The European Union (EU) is not a federation like the United States. Nor is it simply an organisation for co-operation between governments, like the United Nations. It is, in fact, unique. The countries that make up the EU (its ‘member states’) remain independent sovereign nations but, by pooling their sovereignty, they gain influence which none of them could have on their own.
Pooling sovereignty means, in practice, that the member states delegate some of their decision-making powers to shared institutions which they themlesleves have created, so that decisions on specific matters of joint interest can be made democratically at European level.
The EU's decision-making process involves three main institutions:
- the European Commission, which upholds the interests of the Union as a whole.
- the European Parliament (EP), which represents the EU’s citizens and is directly elected by them;
- the Council of the European Union, which represents the individual member states;
This ‘institutional triangle’ produces the policies and laws that apply throughout the EU. In principle, it is the Commission that proposes new laws, but it is the Parliament and Council that adopt them. The Commission and the member states then implement them, and the Commission ensures that the laws are properly taken on board.
The powers and responsibilities of these institutions are laid down in the Treaties, which are the foundation of everything the EU does. They also lay down the rules and procedures that the EU institutions must follow. The Treaties are agreed by the presidents and/or prime ministers of all the EU countries, and ratified by their parliaments.