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The Organization and Responsibilities of the European Commission (EC)

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  • 0:02 European Commission
  • 0:34 History
  • 1:40 Body
  • 2:54 Scope
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the leading lawmaking organization of the European Union: the European Commission. We explore how its members are appointed and its wide mandate to govern Europe.

European Commission

Just about every organization you will encounter in life has a board. Whether it's the board of directors for a company, the board of regents at a public university, or the board of trustees on your local school board, these bodies are responsible for making important, high-level decisions for their respective institutions. Though the European Union (EU) has various important bodies, the one that acts most like a board of governors is the European Commission. The rest of this lesson will detail how the European Commission originated and its important duties and responsibilities today.

History

The closest thing that resembles today's European Commission was the High Authority set up to govern and direct the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951. The ECSC was the forerunner to today's European Union and one of the first multinational cooperative organizations in Europe. The High Authority was set up to govern interactions between the six member nations and give the organization a cohesive direction.

When the ECSC gave way to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957, the High Authority was replaced with the EEC Commission. Though the Commission still held considerable sway over the direction and decision making within the EEC, the Commission had less latitude than before. It was now more subject to decisions made at international meetings between the leaders of member nations.

The European Commission reached its current manifestation in 1967, when the Merger Treaty merged the remnants of the ECSC with the EEC and the European nuclear energy board, EURATOM. According to the Merger Treaty, these three organizations were now directed by one, single commission.

Body

The European Commission today has 28 members - one for each current member state. These members serve 5-year terms as their country's representative, and are nominated by the European Council - a body made up of the leaders of European countries that meets several times a year. However, before they can take their seats in the Commission they must first be confirmed by the European Parliament, whose members hold the power to veto any commissioner they deem as unfit to lead. The Parliament also holds each commissioner accountable to the people of Europe. If one commissioner commits a crime or fails to uphold the standard of the Commission, the Parliament reserves the right to remove any minister it deems has failed in his or her duties.

The European Commission is far more than simply these 28 men and women. Each commissioner also has a large staff that helps run the everyday tasks that the European Commission performs. Whether it's translating documents and correspondences into various European languages, drafting new legislation, or any other activity pertaining to the running of the European Union, many of these tasks are done by a veritable army of staff members. Many commentators, when referring to the European Commission are referring to the entire bureaucracy and not just the 28 commissioners.

Scope

Indeed, the European Commission requires such a large bureaucracy because its mandate is so expansive. As hinted at, the European Commission is charged with ensuring that the everyday affairs of the European Union are managed adequately, while at the same time maintaining a direction which, according to the EU's website, 'represents and upholds the interests of the EU as a whole.'

The first of these tasks is proposing new laws. Many of the laws that pass through EU institutions are first drafted by the European Commission. Though the Commission may theoretically make any law that safeguards the interests of Europeans, the commissioners have to prove that whatever issue on which they legislate cannot be sufficiently handled by national, regional, or local governments.

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