The EU Commission is independent of national governments. Its job is to represent and uphold the interests of the EU as a whole. It drafts proposals for new European laws, which it presents to the European Parliament and the Council.
It is also the EU’s executive arm – in other words, it is responsible for implementing the decisions of Parliament and the Council. That means managing the day-to-day business of the European Union: implementing its policies, running its programmes and spending its funds.
Like the Parliament and Council, the European Commission was set up in the 1950s under the EU’s founding treaties.
The term ‘Commission’ is used in two senses. First, it refers to the team of men and women – one from each EU country – appointed to run the institution and take its decisions. Secondly, the term ‘Commission’ refers to the institution itself and to its staff.
Informally, the appointed Members of the Commission are known as ‘commissioners’. They have all held political positions in their countries of origin and many have been government ministers, but as Members of the Commission they are committed to acting in the interests of the Union as a whole and not taking instructions from national governments.
A new Commission is appointed every five years, within six months of the elections to the European Parliament. The procedure is as follows:
The Member State governments agree together on who to designate as the new Commission President.
The Commission President-designate is then approved by Parliament.
The Commission President-designate, in discussion with the Member State governments, chooses the other Members of the Commission.
The Council adopts the list of nominees by qualified majority and communicates it to the European Parliament for approval.
Parliament then interviews each nominee and votes its opinion on the whole team.
- Following Parliaments vote of approval, the new Commission is formally appointed by the Council, acting by qualified majority.
The present Commission’s term of office runs until 31 October 2009. Its President is José Manuel Barroso, from Portugal.
The Commission remains politically accountable to Parliament, which has the power to dismiss the whole Commission by adopting a motion of censure. Individual members of the Commission must resign if asked to do so by the President, provided the other commissioners approve.
The Commission attends all the sessions of Parliament, where it must clarify and justify its policies. It also replies regularly to written and oral questions posed by MEPs.