The European Commission

The European Commission (formally the Commission of the European Communities) is the executive branch of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union.

The Commission operates in the method of cabinet government, with 27 Commissioners. There is one Commissioner per member state, though Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state. One of the 27 is the Commission President (currently José Manuel Durao Barroso) appointed by the European Council. The Council then appoints the other 26 Commissioners in agreement with the nominated President, and then the 27 Commissioners as a single body are subject to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. The present Barroso Commission took office in late 2004 and should serve a five-year term.

The term "Commission" can mean either the 27 Commissioners themselves (known as the College of Commissioners), or the larger institution that also includes the administrative body of about 25,000 European civil servants who are split into departments called Directorates-General and Services. The internal working languages are English, French and German. The Commissioners and their immediate teams are based in the Berlaymont building of Brussels.

Functions: The Commission was set up from the start to act as an independent supranational authority separate from governments; it has been described as "the only body paid to think European". The members are proposed by their member state governments, one from each; however they are bound to act independently - neutral from other influences such as those governments which appointed them. This is in contrast to the Council, which represents governments, the Parliament, which represents citizens, and the Economic and Social Committee which represents organised civil society.

Executive power of the Union is held by the Council: it confers on the Commission such powers for it to exercise. However, the Council may withdraw these powers, exercise them directly, or impose conditions on their use. Powers are outlined in Articles 211-219 of the EC treaty and are more restricted than most national executives, in part due to the Commission's lack of power over areas like foreign policy - that power is held by the European Council, which some analyses have described as another executive.

Considering that under the Lisbon Treaty the European Council would become a formal institution with the power of appointing the Commission, it could be said that the two bodies hold the executive power of the Union (the European Council also holds individual national executive powers). However, it is the Commission which currently holds executive powers over the European Community. The governmental powers of the Commission have been such that some such as former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt have suggested changing its name to the "European Government", calling the present name of commission: "ridiculous".

Dániel Barna