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Quick guide to the EU | Step 1: European Commission

This is the first in a series of four articles about the European institutions and how the elections influence the way they work. We're starting off with the European Commission. After that, we'll continue with the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and finally with an article on why your vote matters

So what is the European Commission? How does it work? Is it the Government of the European Union? What powers does it have? The answers to these questions are fundamental to understanding how the European Union works. We are here to make it clear for you so you know how the EU institutions work before you vote.

The Commissioners

First of all, who sits in the European Commission? There is one Commissioner from each EU member state, nominated by the government of the Member State. So, there are 28 Commissioners. The Commissioners are given a portfolio by the President of the Commission (currently Jean-Claude Juncker).

The President is appointed by the European Council (think heads of state and prime ministers) and then needs to be approved by a majority of the members of the European Parliament. So the appointment done by the European Council needs to take into consideration the results of the elections for the European Parliament.

Each nominee must present his or her vision of the European Union to the European Parliament and then the European Parliament needs to approve the Commission as a team and so does the European Council.

What do Commissioners do?

The European Commission is responsible for protecting the European Union as a whole. They check if the treaties are being respected and propose new EU legislation. Their legislative proposals then go to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers who can make changes to the proposals. The proposal only becomes EU law when both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers agree on it. More on that in the next articles.

Although they are proposed by the national governments, the Commissioners do not stand for their national interest but for the interests of the Union as a whole. They meet every Wednesday morning in Brussels. The Commissioner responsible for each portfolio presents his or her views on the topics related to his or her area but then they also decide as a team. If the Commissioners cannot reach an agreement, they can also vote for a proposal and the majority (15 out of the 28) wins.

What's all this about Spitzenkandidaten?

When talking about the Commission and the EU Elections, you have probably also heard people referring to the Spitzenkandidaten process. Before the European Elections, the European parties (a collection of national parties that share the same ideology) represented in the European Parliament present a candidate to be the European Commission President. This means that, after the EU Elections, this will be the name proposed by each party to be the Commission President. But remember: that candidate needs to secure a majority in the Parliament and to be approved by the national governments in the European Council.

Want to know more about the European institutions? Stay tuned for the next articles about the the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers and why your vote matters.