The European Commission Building in Brussels
The European Commission Building in Brussels

The European Commission is effectively the government of the European Union, it has 28 members (called commissioners)— one from each member state. The current president of the commission is Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, and the British member is Conservative Jonathan Hill — former leader of the House of Lords — who is officially the Commissioner for Financial Stability Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, his job is ensuring that financial markets are kept stable through regulation and supervision.

The European Commission is the part of the EU which comes up with proposals for new laws, except for laws affecting foreign policy which have to come from the European Council according to the Lisbon Treaty. Whilst the Commission is the only part which is able to propose a new law, the elected members in the Parliament are able to request a proposal — upon which the Commission usually acts —, as can Citizens via the European Citizens Initiative petition system, introduced in 2012. The way in which laws pass through Parliament in the European Union is outlined on this page.

Once a law has been passed by both the Parliament and the Council, the Commission is responsible for ensuring that it is followed in all 28 member states. The Commission can take a member state to the European Court of Justice should they believe that one member state is not following European law — the Commission is informally known as “the Guardian of the Treaties” in this role.

The Commission is also the representative of the EU in the world, representing the EU in organisations such as the World Trade Organization (I know, but they insist on spelling it with a z), and often attends G8 meetings and UN summits. 

There are 28 Commissioners, and each member of the Commission is appointed by a government of a member state of the EU, and will almost always be from the largest party of the government in question. The only governments which don’t get to choose their member are those of the countries which provide the Commission President and Head of Foreign and Security Policy — which are chosen by the European Council, and confirmed by the Parliament.

Once appointed, the President will give each Commissioner a portfolio, which determines the main focus of a particular member’s work. For example, the member given the Energy Portfolio is responsible for developing the EU’s energy policies.

Appointed Commissioners must take an oath in which they declare that they shall act in the interests of the Union during their time as a Commissioner, they are not there to represent their country or party — making the European Commission a largely politically neutral body.

The European Parliament election of May 22, 2014, was the first to use the new rules of the Lisbon Treaty, which became European Law on December 1, 2009 — some six months after the previous election.

This meant that the election of the President would have to be based on the election results for the first time, though in practice this had been the case at previous elections as well. To make this simple, the European political parties (Europe-wide parties made up of various national parties which share similar ideas and aims) each selected their own candidates to take up the position should they win the election.

The election didn’t give any single party a majority of seats in the Parliament, but the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) won the most seats and so, despite some opposition from the United Kingdom and Hungary, the EPP’s candidate Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg was nominated as candidate to the Parliament, where his appointment was confirmed by a vote of 422 for to 250 against, with 57 abstentions and invalid votes.

The Parliament has the right to reject the Council’s nomination by a majority vote, and should this ever happen then the Council would have one month to nominate a new candidate for the position to be put to Parliament.

Whilst the Commission is not directly accountable to the voters of the EU, a fact often criticised by eurosceptics and pro-EU people alike, the directly elected Parliament can force the entire Commission to resign — but only if there is a majority of two-thirds of the voting members of Parliament which totals over half of the total number of MEPs. The Parliament cannot force an individual member of the Commission to resign, that power remains with the Commission President — though it is highly likely that he would rather dismiss one Commissioner than have the entire body booted out by Parliament.