Looking from the broad historical point of view, one may clearly state that the European Union is the most outstanding example of successful collective economic, social and political cooperation. Over the last five decades, the European Community has transformed from the group of historically united countries into a highly interconnected formation, geographically covering almost the entire European continent and being one of the major actors of the world policy.
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The most remarkable here is the fact that while delegating the part of their economic, political and legal sovereignty, the members of the EU remain independent and save their national identity. The EU has a unique organizational structure thanks to which its core functions are effectively performed. The following essay will examine the key legislative, executive and judiciary bodies of the EU and their role in maintaining the coherent supranational European system.
Nowadays the European Union consists of seven main bodies that represent and ensure the common interests of all member states. Those are the European Council, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, and the European Central Bank (Corner 2013). The basement of this structure was established yet in 1952 with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community with its four institutions such as the Assembly, the High Authority, the Council and the Court of Justice. The existing variant of the EU organizational structure was foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty, which was signed in 2007 and became effective in 2009 (Frischhut 2014).
This treaty was aimed to replace the unsuccessful project of the EU constitution. The primary institutional change introduced by the Lisbon Treaty was that the EU’s recognition as a legal entity. It became the subject of international law entitled to be party to international agreements and organizations. The Treaty also enhanced the role of national parliaments. All the laws of the EU were therefore directed to national parliaments for their detailed study and only after that consideration, they could be submitted for acceptance in the EU. If the majority of the national parliaments speak against the bill, it would be changed or rejected (Rossi & Casolari 2014). Formally maintaining the principle of institutional balance between supranational and intergovernmental elements, the Lisbon Treaty shifted the center of influence to the intergovernmental institutions.
The Council of Ministers or the Council of the European Union together with the European Parliament is one of the legislative bodies of the EU. 28 ministers from the governments of the member states are represented in the Council. The relevant European Commissioner is also involved in the work of the Council without the right to vote. The Council was established in 1952 as a special body in the framework of the European Coal and Steel Community to balance the High Authority, a supranational governing body, which later transformed into the European Commission. The Council plays the major role in solving those integration issues, where decision-making process takes place at the intergovernmental level. Among them are the issues of the common foreign and security policy, cooperation in domestic economic and social fields, admission of the new members (McCormick 2014).
At the same time, the Council of Ministers is the second body in the legislature of the EU. The Council of Ministers is sometimes considered the upper house in the EU political system (Barnard & Peers 2014). In fact, any legal act of the EU has to get the approval of the Council. A number of legal acts, as well as the budget of the EU, are subject to a joint decision of the European Council and the European Parliament. The proposal of the European Commission is initially presented to the Council and the Parliament, which are entitled to make relevant amendments. If the Council accepts them, the law is approved, and if not – it presents its common position and sends its version to the Parliament. If there are no objections during the second reading of the proposal, the bill may be adopted. In case there still exist any contradictions, the bill will be further discussed on the common session of the Council and the Parliament. If the committee fails to adopt the final text the Parliament and the Council will approve it in the third reading; otherwise the bill will be rejected (McCormick 2014).
During the first years of the Council’s existence, most of the decisions were taken by unanimous consent, but gradually new principles had been applied. Depending on the issue concerned, one of three types of voting may be used, namely: a simple majority (it is used for procedural matters), a qualified majority with each state having a certain number of votes (used to solve the issues of the internal market, economic affairs, and trade), and a traditional unanimous consent (used to make decisions on the new members, taxation, foreign and security policy, justice, and home affairs). The presidency is carried out by the member states in the manner unanimously determined by the Council; the rotation takes place every six months. For the time being, Luxembourg takes the presidency, with Italy and Latvia being the members of the working trio (The Council of the European Union 2015).
The Council consists of the representatives of the EU member states not lower than the ministerial rank, with each state having one representative. The Council is divided into ten formations defined in accordance with the founding Treaty of the European Council. In the case of the Foreign Affairs Council, there exist an exception – it is headed not by the minister of the presiding country but by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This position was established by the Lisbon treaty of 2009 (Rossi & Casolari 2014).
The main executive body of the EU is represented by the European Commission. It is responsible for creating laws, implementation of decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, ensuring the compliance with the EU treaties and monitoring of the current affairs of the Union. The Commission also ensures the respect of human rights, consults the national governments on the economic, social, military, foreign and cultural policy. In addition, the Commission together with the European Court of Auditors works on the implementation of the EU budget and supervises the use of the EU funds. All decisions of the Commission are of advisory nature; the disputes are settled at the level of national governments. The European Commission also carries out diplomatic functions of the EU abroad, having a huge network of offices worldwide (Barnard & Peers 2014).
