EU Government Overview

European Union: Programs & Policies

EU Government Overview

Last updated: July 15, 2015

European Union

The European Union (EU) was established in the wake of World War II to promote peace, security, socioeconomic solidarity, and other shared values among many diverse cultures. The resultant EU political system is unique in the world: a confederation of 28 countries operating through a “supranational” system of governance, under which member countries delegate some of their decision-making powers to EU institutions. The power, responsibilities, rules, and procedures of the EU institutions are set forth in treaties, which are ratified by all of the EU countries.

European Council

The European Council defines the broad political agenda of the EU, although it has no function in passing laws. The Council meets in Brussels about four times per year. Meetings are chaired by its President, and include the President of the Commission, and the head of state or government of each EU member country.

The 3 EU institutions involved in EU legislation:

Most EU legislation is a product of proposals made by the European Commission (EC), which are then equally subject to amendment and adoption by the Council and the Parliament according to a “co-decision” procedure; since 2009 called the “ordinary legislative procedure.” The Commission also ensures “the laws are properly applied and implemented.”

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union (also known as the EU Council) provides EU representation for the member countries, and is comprised of elected officials or their delegates from each of the 28 EU member states. Meetings are attended by the ministers responsible for the issue at hand (e.g., discussions of the REACH chemicals regulation were co-led by industry and environment ministers). Each country has a number of votes in the council broadly reflecting the size of its population. The council Presidency rotates among member states on a six-month basis.

The EU Legislative Process Using the REACH Chemicals Regulation as an Example


  • 2/2 – “White Paper Strategy for a Future Chemicals Policy” published by EC DG-Environment


  • 5/7 – Public Internet consultation

  • 9/25 – “Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)” published by EC DG-Enterprise


  • 9/24 – First reading of REACH regulation by the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI); 1,100+ amendments proposed

  • 11/17 – First reading by the full Parliament in plenary session; nearly 1,000 ENVI amendments adopted


  • 6/12 – Parliament text amended by Council of Ministers and new “Common Position” published

  • 10/10 – ENVI second reading; 350+ new amendments recommended to Common Position

  • 11/29 – Trilogue between Council Presidency, Parliament, and EC to work towards political agreement

  • 12/3 – Parliament second reading

  • 12/18 – Final Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 published in the Official Journal of the European Union


  • 6/18 – REACH enters into force

European Parliament: Voice of the People

The European Parliament is the only directly-elected EU body, and is composed of elected members (MEPs) from each member state,(roughly in proportion to its population). “Under the Lisbon Treaty no country can have fewer than 6 or more than 96 MEPs.” There are currently 766 MEPs from 28 member states.

The Parliament’s main functions are to pass EU-wide legislation and the EU’s budget in cooperation with the Council of Ministers and to oversee the democratic function of the EC and other EU institutions.

European Commission

The European Commission (EC) is the EU’s executive body, responsible for acting in the interests of Europe as a whole. Led by 28 Commissioners (one serving as president), each appointed by one of the EU’s member states, the EC is responsible for drafting proposals for new European laws, which are then presented to the European Parliament and the Council for approval and enactment.

The Commission’s main roles are to:

  • set objectives and priorities for action
  • propose legislation to Parliament and Council
  • manage and implement EU policies and the budget
  • enforce European Law (jointly with the Court of Justice)
  • represent the EU outside Europe (negotiating trade agreements between the EU and other countries, etc.).

The work of the EC is carried out by over 40 departments and services. The departments are known as Directorates-General (DGs), each dealing with a different policy area. The Commission services deal with more general administrative issues or have a specific mandate. EU agencies that are separate legal entities from the above EU institutions were established to manage the implementation and enforcement of laws and policies created by the EC DGs.

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is not an EU body, but is an organisation of 48 countries of Europe founded in 1949 “to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe.” The Council of Europe headquarters is located in Strasbourg, France. The European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare (EDQM) is a Directorate of the Council of Europe.