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The Role of the Main Institutions of the European Union in their law making capacity.

Updated on February 15, 2014


EU building a Bridge?
EU building a Bridge?


On the first of January 1973 the United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community, and another source of law came into being, the European law. Since then it has had an increasing significance as a source of law. The European Economic Community was originally set by Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome.

The name ‘European Union’ was introduced by the Treaty of European Union in 1993. The Union currently has 28Member States. The aims of the European Union as stated in the Treaty of Rome by Article 2,are the unity of Economy, Currency and Politics through political and legal unity.

However, there has also been a great influence on law in the United Kingdom in a number of areas especially employment such as the working time directive that gave all the workers the right to at least four weeks paid purpose, and sex equality for example, the European Court of Justice’s decision in the case of C and P V S, and also Cornwall CC, to end most forms of discrimination against transsexuals and forced the government to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. In order to implement the aims of the Treaty of Rome, the European Union has a vast and complex organisation with institutions established by the Treaty of Rome.

The main institutions, which exercise the functions of the Union, are the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the European Union and the European Court of Justice. This article scrutinises these institutions in more detail to appreciate their functions and their role within the EU.

European Council

As a matter of European Union law the European Council is not an institution and it is not democratically elected, but it is a meeting of heads of states that has developed by custom.

Functions of the European Council

This body makes political objectives- it is policy making body of the Community- and most of its decisions are based on the Commission’s proposals. In addition, it coordinates their national policies, it resolves their differences between themselves and other institutions, and lastly, it advances the policies of the Union. Most of the decisions are made by a majority of two-thirds of votes, each member state of given X amount of votes depending on the size of the population. For example, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK have 29 votes each while other countries such as Luxembourg have four and Malta 3 votes, this is known as Qualified Majority. Some decisions require an unanimous vote on matters relating to taxation, social fund, foreign policy, and decisions of constitutional importance, for example, accepting a new country.

European Commission

The European Commission is the central Administrative and policy making body of the Union and is not democratically elected.

Functions of European Commission

Firstly, to propose legislation, the Commission initiate’s legislative process by formulating proposals for legislation to Parliament and the Council.

Secondly, it acts as a guardian of the Treaties by taking actions against Member States in the European Court of Justice who are either in breach of EU law, or fail to implement the EU law in their country. For example, in the case of Commission V France 2002, where France failed to implement, the Council’s decision in the case of British beef that lifted all export restrictions. The Commission supported by the UK brought an action against France under the Art 226 of the EU Treaty, the European Court of Justice decided that an action against France was in breach of the EU obligations.

Thirdly, it can also impose fines and penalties on those member states of a competition law to ignore decisions against them. Moreover, it takes legal action against other Community institutions. In January 2004, the Commission brought an action against the Council of Members because it did not punish France or Germany for serious breaches of the Treaty establishing the single currency. Furthermore, it is an executive body of the EU; it administers and implements the EU policies. In other words, it implements the decisions made by the Council and Parliament. Finally, the Council can ask the Commission to undertake such research and summit proposals in the relevant case.

Council of Ministers

The Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers). This is the main decision making body. It is where the EU legislation is often made jointly with the European Parliament and Commission. The Council coordinates the economic policies of member states, and shares budgetary function with the European Parliament. The Council is also assisted by a full-time Secretariat, who prepares and oversees the smooth running of the work of the Council. Its membership consists of a representative from each member state who has the power to make binding decisions on behalf of his governments.

European Parliament

European Parliament consists of 700 members and it is the only EU institution that is directly elected by the citizens of the member states, it is the democratic reflection of the will of the EU’s citizens, every European MP is elected by proportional representation. Every EMP has a 5-year office, and he/she is distributed into groups according to their political affiliation.

Originally, the EU Parliament had no legislative power but since the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam its powers has increased. Most primary legislation (Treaties) is now enacted under the co-decision procedure in which the Council and the Parliament must approve the proposed measures before they become law.

