European Commission

European Commission

Introduction to European Commission

The European Commission is the highest administrative body in the EU. Unlike the European Council, which oversees all three pillars of the EU, the commission concentrates almost solely on the EC pillar. It initiates, implements, and supervises policy. It is also responsible for the general financial management of the EU and for ensuring that member states adhere to EU decisions. The commission is meant to be the engine of European integration, and it spearheaded preparations for the single market and moves toward establishing the euro.

Commissioners are appointed by member governments and are supported by a large administrative staff. Initially, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom each appointed two commissioners, while other member countries appointed one each. The Treaty of Nice, signed in 2001, changed the structure of the commission so that by 2005 each member state could appoint only one commissioner.

However, when the EU reaches 27 member states, the European Council is obligated to determine how large the commission should be. The Treaty of Nice also altered the selection procedures for commissioners, giving the European Council and the European Parliament a role in the confirmation process.” (1)

Description of European Commission (Commission, or Commission of the European Communities)

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes european commission (commission, or commission of the european communities) in the following terms: [1] The engine-room of the European Union, the European Commission in Brussels is at once its civil service and its government, sharing the latter role with the Council of Ministers. Its powers are immense (see more in this European encyclopedia). Under the Treaty of Rome it has ‘its own power of decision’ and may ‘participate in the shaping of measures taken by the Council and by the European Parliament’. It has the sole right of initiative in legislating (see more in this European encyclopedia). It has the power to enforce the Common Agricultural Policy and competition policy. It negotiates treaties on behalf of the Union, evaluates candidate member states and draws up the Community’s budget. It manages and dispenses the Community’s external aid and internal structural funds. It is the guardian of the Treaties. Whether in its executive or its bureaucratic function, it dominates the EU’s affairs.

In intergovernmental matters the Commission is less authoritative (see more in this European encyclopedia). But it has the right to be ‘fully associated’ with all developments in regard to the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs Policy (no casual matter – each policy has its own department, headed by a commissioner). The president of the Commission attends international summit meetings on a par with heads of government. The smaller states attach great importance to this role, which they see as a safeguard against the weight of the larger countries.

The European Parliament has made repeated efforts to encroach upon the power of the Commission and has made some progress in that direction. In particular, it has the right to be consulted about the choice of president, to dismiss (or refuse to appoint) the commissioners en bloc and to decide certain matters jointly with the Council. The Commission, however, has retained de facto power virtually unchallenged, through its mastery of its briefs, its unique access to information and its proximity to decisions.

The Treaty of Rome enjoins strict independence on commissioners, who owe their duty only to the Commission. The president is chosen (for a four-year renewable term) by member governments, which in practice has meant by France and Germany, although this could change if, for example, the UK, Italy and Spain were to adopt a common candidate (see more in this European encyclopedia). The 20 commissioners are also nominated by member states (in their case for a five-year renewable term), their portfolios being allocated by the president, generally under pressure from the more powerful national governments. Currently, the five largest states (Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain) supply two commissioners each, but the approaching enlargement of the EU, combined with the provision that each country has the right to nominate one of its own nationals, will lead to the cancellation of this privilege (in compensation, the Council votes will be changed to give more weight to the countries with the biggest populations).

The Commission’s portfolios are divided into departments, known as directorates (more accurately, directorates-general or DGs). Each commissioner is responsible for all or part of the work of each DG, assisted by the departmental head, or director-general, and a private office, or cabinet. Commissioners also take on miscellaneous other individual responsibilities, for example for translation or statistics. The overall administrative head of the Commission’s 17,000 employees has the title secretary-general.

In 1999, faced with allegations of negligence, nepotism and maladministration, resulting in widespread unchallenged fraud, the Commission narrowly survived a censure motion by the European Parliament through collusion with the Parliament’s Socialist group. Two months later, however, a devastating independent report judged the Commission to be collectively incompetent and unwilling to accept responsibility, whereupon the Commission resigned en bloc. The consequence of the scandal was to strengthen the relative power of the Parliament, but also to vest more authority in the president, on the grounds that he could hardly assume responsibility for the Commission without having greater influence over the running of its affairs and the selection of the key ‘ministers’. The early period of Romano Prodi’s term of office revealed him as a dedicated federalist, who was inclined to refer to the Commission as his ‘government’ and to the Eurocorps as the ‘European army’. On the task of reforming the Commission, however, he was not entirely convincing.

