The Commission is both the institution and the 'college' of commissioners. There is currently one commissioner from each EU country.
The Commission and better lawmaking
Since 2002, the Commission has been working to simplify and improve the regulatory environment in the EU ('Better Regulation'). This means cutting red tape, making better laws for consumers and business alike.
Better regulation involves re-examining projects throughout the policy cycle: new initiatives, proposals still under negotiation and legislation already on the books. So the Commission:
- systematically assesses new initiatives for their potential economic, social and environmental impact
- consults stakeholders and interested parties on all major initiatives
- works to simplify the existing legislation
- measures and reduces administrative costs of regulation.
The Commission's role in the EU lawmaking process
The Commission's job is to represent the common European interest to all the EU countries. To allow it to play its role as 'guardian of the treaties' and defender of the general interest, the Commission also has the right of initiative in the lawmaking process. This means that it proposes legislative acts for the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to adopt.
The Commission is also responsible for putting the EU's common policies (like the common agricultural policy and the growth and jobs strategy) into practice and manage the EU's budget and programmes.
Although the Commission is allowed to take any initiative it sees as necessary to attain the objectives of the EU treaties, most of its proposals are to meet its legal obligations and other technical requirements or because another EU institution, member country or stakeholder has asked it to act.
The Commission's proposals must be grounded in the European interest and respect the principles of subsidiarity (in domains where the EU does not have exclusive competence to act) and proportionality. This means that the Commission should legislate only where action is more effective at EU level, and then no more than necessary to attain the agreed-on objectives. If it is more efficient to act at national, regional or local level, the Commission should refrain from legislating.
The Commission's vocation is to work for the good of the EU as a whole, and not to favour any EU country or interest group in particular. It consults widely so that all the parties affected by a legislative act can contribute to its preparation. In general, an assessment of the economic, social and environmental impact of a given legislative act is published at the same time as the proposal itself.
How EU laws are made
Proposals for legislative acts – regulations, directives and decisions – are normally prepared by the Commission department responsible for the dossier, which consults all the other departments whose work is related as well as the national authorities, interested parties and other stakeholders in the EU countries. At the end of the process, the proposal is formally adopted by the college of commissioners.
The actual decision-making procedure by which the legal act is adopted depends on the Treaty rules governing the area of activity concerned. In most cases, the co-decision procedure is used. This means that the formal proposal is scrutinised by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, who are the EU's joint legislators. In some cases, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions are consulted during the process. During the co-decision procedure, Parliament and the Council will subject the proposal to one, two or three readings, during which the Commission will act as mediator and ensure that the European interest remains central, until the act is adopted.
Once the act has been adopted by the EU legislator, it is transposed into national law in all the EU countries (if it is a directive – regulations and decisions apply directly without any need for further national legislation) and applied by the Commission and the EU countries.
How is the president of the Commission chosen?
The European Council proposes a candidate to the European Parliament. That person must then be approved by a majority of Parliament's members. If the candidate does not get a majority of the votes, the Council of Ministers must put forward another name within one month.
Who chooses the commissioners?
The president elect of the Commission chooses the commissioners from the lists of candidates put forward by the EU countries. The proposed list is then submitted for approval to the Council of Ministers, which must adopt it by a qualified majority. The college is then submitted collectively to the European Parliament for its approval. Once Parliament has given its blessing, the new Commission is officially appointed by the Council, acting again by qualified majority.
When and where does the Commission meet?
The Commission's rules of procedure [835 KB] generally require the commissioners to meet once a week. In practice, this happens on Wednesdays in Brussels, except in the weeks when the European Parliament holds its plenary sessions, in which case the commissioners usually meet in Strasbourg. The agenda for each meeting is based on the Commission's work programme. Meetings are held behind closed doors and debates are confidential. However, the agendas and minutes are available on the Secretariat-General's website.
Alongside its weekly meetings the Commission may hold emergency meetings or special meetings when necessary (to deal with a particular dossier, for example, or ahead of or on the fringes of an important meetings of the Council of Ministers).
How does the Commission take decisions?
The Commission decides collectively, on the basis of proposals put forward by one or more of its members. It has four ways of deciding:
- during its regular weekly meetings – any member of the Commission can call for a vote. The Commission decides by simple majority, and the president has a casting vote.
- by written procedure – the proposal is circulated in writing to all members of the Commission, who then notify their reservations or amendments within the time allowed. Any member can call for a debate, in which case the dossier will be included in the agenda of a Commission meeting. If there are no reservations or amendments, the proposal is tacitly adopted.
- by empowerment – the Commission can empower one or more of its members to decide in its name, provided that the principle of collegiality (that the Commissioners act as a college, not as individuals) is respected. Under certain conditions, the same procedures can be used to delegate decision-making powers further to directors-general and heads of service.
- by delegation – the Commission can delegate some decisions to directors-general and heads of service, who then act in its name.
How is the Commission structured?
The Commission is divided into some 40 directorates-general (DGs) and services, which are subdivided in turn into directorates, and directorates into units. The Commission also administers a number of executive agencies. You can contact the Commission's departments and staff by consulting the contact pages.
Additional structures can also be created at need.
In order to ensure that the Commission acts affectively and as a college, the DGs are required to collaborate closely with each other and coordinate the preparation and implementation of the college of commissioners' decisions.
Job of the week
- Coherent approach needed on visa liberalisation (Opinion)
- Greece's governing coalition in a game of chicken (Opinion)
- G8 summit mulls action on tax evasion (News)
- World Bank: Earth's poorest to be hit hardest by climate change (News)
- The Lithuanian EU Presidency - ‘A fresh Baltic breeze’ (LinksDossier)