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EUROPA > Summaries of legislation > The Institutions of the Union


The Institutions of the Union

The institutional framework

The judicial system: Court of Justice and General Court
Other institutions of the Union
The Union's advisory bodies
Summary table


The Constitution amends the basic institutional structure of the European Union (EU), which currently consists of five institutions (European Parliament, Council of Ministers, Commission, Court of Justice, Court of Auditors), and three other important bodies (European Economic and Social Committee, Committee of the Regions, European Investment Bank).
Article I-19 of the Constitutional Treaty now states that "the institutional framework comprises: the European Parliament , the European Council , the Council of Ministers (referred to as the "Council"), the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union ".

The European Council is therefore recognised as a fully-fledged institution, but the Court of Auditors has not been included in the basic institutional framework. It is mentioned separately in Chapter II of Title IV, the latter being entitled "Other institutions and advisory bodies", as is the European Central Bank (ECB), which is formally given the status of an institution. This new presentation, in two separate chapters, suggests that alongside the five main institutions (European Parliament, European Council, Council of Ministers, European Commission and Court of Justice) there are two secondary institutions (Court of Auditors and European Central Bank) which are completely independent of the other institutions in the performance of their duties.

Thus, there are seven bodies that have been classified as institutions.
Of these seven, four of the main institutions (Parliament, European Council, Council of Ministers and Commission) have undergone substantial changes, whereas the only real changes concerning the Court of Justice relate to just some of its provisions.

As regards the other EU institutions and bodies, amendments are almost non-existent, with only the length of the term of office of members of the Committee of the Regions (COR) and of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) being changed.

The Constitution does not make any changes to the seats of the institutions, incorporating the existing protocol hitherto appended to the EC Treaty.

Finally, the Constitutional Treaty incorporates without change the concepts of consultation and cooperation among the institutions, which must practise mutual sincere cooperation (Articles I-19 and II-397).

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Following the major changes made to the judicial system by the Treaty of Nice , including a better distribution of competences between the two bodies and the possibility of setting up of judicial panels attached to the Court of First Instance, the Constitution proposes some additional changes.

The Constitution changes the name of the Court of Justice. In the future, the term "Court of Justice of the European Union" will officially designate the two levels of jurisdiction taken together. The supreme body is now called the "Court of Justice" while the Court of First Instance of the European Communities is renamed "General Court". Article I-29 states that the Court of Justice of the European Union includes "the European Court of Justice, the General Court and specialised courts".

Article III-359 of the Constitution states that specialised courts may be attached to the General Court by means of European laws, adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure . These laws, adopted on a proposal from the Court of Justice or the Commission, will lay down the rules on the organisation of the General court and the extent of the jurisdiction conferred on it.

Article III-357 of the Constitution provides for the setting up of a panel to give an opinion on candidates' suitability to perform the duties of Judge and Advocate-General, before the governments of the Member States take the decisions regarding their appointment.

The Constitutional Treaty does not make any changes to the Court's tasks. However, it stipulates that "Member States shall provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law" (Article I-29).

However, private individuals' access to the Court of Justice will be facilitated by the provision that any natural or legal person may institute proceedings against "a regulatory act which is of direct concern to him or her and does not entail implementing measures" (Article III-365). In this way, the Constitution should make it easier for citizens to challenge the Union's regulatory acts under which penalties are imposed, even if these acts do not affect them individually (unlike what is required under the existing treaties).

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The Constitution gives the European Central Bank the status of an institution, without taking away its independence. Article I-30 brings together the general provisions on the ECB and the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) , without introducing any substantive changes. By summarising the ECB's tasks, Article I-30 gives these tasks a clearer profile. At the same time, the protocol on the Statute of the ESCB and the ECB will continue to apply.

The functions of the Court of Auditors are briefly described in Article I-31 of the Constitution. More detailed provisions, whose contents remain the same, are to be found in Articles III-384 and III-385.

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The Constitution does not confer the status of an institution on any advisory body, as had been requested by the Committee of the Regions. The only change made concerns the length of the term of office of the members of the EU's two advisory bodies, i.e. the COR and the EESC. This has now become five years (instead of four), which is the same as that for the legislature of the European Parliament (Article III-386 for the COR and III-390 for the EESC).
Finally, it should be noted that the Constitution does not decide the composition of the bodies. This will be done by means of a European decision adopted unanimously by the Council (Articles III-386 for the COR and III-389 for the EESC).

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Articles Subject Comments
I-19 The institutional framework Major changes
I-30 and III-382 - III-383 The European Central Bank -
I-31 and III-384 - III-385 The Court of Auditors
I-29 and III-353 to III-381 The Court of Justice
I-29 The Court of Justice (name) Major changes
III-355 and III-357 The Court of Justice (selection of Judges and Advocates-General)
III-359 The Court of Justice (specialised courts)
III-365 The Court of Justice (actions brought by citizens)
I-32 The Union's advisory bodies -
III-386 to III-388 The Committee of the Regions
III-389 to III-392 The European Economic and Social Committee
Protocol on the location of the seats of the institutions and of certain bodies, offices, agencies and departments of the European Union The seats of the institutions -
Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank The European System of Central Banks and the European Central Bank -
Protocol on the Statute of the Court of Justice of the European Union The Court of Justice -

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These factsheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Constitution.

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