Now that Poland has been given the green light to join the European Union people here are asking: what do the various institutions in Brussels, Luxemburg, and Strasbourg actually do? What is the difference between the European Council, the Council of the EU and the Council of Europe, for instance? And why are there only 12 stars on the EU flag? Be confused no longer (hopefully) with our simple guide.
The European Commission is an executive body based in Brussels. It consists of 20 Commissioners responsible for policy. Member States have their own Commissioner and the biggest five states have two each. Romano Prodi is the President of the Commission.
The EC is responsible for implementing European legislation (directives, regulations, decisions), budget and programmes adopted by Parliament and the Council. The decisions are made by majority rule, each member has one vote. The EC has regular weekly sessions on Wednesday mornings. The EC is responsible to the European Parliament.
The EC employs over 16,000 staff - that's half of those working in all of the European institutions. One fifth of the personnel translate/interpret 11 languages, but once enlargement becomes a fact the number of languages being used will total 21. www.europa.eu.int
The European Parliament is the largest multinational assembly of the representatives of the 370 million EU citizens. Since 1979 representatives have been elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term and today total 626.
It is associated with the Council in the legislative process; it has the power of control over the Union's activities through its confirmation of the appointment of the Commission. It also shares budgetary powers with the Council in voting on the annual budget (99 billion euros this year).
Its monthly, four-day sessions take place in Strasbourg. The President of the Parliament is Pat Cox from Ireland. After joining the EU, Poland will have 50 representatives, the same amount as Spain. The nearest election is scheduled for June 2004.
The European Council is the term used to describe the regular meetings, known as European Summit Conferences, of the Heads of State or Governments of the European Union Member States. Its existence was given legal recognition by the Single European Act, while official status was conferred on it by the Treaty of the European Union. It meets at least twice a year and the President of the European Commission attends as a full member. Its objectives are to give the European Union the impetus it needs in order to develop further, and to define general policy guidelines. The European Council is presided over by a particular Head of State, who holds the chair for six months. At the moment it is Denmark; Greece is waiting its turn, beginning in 2003.
The Council of the European Union is the European Union's main decision-making institution. It consists of the ministers of the fifteen Member States responsible for the matters on the agenda: foreign affairs, farming, industry, transport or whateveaar. The meetings of foreign ministers of Member States are also called the General Secretariat. Each country in the Union in turn holds the chair for six months; the Secretary-General acts as High Representative for the common foreign and security policy. Decisions are made by qualified majority voting. Each country has a proportional number of votes.
The General Assembly gathers once a month in Brussels or Luxemburg. The Council and the Parliament both make EU laws initially proposed by the European Commission.
The Court of Justice is the supreme court of the European Union. The Court members, appointed by Member States, are 15 judges and 9 advocates general. It ensures that the Treaties are respected and that the Community law is uniformly interpreted and effectively applied. It does not investigate individual citizens' complaints.
The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg and is not part of the EU. It has 44 member states. It aims to protect democracy and human rights. Poland has been a member since 1991. Its main achievement is the European Convention of Human Rights. Any citizen of a member state can appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. www.coe.int
The European Emblem - against a background of blue sky, twelve golden stars form a circle, representing the union of the peoples of Europe. The number of stars is fixed, twelve being the symbol of perfection and unity.
It was designed by Spanish diplomat, Madariaga y Rojo and French artist Arsène Heitz. For years there have been disputes as to what the stars represent - hours, months, Zodiac signs, Apostles, perfection? And it was shortly before his death that Heitz confessed that the number of the stars is the same as over the head of Blessed Mary and the inspiration is derived from the Bible.
The European Anthem is Ode to Joy, from Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Both the Emblem and the Anthem were taken over from the biggest and oldest European organization, the Council of Europe.
The European Court of Human Rights was set up in 1959 to enforce the decisions made by the ECHR and is part of the Council of Europe. Located in Strasbourg, there are 44 judges, one from each of the member states. Individuals can bring charges against state institutions. www.dhcour.int