The 28 Commissioners, one from each EU country, provide the Commission’s political leadership during their 5-year term. Each Commissioner is assigned responsibility for specific policy areas by the President.
The current President of the European Commission is José Manuel Barroso who began his second term of office in February 2010.
The President is nominated by the European Council. The Council also appoints the other Commissioners in agreement with the nominated President.
The appointment of all Commissioners, including the President, is subject to the approval of the European Parliament. In office, they remain accountable to Parliament, which has sole power to dismiss the Commission.
The day-to-day running of the Commission is taken care of by the Commission’s staff – administrators, lawyers, economists, translators, interpreters, secretarial staff, etc. organised in departments known as Directorates-General (DGs).
‘Commission’ can be used to refer to the 28 individual Commissioners, the permanent staff or the institution as a whole.
The Commission represents and upholds the interests of the EU as a whole. It oversees and implements EU policies by:
- proposing new laws to Parliament and the Council
- managing the EU's budget and allocating funding
- enforcing EU law (together with the Court of Justice)
- representing the EU internationally, for example, by negotiating agreements between the EU and other countries.
1. Proposing new laws
The Commission has the 'right of initiative' – it can propose new laws to protect the interests of the EU and its citizens. It does this only on issues that cannot be dealt with effectively at national, regional or local level (subsidiarity principle).
When the Commission proposes a law, it tries to satisfy the widest possible range of interests. To get the technical details right, it consults experts through various committees and groups. It also holds public consultations.
The Commission’s departments produce a draft of the proposed new law. If at least 14 of the 28 Commissioners agree with it, the draft is then sent to the Council and Parliament. After debating and amending the draft, they decide whether to adopt it as a law.
2. Managing the EU’s budget and allocating funding
With the Council and Parliament, the Commission sets broad long-term spending priorities for the EU in the EU 'financial framework'. It also draws up an annual budget for approval by Parliament and the Council, and supervises how EU funds are spent – by agencies and national and regional authorities, for instance. The Commission’s management of the budget is scrutinised by the Court of Auditors.
The Commission manages funding for EU policies (e.g. agriculture and rural development) and programmes such as 'Erasmus' (student exchanges).
3. Enforcing European law
As 'guardian of the Treaties', the Commission checks that each member country is applying EU law properly.
If it thinks a national government is failing to apply EU law, the Commission first sends an official letter asking it to correct the problem. As a last resort , the Commission refers the issue to the Court of Justice. The Court can impose penalties, and its decisions are binding on EU countries and institutions.
4. Representing the EU internationally
The Commission speaks on behalf of all EU countries in international bodies like the World Trade Organisation.
It also negotiates international agreements for the EU such as the Cotonou Agreement (on aid and trade between the EU and developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific).