The Commission of the European Communities—also known as the European Commission—is at the policy-making center of the European Union (EU). The EU is an organization of 15 western European nations joined together in the promotion of economic, political, and social cooperation and integration. The EU had its beginnings in 1951 with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. This was followed by the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which established the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Community. In 1967 the governing bodies of these three organizations merged to form the European Community (EC). By 1979, the year the EC created the European Monetary System, the EC was well on the road to economic integration, not just economic cooperation. In 1992, with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, the EC became the European Union with a European central bank responsible for implementing a single European currency—the euro —which debuted in 1999.
The European Commission, its 20 commissioners, and 15,000 employees have three main functions: to initiate proposals for legislation, to ensure that the provisions of the various treaties underlying the EU are applied, and to manage and execute EU policy.
Laws governing the European Union begin with European Commission proposals. In formulating these proposals the commissioners must take into account three conditions. These include 1) their proposed legislation must benefit the EU and its citizens as a whole, not regional interests or individual countries; 2) they must consult with "special interest groups," such as the various national governments, representatives of industry, labor unions, and technical experts; and finally, 3) their proposals must adhere to the principle of "subsidiarity," meaning that proposed legislation and subsequent action can only be undertaken by the EU if in doing so it is more effective than if the same action were undertaken by individual member countries. The passage of proposed legislation, although submitted by the commission, is dependent on joint cooperation of the commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the European Union.
The European Commission's second function is to ensure that member nations adhere to EU legislation and the provisions of various treaties that govern the EU. If the commission concludes that treaty provisions are not being applied correctly, then legal action can be taken before the European Court of Justice. The commission also has the authority to assess fines against individuals, organizations, and corporations found to be in violation of EU treaty provisions. These violations often involve such activities as price-fixing and "market-rigging". All such charges are subject to defendant appeal before the European Court of Justice.
The commission's third responsibility includes management of the EU's budget and various other executive responsibilities. These responsibilities include making rules to "fill in" legislation, taking measures to prevent the dumping of imports by non-EU countries, regulating certain industry mergers and acquisitions, and enforcing treaty provisions governing competition.
The European Commission has 20 commissioners who are people having held "senior positions" in their home countries. Two commissioners are appointed from each of the "big" member countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom) and one each from the other ten member countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden). Commissioners are fully expected to be independent of their home countries when executing their duties and must act with fidelity to the EU. Commissioners are appointed by their home nations for renewable five-year terms. The president of the commission is chosen by the European Council after consultation with the European Parliament.
The budget of the European Commission is generally around 3 percent of the total EU budget. Twenty percent of commission employees are involved with translation and interpretation services in an effort to coordinate the 11 official languages of the EU. The commission also has 24 directorates general, each in charge of such fields of endeavor and activity as transport, agriculture, environment, customs and indirect taxation, consumer policy and health protection, fisheries, and external relations with other world regions. Another important activity of the commission is to negotiate trade and other cooperative agreements with countries outside the EU. By the late 1990s the European Commission had negotiated more than 100 such agreements.
[ Michael Knes ]
Commission of the European Communities. "The European Commission." Brussels: Commission of the European Communities, 1999. Available from europa.eu.int/comm/index_en.htm .
Commission of the European Communities. The European Commission, 1995-2000. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1995.
Edwards, Geoffrey, and David Spence, eds. The European Commission. New York: Stockton Press, 1994.
Smyrl, Marc E. "When (and How) Do the Commission's Preferences Matter?" Journal of Common Market Studies 36, no. I (March 1998): 79-99.