One of the most peculiar characteristics if the European Commission is that in contrast to the traditional national governments, it has an exclusive right of the legislative initiative but only within the EU and in accordance with the EU legislation. The Commission may formally introduce bills in the European Parliament. The Council of Ministers, as well as the European Parliament, may ask the Commission to develop legislative proposals on some issues, and the latter may refuse to do this (Frischhut 2014). The Commission consists of 28 members from each member state, together with the President and five Vice-Presidents. The Commissioners in their work represent not their member states but the European Union as a whole. In 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker was elected the President. The European Parliament appoints the Commission for five years with the consent of the member states. The General Directorate and Secretariat provide the administrative assistance to the Commission (The European Commission 2015).
Considering the judiciary system of the EU, one may state that since its formation in 1952 it has become highly streamlined and effective. According to the Treaty of the European Union, the notion of the Court of Justice of the European Union corresponds to the EU judiciary system as a whole and consists of three elements: the European Court of Justice, which is the highest judiciary structure, the General Court, and the Civil Service Tribunal. National courts are sometimes seen as the fourth level of the system, being its functional elements (Frischhut 2014).
The European Court of Justice far exceeds the role of an arbitrator, allowing individual disputes between members of right governmental relations in the EU. The European Court of Justice is composed of 28 judges who are assisted by 11 Advocates General; both judges and advocates are appointed for a six-year period (The European Court of Justice, n.d.).. The Court may sit in chambers or assemble in plenary sessions for the consideration of especially important or complex cases or at the request of member states. The key function of the Court is to check the compliance of the documents issued by the European institutions and governments with the EU treaties. The Court also interprets the EU law at the request of national courts (The European Court of Justice, n.d.).
To better understand the functioning of the European Court of Justice and the possibility of applying the Community law even if it contradicts the national law, one should refer to some practical cases. One of the fists cases in the EU history where the Community law was considered more significant that the domestic is the 1964 trial Costa v ENEL (Judgment of the Court of 15 July 1964, n.d.). Mr. Costa, the shareholder in the Italian company Edison Volta, appealed to the Court of Milan, with a claim to compensate the damage caused to him, in his words, by the nationalization of the company.
Costa claimed that ENEL was founded in violation of several provisions of the 1957 Treaty of Rome. The Italian Constitutional Court, before receiving the clarifications of the European Court of Justice, had come to the conclusion that since the Treaty of Rome was ratified by Parliament through the adoption of a national act issued later than the treaty, then the provisions of the latter in the event of conflict with supranational law should have priority with respect to the relevant provisions of the Treaty. The European Court of Justice, on the contrary, concluded that due to a voluntary concession of the national sovereignties, the provisions of the supranational European law are of greater priority (Isenbaert 2008).
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Another notable example is the case of Factortame v the Secretary of State for Transport (1990). The plaintiff, the Spanish fishing company, required to consider the UK demands for the ships to be owned solely by the British citizens an illegal discriminatory measure. After more than seven years of processing, the Court of Justice ruled that individuals have the right to compensation for damages caused by the state in violation of the EU law (Judgment of the Court of 19 June 1990, n.d.).
In particular, the House of Lords emphasized that all national legislation adopted after the resolutions of the EU integration organizations became effective, should be construed in a way that does not violate the rights granted to citizens of the member countries by the provisions of Community law. The national courts received the right not to apply national legislation until the preliminary decision by the Court of Justice was made (Isenbaert 2008). Similar was the 1991 case of Frankovich v Italy, where the state was obliged to compensate the damage caused by the failure to implement the EU Directive № 80/987 (Judgment of the Court of 19 November 1991, n.d.).
Thus, it can be seen that the organizational and institutional structure of the European Union is truly unique. While the European Court of Justice represents the judiciary branch of power, the legislative and executive powers are shared between the Council of Ministers and the European Commission. As to the judiciary system of the EU, it can be seen that supranational legislation is considered domineering over the national one. The EU institutions and bodies, thus, prove to be very flexible and time-relevant mechanisms.
Barnard, C & Peers, S 2014, European Union law, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Corner, M 2013, The European Union: an introduction, I.B.Tauris, London.
Frischhut, M 2014, Fundamentals of European Union law: including the Lisbon Treaty amendments, Linde Verlag GmbH, Vienna.
Isenbaert, M 2008, EC Law and the sovereignty of the member states in direct taxation, IBFD, Amsterdam.
Judgment of the Court of 15 July 1964 n.d., Web.
Judgment of the Court of 19 June 1990 n.d., Web.
Judgment of the Court of 19 November 1991 n.d., Web.
McCormick, J 2014, Understanding the European Union: a concise introduction, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Rossi, L & Casolari, F 2014, The EU after Lisbon: amending or coping with the existing treaties? Springer Publishing, New York.
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