The Commission

The Commission (the European Commission) is sometimes likened to a government. This is because it is responsible for ensuring implementation of the Treaties and the measures adopted by the institutions under the Treaties and implementation of the budget. This means, among other things, that the Commission, supervised by the Court of Justice of the European Union, monitors the application of EU law (Art 17 (1) TEU). If a Member State fails to fulfil its obligations in this regard, the Commission may, as a last resort, lodge a case against the defaulting State before the Court of Justice. The Commission also has a very important role in the legislative process in the sense that new legislative acts can as a rule be adopted only on the initiative of the Commission (Art 17 (2) TEU). The Commission is therefore, at least formally, the ‘engine’ of the legislative process. With certain exceptions, among others the common foreign and security policy, it falls also to the Commission to represent the EU externally.

While the Commission in most areas has a monopoly on initiating legislative matters, other institutions may request it to put forward proposals needed to implement the objectives of the Treaties.[1] [2] It is also possible for a large group of citizens of the Union—at least one million persons—from a significant number of Member States to formally ask the Commission to submit proposals on matters where citizens consider that a Union act is necessary to implement the Treaties (Art 11 (4) TEU). In none of those cases is the Commission obliged to act in accordance with the institution’s or citizens’ wishes.

The Commission has limited legislative power to implement, or in some cases supplement or amend, non-essential elements of legislative acts. This power can be compared to the power of a government to adopt rules under the laws enacted by the Parliament (see section 1.8).

The Commission consists of twenty-eight Commissioners, one per Member State. Commissioners represent the interest of the EU as a whole rather than their home States. The term ‘Commission’ refers both to the College of twenty-eight Commissioners with its President, Vice Presidents, and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and to the whole administrative body, consisting of about 23,000 civil servants.19

The Commission President is elected following the proposal ofthe European Council to the European Parliament, which then decides by a simple majority. The Council will then appoint, in agreement with the President-elect and according to the proposals from the Member States, the other twenty-seven Commissioners. The five-year appointments are subject to the approval of the European Parliament (Art 17 (7) TEU).

Unlike the Council members, who represent their respective governments, the Commissioners are not State representatives. On the contrary, the Commission shall perform its duties with complete independence. Members shall neither seek nor take instructions from any government, institution, or other body (Art 17 (3) TFEU). Commissioners often have a background as politicians in their respective Member States, but act in the Commission as civil servants. Compared with the secretariats of other international organisations, however, the Commission has great influence. It has collegiate responsibility towards the European Parliament, which can dismiss the whole Commission through a vote of no confidence. It makes its decisions by majority vote (Art 250 TFEU).

The Commission is functionally divided into Directorates-General (DG) and independent sections such as the Legal Service. Each DG is responsible for a policy area, such as trade, energy, or environment, and is led by a Director-General, who in turn is responsible to the relevant Commissioner.

  • [1] Art 225 TFEU concerning the European Parliament and Art 241 TFEU concerning the Council.
  • [2] M Horspool and M Humphreys European Union Law (8th edn, Oxford University Press,2014) 47-8.
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