How the EU works

European Commission. This is the executive-bureaucratic arm of the EU. It is headed by 28 commissioners (one from each of the member states) and a president (since 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker). It proposes legislation, is a watchdog that ensures that EU treaties are respected, and is broadly responsible for policy implementation. Often seen as the main executive institution of the EU. It exists to promote and defend the interests of the whole EU. The only part of the EU that can propose new laws. A supranational organisation. The bureaucratic arm of the EU. Based in Brussels, Belgium. Comprises 28 commissioners (pre-Brexit), one from each EU member state, and a president (currently Jean- Claude Juncker). Commissioners are duty bound to defend and promote the EU’s interests, rather than the interests of their home state. Responsible for processing legislation and acts as a watchdog for policy implementation.

• The Council. Formerly called the Council of Ministers, this is the decision-making branch of the EU and comprises ministers from the 28 states who are accountable to their own assemblies and governments. The presidency of the Council rotates amongst member states every six months. Important decisions are made by unanimous agreement, and others are reached through qualified majority voting or a simple majority.

• The European Council. Informally called the European Summit, this is a senior forum in which heads of government, accompanied by foreign ministers and two commissioners, discuss the overall direction of the Union’s work. A President of the European Council was appointed in 2009 (Herman Van Rompuy).One of the EU’s intergovernmental institutions. A decision-making body, focusing on longer-term decisions. Comprises heads of state and foreign ministers. It also includes the president and vice-president of the European Commission. Has a permanent full-time president Meets four or more times a year. Offers strategic leadership and is responsible for the EU’s longer-term vision, including setting policy guidelines, resolving disputes between member states, agreeing reforms of treaties and steering the EU’s foreign policy.

• European Parliament. The EP is composed of 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) (73 from the UK), who are directly elected every five years. The European Parliament is more a scrutinising assembly than a full legislature. Its major powers (to reject the EU’s budget and dismiss the European Commission) are too far-reaching to be exercised on a regular basis.

• European Court of Justice. The ECJ interprets, and adjudicates on, European Union law. There are 28 judges, one from each member state, and eight advocates general, who advise the Court. As EU law has primacy over the national law of member states, the court can ‘disapply’ domestic laws. A Court of First Instance handles certain cases brought by individuals and companies.