EU institutions


European Economic Community (Common Market)

The European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market, was created in 1957 with the aim of bringing about economic integration between its member states: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany. In 1993, it was incorporated into the European Union.


European Central Bank

The European Central Bank is the EU’s central bank. Its main task is to administer the monetary policy of the eurozone, the monetary union of the 19 EU member states that use the euro.


Council of the European Union (aka Council of Ministers)

The Council of the European Union is one of the EU’s two main decision-making bodies, alongside the European Parliament. It is formed of government ministers from each EU member state. Ministers meet to discuss, amend and adopt laws, and to coordinate policies. They have the authority to commit their governments to the actions agreed at meetings. Each EU country holds the Presidency of the Council on a 6-month rotating basis. Not to be confused with the Council of Europe or the European Commission.


European Commission

The European Commission is the EU’s executive body, comprised of one representative from each member state, and headed by a President and 7 Vice-Presidents. Its role is to propose legislation, enforce European law, set objectives, manage and implement EU policies and the budget, and to represent the EU outside of Europe.


European Council

The European Council is formed of the heads of EU member states/governments along with the President of the Council and the president of the European Commission. It sets the EU’s overall direction and political priorities, and deals with crises and sensitive issues, but it does not pass laws. Its meetings are also attended by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (the Foreign Minister of the EU). Not to be confused with the Council of Europe or the Council of the European Union.


European Court of Justice

The European Court of Justice (official name: Court of Justice), is the highest court in the EU in matters of EU law. Its role is to interpret EU law and ensure its equal application across all EU member states. It is composed of 28 judges, one from each EU member state, who are assisted by nine Advocates General, and are appointed jointly by the governments of EU member states.


European Parliament

The European Parliament is directly elected by EU voters every 5 years. Its main roles are to pass EU laws (together with the Council of Ministers and based on proposals from the European Commission), to hold the European Commission accountable, and to decide the EU budget (together with the European Council).


Non-EU institutions and everything else


euro (single currency)

Created in 1999, the euro is the EU’s common currency, now used by 19 of the EU’s 28 member states (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain). It is also used by Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City as well as unilaterally by Montenegro and Kosovo.


Working Time Directive

The Working Time Directive is a directive of the EU that requires EU member states to guarantee all workers certain rights, including a limit to weekly working hours (no more than 48 hours on average), at least 4 weeks of paid annual leave and a minimum daily rest period.


Maastricht Treaty (also Treaty on European Union)

The Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992 by the members of the European Economic Community in Maastricht, Netherlands. The treaty created the European Union and led to the establishment of its single currency, the euro. The original 12 EU member states were: Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Spain and Portugal.


Treaty of Lisbon

Signed in 1997, this is the most recent of the Treaties that between them define the constitutional structure and competences of the European Union. It was agreed following a failed attempt to write an entirely new constitution for the European Union. It significantly extended the areas where decisions in the Council of Ministers could be made by qualified majority voting rather than requiring unanimity, established the positions of President of the European Council (the EU’s titular head) and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (the EU’s Foreign Minister) and increased the power of the European Parliament.


European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights is not an EU institution. It is an international court that rules on cases brought by individuals or states alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, a convention to which all 47 members of the Council of Europe are signatories.


Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is not an EU institution. It is a regional intergovernmental organisation designed to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law in its 47 member states (28 of which are EU members). Not to be confused with: European Council.



These are the areas of policy for which the EU has responsibility for making laws. There are six areas where the EU has exclusive competence – customs union, single market competition policy, single currency, the common fisheries policy, common commercial policy and EU international treaties. There are many others where the EU shares competence with the member states. In these instances member states can continue to legislate unless the EU has already done so.


Freedom of movement

This refers to the right of EU citizens (and their families) to move to another member state to live and work. Anyone can move to another EU country for up to three months, and for longer so long as the financial means to support. In addition all EU citizens have to right to seek and accept employment in another EU country, and access to out of work (job seeking) and in-work welfare benefits on the same terms and conditions as citizens of the country in which they are living.

Freedom of movement can refer to EU residents’ guaranteed right to freely move within the EU’s internal borders. EU residents may enter any member state for up to three months. EU citizens also earn a right to permanent residence in member states where they have lived for an uninterrupted five-year period. Family members of EU residents, in general, also acquire the same freedom of movements rights as their resident family member.


Schengen Agreement

The Schengen Agreement in 1985 proposed the gradual abolition of border controls between Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. It was supplemented by the Schengen Convention in 1990 which led to the abolition of passport controls and established a common visa policy within a much larger ‘Schengen Area’. The Schengen Area currently consists of 26 states (of which four are not EU member states): Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The UK and Ireland have a permanent op-out from joining Schengen.


TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership)

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. It is proving controversial. Advocates claim that it will promote economic growth, while critics believe it would have an adverse effect on, amongst other things, public services and job security.