The European Commission (formally the Commission of the European Communities) is the executive branch of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union’s treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union.
The Commission operates in the method of cabinet government, with 27 Commissioners. There is one Commissioner per member state, though Commissioners are bound to represent the interests of the EU as a whole rather than their home state. One of the 27 is the Commission President appointed by the European Council with the approval of the European Parliament.
The term “Commission” can mean either the college of Commissioners mentioned above, or the larger institution; including the administrative body of about 25,000 European civil servants who are in departments called Directorates-General (DG). It is primarily based in the Berlaymont building of Brussels and its internal working languages are English, French and German.
The Commission is composed of a college of “Commissioners”, 27 members in all, including the President and vice-presidents. Even though each member is appointed by a national government, one per state, they do not represent their state in the Commission (however in practice they do occasionally press for their national interest). Once proposed, the President delegates portfolios between each of the members. The power of a Commissioner largely depends upon their portfolio. For example, while the Culture Commissioner isn’t a very important figure, the Competition Commissioner is a powerful position with global reach. Before the Commission can assume office, the college as a whole must be approved by the Parliament. Commissioners are supported by their personal cabinet who give them political guidance, while the Civil Service (the DGs) deal with technical preparation.
The President of the Commission is first nominated by the European Council; that nominee is then officially elected by the European Parliament. The candidate selected by the Council has often been a leading national politician but this is not a requirement. In 2004, the proposed Constitution had included a provision that the choice of President must take into account the latest Parliamentary elections.
There are further criteria influencing the choice of the Council, these include: which area of Europe the candidate comes from, favoured as Southern Europe in 2004; the candidate’s political influence, credible yet not overpowering members; language, proficiency in French considered necessary by France; and degree of integration, their state being a member of both the eurozone and the Schengen Agreement.
The Commission is primarily based in Brussels, with the President’s office and the Commission’s meeting room based on the 13th floor of the Berlaymont building. The Commission also operates out of numerous other buildings in Brussels and Luxembourg. When the Parliament is meeting in Strasbourg, the Commissioners also meet there in the Winston Churchill building to attend the Parliament’s debates. The Commission is divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs) that can be likened to departments or ministries. Each covers a specific policy area or service such as External relations or Translation and is headed by Director-General who is responsible to a Commissioner. A Commissioner’s portfolio can be supported by numerous DGs, they prepare proposals for them and if approved by a majority of Commissioners it goes forward to Parliament and Council for consideration. There has been criticism from a number of people that the highly fragmented DG structure wastes a considerable about of time in turf wars as the different departments and Commissioners compete with each other. Furthermore the DGs can exercise considerable control over a Commissioner with the Commissioner having little time to learn to assert control over their staff.
According to figures published by the Commission, 23,043 persons were employed by the Commission as officials and temporary agents in April 2007. The single largest DG is the Directorate-General for Translation. The Commission’s civil service is headed by a Secretary General.
Note: The article above may not contain current information.