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EU Fact Sheet: The European Commission

Role: Executive branch of the EU that proposes laws and policy agreements

Members: 28 Commissioners (1 President, 7 Vice-Presidents, 20 Commissioners)

Location: Brussels

President: Jean-Claude Junker

The European Commissions is a politically independent body that promotes the common interest of the EU. It is responsible for proposing and implementing EU legislation, policies, and programs of action. The Commission is in charge of implementing the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

The Breakdown

 Members of the Commission are informally known as ‘Commissioners’. A new Commission is appointed every five years, which falls within a six-month period to the European Parliamentary elections. A total of 28 Commissioners (one from each Member State) represents the interest of the EU as a whole. This is also referred to as ‘the College’.

The European Council proposes the candidate for President of the Commission to the European Parliament. The Commission President will then be elected by a majority vote of component members in Parliament.

Once a President-elect has been selected, he or she chooses the remaining 27 Commissioners on the basis of suggestions made by the Member States. The Parliament committees will assess the proposed Commissioners. If Parliament approves the new Commission, it can officially start work the following January.

In order to monitor the treaties and the day-to-day running of the EU, the Commission employs approximately 23 000 civil servants. These staff members are divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs) and services. Each DG is responsible for a specific policy area.

Functional Roles

The Commissions has four main roles:

  1. Propose new laws: The Commissions holds the sole responsibility of drawing up proposals for new EU legislation, which is submitted to Parliament and the Council. Before drafting any proposals, the Commission must be aware of any emerging problems or situations in order to defend the interests of the EU and its citizens.
  1. Implementing polices and budgets: The Commission is responsible for implementing and managing the decisions of Parliament and the Council. It also handles the EU budget with the assistance of the Court of Auditors.
  1. Enforcing European Law: Once the Commission implements any laws, it is in charge of monitoring and enforcing that EU law is being applied appropriately by all Member States.
  1. Representing the EU around the world: When dealing with non-EU countries, the Commission acts as a spokesperson for the Union. It is responsible for external affairs that particularly relate to trade policy and humanitarian aid.

The President decides which Commissioner will be responsible for which policy area during the five-year term. The Commission sets an agenda, and the College will meet once a week in Brussels to make a collective decision for the policy areas that are being addressed.

The DGs work to draft a legislative proposal, which will only become official when the College adopts it during its weekly meetings.

Sandra Song
Sandra is a Research Analyst at the NATO Association of Canada. She was the former Editor for the Canadian Armed Forces program, and she was previously a Junior Research Fellow for the Strategic Reserve Program in 2013. Sandra has a BA Bilingual Hons. in International Studies from Glendon College, York University. She recently completed her MA in International Conflict & Security at the University of Kent, Brussels School of International Studies. Her dissertation examined the political and legal perspectives of balancing security and liberty in the case of civilian aircraft hijackings that would be used as a weapon for terrorism. Prior to her time at the NAOC, Sandra was contracted as an Ocean Energy Plan Project Consultant for a non-profit organization in Belgium and the Netherlands.