GP360 European Union Project

Introduction: EU for Americans


The EU has three primary institutions, and a number
of supporting ones. The European Commission is the bureaucratic arm of
the EU and houses what we would call the cabinet departments. The
Commission has a president, but his powers are really what Americans
would refer to as a Chair. He has no power of veto. But the Commission
is very influential. It is the only body empowered to propose laws.

The Council of Ministers is often referred to as the
legislature of the EU, which is odd since it contains ministers from
the cabinets of the member countries. But because they vote on EU
decisions, they are called a legislature. Because the willingness of
member countries to empower the EU depends on the issue involved,
voting in the Council varies depending on subject. Some issues like
foreign policy require unanimous decisions - any country can veto.
Other issues like the environment and some social issues can be decided
by supermajority decisions, what they call Qualified Majority Voting.

It's also odd that the Council of Ministers is
called the legislature when there is a European Parliament. The EP
originally was powerless and only had advisory roles. But its role has
slowly increased so that on some issues, it does get to vote up or down
on issues in conjunction with the Council. Where that applies, it is
called co-decision, and the two function as a bicameral legislature.
The reason that the EU has been slow to devolve power to the EP is that
it is directly elected by the people and thus bypasses the power of
member national governments, who are directly represented in the
Council. The national governments are wary of giving up their power and
resist empowering the EP.

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