The European council
Previously known as ECSC according to phonejust, the EU’s highest governing body is the European Council, or the summit as it is called in everyday life. This is where the heads of state and government of the member states meet to draw up the major political guidelines that ministers and officials will then implement.
The European Council meets at least four times a year. Once upon a time, there were relatively simple meetings between six, seven or ten top politicians, but over time the scope has grown to delegations with several thousand people and 2,000-3,000 international journalists. For practical reasons, therefore, summits are often held in Brussels.
The summit usually lasts about one and a half days with a working lunch and working dinner included in the program. The speaking time will be short when almost 30 prime ministers or presidents will have time to speak.
Summits are closed business, but the President of the European Parliament is invited for a short, introductory speech before the actual opening of the meeting. During the 2009 euro crisis, the Governor of the European Central Bank (ECB) was often invited to the summit to discuss with the Heads of State and Government. The head of the military alliance, NATO, has also been allowed to participate, as has the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The President of the European Commission is always present during the summit.
The summit has its own chairman who is elected for 2.5 years at a time and must keep to the summit’s agenda. The EU’s first “president” was former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy (2009-2014). Poland’s former Prime Minister Donald Tusk held the post from December 2014 onwards for five years. Tusk was succeeded by the Belgian Charles Michel on December 1, 2019.
The European Council is not normally a place for formal decisions but for political orientation. In written conclusions, the summit states which work the EU should prioritize in the future. But when it comes to the framework of the EU’s seven-year budget as well as the appointments of the EU’s top posts, this decision is falling.
Decisions to amend the EU treaty are also made by the summit, which usually allows it to go through an intergovernmental conference – a body for negotiating treaty amendments.
The spring summit in March is always devoted to laying down guidelines for economic policy and employment policy.
Nowadays, the Heads of State and Government of the EU have almost daily telephone contact to discuss current issues, but the summit remains an important place for informal conversations, to establish personal contacts and friendships.
Other institutions and bodies
A fifth and heavier EU institution is the Court of Auditors, which has the task of examining how EU finances are managed, such as the payment of agricultural or regional aid. The Court of Auditors reports annually to the European Parliament, which is to grant or deny the EU institutions discharge in respect of the accounts.
The Court not only identifies cases of incorrect accounting, financial irregularities and fraud, but also evaluates the benefits of EU support. The importance of law has grown as the fight against cheating in the EU has become a politically important issue. The department is based in Luxembourg. The management consists of a representative from each member state who sits for six years.
The EU also has two major consultative bodies, the Economic and Social Committee (Ecosoc) and the Committee of the Regions, which are required to deliver opinions and opinions before deciding on new rules in their area.
Ecosoc includes representatives of, among others, trade unions, as well as employers’, agricultural and environmental organizations. The regional committee consists of representatives of regions and municipalities (from Sweden twelve people from the county councils and municipalities). The advisory bodies each have 353 members, appointed for five years.
Among the most important specialist bodies is the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, which is independently responsible for the common monetary and exchange rate policy, sets interest rates and has the exclusive right to print euro banknotes. The ECB also has a unit that monitors major banks within the framework of the Banking Union.
The Swedish Riksbank is a member of the ECB’s General Council, which meets four times a year, but not of the ECB’s Board, which includes only euro countries.
The European Banking Authority (EBA) in Paris consists of three specialized networks that monitor the financial stability of banks and financial institutions.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) in Luxembourg distributes the money allocated by EU countries to loans for development projects within the EU and in developing countries.
Europol in The Hague, the Netherlands, is a liaison center for police and customs officers, which coordinates the fight against international crime. Eurojust is a permanent network of prosecutors, also in The Hague.
In Luxembourg, there is Eurostat, which collects statistics from European countries and compiles facts.
For citizens, there has been a European Ombudsman in Strasbourg since 1995 who receives and investigates complaints about the way EU officials or institutions perform their duties.
The EU still has a large number of specialist agencies with varying tasks but which are always responsible for the expertise by collecting information and investigating their issues. These include, for example, the Amsterdam Medicines Agency (which also grants drug licenses, the European Food Agency (which evaluates additives), the Copenhagen Environmental Agency (with expertise on environmental hazards in various substances), the Stockholm Infection Control Agency, the Lisbon Drugs Agency, a monitoring center racism in Vienna, an IT agency, a maritime security center as well as a joint air traffic control.