What is the EU?

Ireland joined the EEC along with the UK and Denmark bringing the number of Member States to nine. Over the next twenty years there was a huge amount of change across the continent with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of dictatorships in Spain and Portugal. The EEC started to transfer huge sums of money to create jobs and infrastructure in poorer areas. By 1993, Greece, Spain and Portugal had become Member States and in 1993 the EEC became the EU. 16 more Member States and countless Treaties later we have the EU we know today.

Citizens are represented in the four main institutions of the EU:
  • The European Parliament;
  • The European Commission;
  • The European Council;
  • The Council of the European Union.

The European Commission

Promoting the Common Interest

The European Commission promotes the common good of the EU. It acts as both an executive and the permanent civil service of the EU. There are 28 Commissioners, one nominated by each Member State. The Commission has 28 Directorate Generals (DGs) who focus on different policy areas. For example, there is a DG for Economic and Financial Affairs, another for Health and Food Safety, and another for Justice and Consumers. Ireland’s Phil Hogan is the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. The Commission initiates and proposes legislation to Parliament and the Council. It is the only institution that can initiate legislative policy proposals. The Commission also enforces EU law, manages and implements EU politics and the budget, and represents the EU on the global stage.

The European Parliament

Voice of the People

The European Parliament is the voice of the people. It is made up of 751 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) who are elected every five years by the citizens of each EU Member State. Ireland currently has 11 MEPs, but will have 13 after the 2019 European Elections. Irish MEP Mairéad McGuinness is a Vice-President of the European Parliament. The Parliament has three main roles: legislative, supervisory and budgetary. After the European Commission has proposed laws the Parliament scrutinises the laws and passes or rejects them.

The European Council

Voice of the Member States

The European Council is the voice of the Member States. It is made up of the heads of state/government of the 28 Member States, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. The European Council meets quarterly and defines the general political direction and priorities of the EU. It does not exercise legislative power.

The Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union consists of national ministers from the Member States who are responsible for specific areas such as health, trade, or finance, on a national level. The Council meets in 10 different configurations based on what policy areas are being discussed. For example, if the topic was EU climate change policy the environment ministers from every EU Member State would meet. The role of the Council of the European Union is to discuss, amend and adopt laws and to coordinate policy. The laws and budget of the EU are decided on jointly by the Parliament and the Council of the EU in a process called ‘co-decision making’. There is a rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, Ireland last held this position between January and June 2013. Meetings of the Council are chaired by the relevant Minister from the country which holds the presidency.

In general decisions about EU policy are usually made by consensus. Member States add and take away from the original policy proposal until they have a policy that every Member State is happy to implement.

The Council of the European Union and the European Council should not be confused with the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is an entirely separate body which has 47 members, including all EU Member States. It is a human rights organisation which is based in Strasbourg.

What is the EU?

  • GDP = 15.3 trillion – approx. 22% of the global economy
  • 508,450,856 people
  • 4,475,757 km2 (1,728,099 sq mi)
  • 751 MEPs
  • 31 territories with special status
  • 28 Commissioners
  • 24 official languages, including Irish.