acryllic wrote:Can anyone help me understand the EU legal system?
It's all so confusing to me.
What's the difference between the Council and the Commission? Who are their members?
What about the other Councils? There's more than one, right?
It would be helpful if the explanations are in simple English.
Reading the EU website doesn't help me much. There's a lot of information to process.
The EU system is different from but not more complicated then national systems. The biggest difference is that there is no clear seperation of powers. It is difficult therefore to clearly divide the institutions into an executive, legislative and judicial branch.European CommissionComposition
Independent collegial body, composed of one person for each Member State who does not represent that Member State (person should be independent).
Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the total number of Commissioners would be less than the total number of Member States from 2014 onwards. This would make the Commission more efficient and effective. The Irish however though it was in their interest to keep a Commission of one person/MS and they got this in exchange for the second referendum on Lisbon. Of course, they were completely wrong, because the Commission defends the European interest in general. It therefore often works in favour of the small countries as a counterweight to the interests of the big countries which are more powerful in the Council (see below).Voting
Uses simple majority to take decisions. But it is a collegial body, so all Commissioners take responsibility for the Commission's decisions.Tasks
The Commission represents the EU to the outside world. It has the monopoly over legislative initiatives. It also may receive important powers to update or implement EU legislation if the EU legislator so decides. As regards implementation of EU law, this is a task of the Member States (just like in Germany where national legislation of the Bundestag is implemented by the Länder). Sometimes however (just like in Germany) part of the implementation needs to be agreed on at EU level, to prevent that too much differences arise in how Member States implement EU law. The Commission will normally adopt these acts (in exceptional cases the Council).European CouncilComposition
Body composed of the prime ministers of the Member States (countries with a non-ceremonial presidency send their presidents rather than their prime ministers). This body was not foreseen in the original Treaties of 1957 but was established at the initiative of French President Giscard d'Estaing. Following Lisbon it is a genuine Institution of the EU (mentioned in the Treaties). Knowing who created this institution, it is clear that the European Council puts power (back) into the hands of the Member States.Voting
Takes decisions by consensusTasks
Gives impetus to the integration project in general. Recently we see that the initiative for EU integration is taken more and more in the European Council. The European Council will for instance 'invite' the Commission to make new proposals. Here the Commission is losing part of its traditional role as the engine of EU integration.Council of the European Union/Council of MinistersComposition
Body composed of Member State representatives at ministerial level. This body used to be the sole legislator of the EEC/EU. It made laws based on the proposals of the Commission. Today, in most cases it shares this power with the European Parliament.
The exact composition of the Council depends on the subject matter (Environment, foreign affairs, social affairs, finance, etc.). It is up to the Member States to decide who they shall send.Voting
Depending on the case it decides by unanimity, qualified majority or simple majority.Tasks
Apart from its legislative function, the Council also has the power over the external relations (the Commission representing the EU follows the guidelines and mandates of the Council) and may take on executive tasks.
All the work of the Council is prepared by the Coreper.High Representative of the Union for foreign affairs
This is not an institution, but a single person who is both member of the European Commission and is member of the Council of Ministers for foreign affairs. It is also the head of the European External Actions Service, the European Defence Agency etc.
This could be an important person, especially after the Lisbon Treaty which gave further powers to this position. However, the first High Representative following Lisbon is Catherine Ashton, a weak person which does not carry enough political weight. European ParliamentComposition
751 Members from all the Member States. The number for each Member States is determined in a degressive proportional way, i.e. Luxemburg has fewer MEP's than Germany, but still relatively more per citizen (roughly 1 MEP for each 100.000 Luxemburgish citizens, but only 1 MEP for each 1 000 000 German citizens (roughly!!)).Voting
Depending on the stage of the legislative procedure, it decides with a simple majority of the members present or with a majority of the members.Tasks
The EU's Parliament. Used to be powerless, but following all the Treaty revisions its powers have steadily grown. Today there are few areas left in which the Council and the European Parliament do not share the legislative power.
Today the problem with the Parliament is that it is not used to its new powers. It is playing below its weight and could actually do much more with its powers. A recent example is the new budget which is totally insufficient for the challenges ahead. The Parliament said it would not except it but in the end it did in exchange for some vague committments by the Council. The Parliament should have played the game much harder here (in my opinion).The Court of Justice
Composed of three Courts: Court of Justice, General Court, Civil Service Tribunal.
Competent to hear cases against the Institutions of the EU and cases between Member States or between the Commission and Member States (for non fulfilment of EU obligations).
It can also answer preliminary questions asked by national courts dealing with EU law.
Its working language is French but it works in all 24 languages of the EU and therefore a lot of its staff is just translating.
One of biggest controversies here is who is the supreme judicial authority in the EU. National Constitutional Courts think the national constitutions are supreme (and that therefore they are supreme) and that EU law is only valid as long as it does not conflict with the national constitution. The Court of Justice has said already in 1970's that EU law is supreme even over national constitutional law. Although this is a controversy, there is no outright fight between national and EU judges.
The other institutions and bodies of the EU are not as important as the ones above, so I'll leave it that.