The most influential of the Commission’s ten presidents were indubitably its first, Walter Hallstein, who had led the West German negotiations over the Treaty of Paris in 1951 and the Treaty of Rome in 1957; and its last but two, the Frenchman Jacques Delors, who ushered in the Single European Act in 1986 and forced through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Both men were zealous integrationists, with strong characters and the backing of their own national governments (Delors also enjoyed the support of Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl). Both gained stature from being reappointed and were prepared to take on powerful political opponents – respectively Charles de Gaulle and Margaret Thatcher (see more in this European encyclopedia). And both were at heart technocrats more than democrats. Next to them, the president who made the greatest impact was perhaps Roy Jenkins (1977-81), who relaunched EMU in 1979 with the Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Commission presidents


Walter Hallstein



Jean Rey



Franco-Maria Malfatti



Sicco Mansholt



François-Xavier Ortoli



Roy Jenkins



Gaston Thorn



Jacques Delors



Jacques Santer



Romano Prodi


European Commission and the European Union


See Also

  • Commission


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

See Also


Notes and References

  • Information about European Commission in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  • Guide to European Commission

    More Topics about the European Union

    European Economic Area, European Union, European Union History (including European Union Early Cooperation, Benelux Customs Union, European Coal and Steel Community, European Economic Community, European Community, Expansion of the EC, Single European Act, Creation of the European Union, Treaty on European Union, Amsterdam Treaty, Treaty of Nice, Treaty of Lisbon, Monetary Union and EU Growing Accountability), EU Pillar System, EU Major Bodies Structure, European Commission, Council of the European Union, European Parliament, European Court of Justice, Court of Auditors, European Central Bank, Economic and Social Committee, Committee of the Regions, European Union Policies, Common Agricultural Policy, Common Fisheries Policy,

    EU Economic Differences, European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund, Cohesion Fund, European Investment Bank, European Monetary System, Economic and Monetary Union, EU International Relations, EU Expansion,

    EU and Non-European Nations and European Union Future.

    The European Commission (Article 17 Teu)

    Content about European Commission from the publication “The ABC of European Union law” (2010, European Union) by Klaus-Dieter Borchardt.

    It was originally agreed that from 2014 the European Commission would no longer have a representative from each Member State, but would have a number of Members corresponding to two thirds of the number of Member States, i.e. for the current total of 27 Member States, the number of Members of the Commission in 2014 would be 18. To this end, a rotation system would be introduced to ensure that there would be a Commissioner from each Member State in two out of any three consecutive Commission periods of office. However, the European Council was given the power to change this composition by unanimous vote, and it notified its intention to do so in the conclusions of its meeting of 18 and 19 June 2009 in Brussels. At that meeting, the European Council agreed to take a decision following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and in accordance with the necessary legal procedures, under which the Commission will continue to have a national from every Member State. This met one of the basic requirements set by Ireland when it organised its second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

    Definition of European Commission

    In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of European Commission : (European Commission, Commission of the European Communities)

    An organ of the European Union formed in 1967, having both executive and legislative functions. It is composed of 20 Commissioners, who must be nationals of member states and are appointed by member states by mutual agreement (two Commissioners each from the five largest member states – France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK; one each from the remaining members); their appointment must be approved by the *European Parliament. Each Commissioner assumes responsibility for a particular field of activity and oversees the department (Directorate General) devoted to that field (See Appendix II). Once appointed, the Commissioners must act in the interests of the EU; they are not to be regarded as representatives of their countries and must not seek or take instructions from any government or other body. Each Commissioner is appointed for a (renewable) four-year period. The Commission’s executive functions include administration of Community funds and ensuring that Community law is enforced (See European court of justice). Its legislative functions consist primarily of submitting proposals for legislation to the *Council of the European Union, in some cases on the orders of the Council and in others on its own initiative (See also European parliament). It also has legislative powers of its own, partly under the Treaty of Rome and partly by virtue of delegation by the Council, but only on a limited range of subjects (See Community legislation).

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