This shows that Parliament has an effective veto (formal objection) over proposals from the Commission and Council. Proposals for controversial legislation is negotiated between the institutions with the aim to reach a compromise if it’s to become law.

The main function of the European Parliament is to put forward proposals by the Commission, but it has no direct law making authority. It also investigates malad-unreliable administration within the institutions and can establish committees to investigate. The agreement of the EU Parliament is needed subject to unanimous decision of the Council, for important international agreements such as the accession of the new member states.

European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice meets in Luxembourg, each member state sends one of their highest judicial posts or leading academic lawyers to become a judge in the European Court of Justice, post is for six years. Fifteen judges sit in the European Court of Justice and they sit in chambers of 3, 5 or 7 sitting in chambers. The judges operate free from political interference.

The functions of the European Court of Justice.

Firstly, the actions by member states, company, individual against Council or Commission for being in breach of the treaty.

Secondly, to hear cases where member states have failed to comply with Treaty obligations. European Commissions can take a member state or member state against another for breach of this.

For example, in the case of the Commission V UK 1979, failed to implement a regulation concerning the use of tachographs in motor vehicles transporting goods. In addition, it hears references from national courts, courts of member states, for a preliminary ruling under the article 234 of the Treaty of Rome. They give PR under Article 234 by interpretation of Treaties and to see whether the Acts of the EU institution were valid.

Any national court or tribunal no matter how low in the hierarchy, can request a European Court of Justice ruling under Article 234. This applies if the EU law is difficult or unclear. This would help them to make a judgement. An example is the case of Torfaew Borough Council V B and Q 1990, where the Magistrate Court made a discretionary referral under Article 234 to see whether the restrictions on Sunday shopping was a breach of the Treaty of Rome.

It is important to mention that there are guidelines when a discretional referral should be made. These guidelines are set out in the case of Bulmer V Bollinger in 1974 to assist judges whether they should make discretional referral. These are the following. Fist of all, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must not be overloaded, bearing in mind that all the judges of the European Court of Justice will hear the case referred from a national court. If there are too many referrals then the ECJ would not be able to get through the case load. Secondly, the National Courts have the discretion whether to refer or not. In addition, the time to get ruling, this is a factor that needs to be taken into account and takes 18 months for the ECJ to make a ruling.


Moreover, no preliminary ruling is required if the legal point has already been clarified by the ECJ. Finally, no referral if the EU law is clear, Acte Clair Doctrine. If the Treaty is clear the courts can apply the Treaty directly to the case such as the case of Pickstone V Freemans PLC, where the Treaty on equality of men and women was clear.

Lord Denning stated in Pickstone that if the Point is difficult and important then it should go to the ECJ, if not the Court should save experience and delay by deciding themselves. In the case of Bulmer, there was a dispute whether this amounted to a breach of Regulations. European Union Regulations stated that the word Champagne was only to be used from grapes grown from France.

The Court exercised its discretion not to refer the case to the ECJ. The Courts still use Lord Denning’s guidelines however; there is a willingness to refer cases under Article 234. A judge stated that in interpreting EU law, the ECJ has advantages over national courts, it can make a panoramic view of EU law, the ECJ is experienced in the use of purposive approach for which EU law was designed such as in the case of Marshall V Southampton Area Health Authority.

When a case is referred to the European Court of Justice by a national court under Article 234, the case is adjoured. The ECJ then makes a ruling of the EU law. The National court then applies the ruling to the case. The ECJ does not have to follow it’s own previous decisions, all the ECJ decisions must be followed by all courts of member states. The decision made by the ECJ will be followed by member states consistency.


In order to implement the aims of the Treaty of Rome, the European Union has a vast and complex organisation with institutions established by the Treaty of Rome. Despite the cries of UK politicians at times, everyone should have known that uniting 28 MS would not have been an easy job.


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    • F S Miller profile image

      F S Miller 2 years ago

      Integrating various entities (nations, in this case) with very distinct identities can often lead to economic progress in the short run, but in times of severe stagnation (such as was seen in the recent global recession), nationalist trends tend to resurface.

      Thanks for writing this article.