The European Commission

The European Commission (formally the Commission of the European Communities) is the executive body of the European Union. Alongside the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, it is one of the three main institutions governing the Union.

The Commission originated in the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was established in 1951 under the terms of the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. In 1958 two further bodies were established under the terms of the Treaties of Rome. These were the Commission of the European Economic Community and the Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community. Finally, in 1967, these three bodies merged to form the Commission of the European Communities, established under the terms of the Merger Treaty. This is the body that continues to exist to this day.

Its primary roles are to propose and implement legislation, and to act as 'guardian of the treaties' which provide the legal basis for the EU. The role of the European Commission has many parallels with the executive body of a national government, but also differences (see below for details).

The Commission consists of 25 Commissioners, one from each member state of the EU, supported by an administrative body of several thousand European civil servants divided into departments called Directorate-General. The term "the Commission" is generally used to refer both to the administrative body in its entirety, and to the team of Commissioners who lead it.

Unlike the Council of the European Union, the Commission is intended to be a body independent of member states. Commissioners are therefore not permitted to take instructions from the government of the country that appointed them, but are supposed to represent the interests of the citizens of the EU as a whole.

The Commission is headed by a President (currently José Manuel Durão Barroso). Its headquarters are located in Brussels and its working languages are English, French and German.

Responsibilities of the Commission


The Commission differs from other institutions in the EU system through its power of initiative. This means that only the Commission has the authority to initiate legislation in the areas known as the "first pillar". However, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament are both able to formally request that the Commission legislate on a particular topic. In the areas that fall within the "second pillar" (foreign policy and defence) and "third pillar" (criminal law), the Commission shares the power of initiating legislation with the European Council.

The Commission also takes the role of guardian of the treaties, which includes taking responsibility for initiating infringement proceedings at the European Court of Justice against member states and others who it considers to have breached the EU treaties and other community law.

The Commission negotiates international trade agreements (in the World Trade Organization) and other international agreements on behalf of the EU. It closely co-operates in this with the Council of the European Union.

The Commission is responsible for adopting technical measures to implement legislation adopted by the Council and, in most cases, the Parliament. This legislation is subject to the approval of committees made up of representatives of member states. This process is sometimes known by the jargon term of comitology.

The Commission also regulates competition in the Union, vetting all mergers with Community-wide effects and initiating proceedings against companies which violate EU competition laws.

The President of the Commission is chosen by the European Council, but the choice must be approved by the European Parliament. The remaining Commissioners are appointed by the member states in agreement with the President, who must decide the role of each Commissioner. Finally, the new Commission as a whole must be approved by the Parliament, on the basis of which the whole Commission is appointed by the Council of Ministers by qualified majority.

In addition to its role in approving a new Commission, the European Parliament has the power at any time to force the entire Commission to resign through a vote of no confidence. (This requires a vote that makes up at least two-thirds of those voting and a majority of the total membership of the Parliament. While it has never used this power, it threatened to use it against the Commission headed by Jacques Santer in 1999, with the result that the whole Commission resigned of its own accord).

The present Commission, the Barroso Commission, consists of 25 Commissioners. This Commission will serve from 22 November 2004 to 31 October 2009.

The enlargement of the Union on 1 May 2004 increased the number of member states from 15 to 25, and had an effect on the make-up of the Commission. Prior to this date, there were 20 Commissioners. In the months after May 2004 the size of the Commission was temporarily increased to 30 members - consisting of the 20 Commissioners already in post, plus one from each of the 10 acceding member states. The number was reduced to 25, with one Commissioner from each member state, when the Barroso commission took office in November 2004.

If the new Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe is adopted, the size of the Commission will be further reduced. Member states will take it in turns to nominate Commissioners, with any given state making a nomination on two out of every three occasions that a new Commission is to be appointed.


The Commission is divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DG) that can be likened to government ministries. The DGs cover either internal policies (e.g. the Directorate-General for Information Society and Media), external policies (e.g. the Directorate-General for External Relations) or internal services (e.g. the Directorate-General for Translation). Each Directorate-General is supervised by a senior civil servant known as the Director-General, who reports directly to the Commissioner or Commissioners responsible for that policy area.