We started this module by looking at the EU institutional triangle composed of the Council, the Parliament and the Commission. Undoubtedly, these institutions (along with the European Council) are the most important parts of the EU, as not only do they make EU law and policy, but they also represent the member states, the citizens and the EU respectively. Understanding what they do and how they are composed is essential to a thorough appreciation of the EU, as everything that emanates from the EU is essentially built from their interaction.
In this module we have also looked at the other less central, but nonetheless important institutions of the EU: the European Courts, the EEAS, the ECB, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. As we saw, the Courts and the Court of Auditors do not play much of a role in policy-making but they are essential to the running of the EU and, consequently, both carry significant weight. The EESC and the CoR do have a limited role in the policy-making process, but it is a role that carries little effective political influence. The ECB plays an important role in managing financial stability in Europe and the EEAS, while not technically speaking a full ‘institution’, nonetheless performs a crucial role in EU foreign policy.
We have also seen that, at times, the terminology used to describe EU institutions can be confusing. We have looked in detail at the key differences between the Council of the European Union, the European Council and the Council of Europe. We also addressed a similar difficulty arising from the EU based European Court of Justice and the non-EU based European Court of Human Rights. We have also considered the question of Europe’s ‘plethora of presidents’. Careful consideration of the important distinctions between similarly sounding institutions and terms is essential throughout the study of the EU so that one can avoid some of the common traps of European political lexicon.
In the next module we shall deepen your understanding of the EU and its institutions further by addressing the EU policy-making process itself and contemplating in more detail the interaction between the above institutions in the EU’s legislative and decision making cycle.
- Individual websites giving up to date information on all the EU institutions (including ones not covered in this unit) can be found at – http://europa.eu/institutions/index_en.htm –
- Information on the EU institutions can also be found at the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11711049
- A detailed guide from the UK Parliament to EU institutions and legislation can be found here – http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/euinstitutionslegislation.pdf
- The Institute of International and European Affairs has an interesting selection of videos, graphics and reports on EU policies and processes – http://www.iiea.com/eview?gclid=CJXj3tXi4rUCFePHtAodqBwAQw
- General information on EU affairs can be found at the Guardian website http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/eu
- A good overview of the EU institutions can be found in Warleigh, A. (2001). Understanding European Institutions. Routledge: London (Available on the Ebrary Reader from the University Library Website http://site.ebrary.com/lib/portsmouth/docDetail.action?docID=10071185&p00=warleigh%2C%20a.). Note: University of Portsmouth students: please login to use this resource. Other students: it is likely that you can access this resource using the login from your own institution.
- For a detailed overview of the EU institutions, see chapters 8 –13 of Nugent, N. (2003). The Government and Politics of the European Union. Palgrave: Basingstoke. (Available in the University of Portsmouth Library).