What is the European Commission? | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.02.2010
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What is the European Commission?

The European Commission's direction in the next few months could change the political make-up of Europe for years to come. Deutsche Welle takes at look at what is it and what it does?

The Berlaymont building is glass structure with 18 floors and more than 3,000 offices.

The European Commission has its headquarters in the Berlaymont building

From regulating industry giants such as Siemens to protecting the integrity of cheese and keeping the environment green, the European Commission has the power to regulate and enforce.

The European Commission is the executive body of the European Union. The Commission proposes new laws to the European Parliament and makes sure they are enforced. It also plays an important role on the world stage. And although it regulates how industry and the public behave in a civil society, many don't fully understand what the Commission does.

Three years ago the European Commission imposed the biggest fine ever on several power manufacturers for price fixing, with Siemens taking the biggest hit.

It also took the side of cheese manufacturers in northern Italy suing German cheese makers for using the name Parmesan. The European Court of Justice, which interprets European Union law and makes sure it's applied to all members equally, ruled in favor of the Commission, saying only

Parmesan cheese is an Italian specialty.

Only Italians can market Parmesan

Italians can market cheese and call it Parmesan.

On the environmental front, the European Commission has ordered several EU countries, including Germany, to quit giving away carbon credits to polluters.

The governing body was established in 1951 as one of the first institutions of the European Economic Community, back when there were only nine member states.

Today it is the executive body of the European Union and its largest institution. Each head of government, of the 27 EU member states, nominates one person to the European Commission. The commissioners are also known as the College of Commissioners. Each commissioner designates his or her own cabinet. Of the 27 new commissioners, seven serve as vice presidents of the Commission.

The president of the Commission, who is also one of the 27 commissioners, is nominated by the European Council, which is made up of the heads of state and government of the EU's memberw. The nominee is then approved by the European Parliament as are the other 26 commissioner-designates. Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal was re-appointed for a second five-year term in 2010.

Barroso greets supporters in Brussels

Barroso won a second term in September 2009

Barroso's post of president of the European Commission is different from that of president of the European Council, which has been held by Belgium's Herman Van Rompuy since January. Van Rompuy presides over the rotating six-month presidencies filled by member states in the European Council.

Tougher and stronger

The Lisbon Treaty, which came into effect in December, gives the Commission broader power both internationally and within the European Union. Each EU state now has a permanent representative on the Commission. The president of the commission also decides which commissioner will handle a specific area of responsibility such as education or EU expansion.

"Because Barroso manages a large group of 27 commissioners, that in itself gives him more leverage," says Marco Incerti from the Center for European Policy Studies. It also presumably give him more power in dealing with other EU institutions.

Of the 27 commissioners, one serve in the newly created position of high representative for foreign affairs and security. The post, held by Catherine Ashton of Britain, is equivalent to that of foreign minister.

Legal eagles

In addition to the commissioners, the European Commission also consists of 40 directorate generals.

These are administrative departments within the Commission that work directly with the commissioners. They employ some 25,000 civil servants plus thousands of subcontractors. They regulate and impose policies on issues such as taxation, education, human rights and the EU budget. Most administrators are housed at the European Commission headquarters in the Berlaymont building in Brussels.

In addition to making sure rules and policies are obeyed, the European Commission also proposes new legislation.

Any of the Directorate Generals can propose a new law. After approval from the College of Commissioners, it's sent to the European Parliament. Once parliament and the Council of Ministers enact the proposal into law, called a directive, the European Commission makes sure it's carried out.

Author: Mary Mares
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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