude Juncker (from Luxembourg), who will be in office until 31st October 2019.
What role does the European Commission have?
While the European Council and the Council of the EU advocate the interests of individual countries and their governments, the European Parliament adheres to the voice of EU citizens through direct election. The European Commission complements the triangle with the third apex: it stands for the interests of the EU as a whole. Thus, even if the Commissioners come from each member state, they do not work in national interests but act on the European Union’s behalf.
How is the European Commission elected?
As the European Commission accounts for a kind of an EU government, its appointment represents an essential European question. Let’s summarise the process in the following steps. First, the European Council, made up of the EU heads of state and government, proposes a candidate for the President of the Commission. Such a candidate is usually chosen from the winning political group after the European elections, as is the case of choosing a Prime Minister after elections on national level. When confirmed by a vote of the European Parliament, the elected President proposes his/her team of Commissioners. This list has to be approved by the European Council before the individual nominees appear in hearings of the European Parliament. Once all Commissioners are approved in the individual Committees of the Parliament responsible for the relevant portfolio, the European Parliament realises a plenary vote on the composition of the European Commission as a whole. If approved, the European Council finally appoints the European Commission into office. The term for which the Commission is elected counts 5 years. During this time, the Commission is held accountable by the European Parliament which has the right to dismiss the entire team, as in the case of national governments too.
What does the European Commission do for you?
As mentioned above, the European Commission as a “European government” represents the main EU executive power. Almost like a national government, it is responsible for designing and implementing various policies, but for the whole EU. Therefore, it is the main legislative proposer who initiates the legislative process on the European level. However, these proposals for legislation are voted on and decided by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament, the EU legislative bodies (you can compare this process to the national one as well). Apart from initiating the legislation, the European Commission proposes funding programmes as well as the annual budget of which the Commission is responsible for putting into practice.
You & European Commission
You might think that the Commissioners, who you do not elect directly, have more power than your MEPs (member of the European Parliament). As the European Commission is the main EU executive power, it is to some extent true that the Commission wields considerable power within the EU institutions, which has led to criticisms that the EU is fundamentally undemocratic.
However, it is YOUR head of state or government who approves the composition of the Commission, as well as YOUR MEPs who decides in the hearings about the nominees for the Commissioners. Thus the EU has implemented checks and balances on the power of the Commission, whose decisions are still largely directed by member states.
Therefore, do not underestimate the European elections that are to come in few days. Its results set the whole process of selection of the new “European government” of 2019-2024.
The EU impacts your life. Have a say in how. Go vote in the European elections this May.