European Commission

The European Commission is the European Union's executive body, representing the common European interest to all the Member States.

Appointment of Commission President

The Commission is chaired by a President who, to be elected, must be proposed, taking into account the EP election results, by the European Council (made up of Heads of State or Government of the Member States) and approved by a majority of EP's members. If this majority is not reached within one month, the European Council proposes a new candidate and the same procedure is followed until the European Parliament approves the proposal.

Selection and Parliamentary approval of Commissioners

After the election, the Council of Ministers, by common accord with the President-elect, must approve the list of the Commissioners suggested by the Member States. Then, the EP can hold hearings of the proposed Commissioners but must elect the Commission as a whole. Once approved by the Council of Ministers and by the EP, the Commission is formally put into office by the European Council.

Currently, there are 27 Commissioners, one per state, but as from 1 November 2014, under the Lisbon Treaty provisions, the Commission will be composed of a number of Commissioners equal to the two thirds of the number of Member States (including the President and the High Representative), unless an unanimous vote of the European Council decides differently.

The Commissioners are selected on the ground of their general competences, European commitment and proved independence. As a matter of fact, although the Commissioners are suggested by the Member States, they “neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity. They shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties or the performance of their tasks” (art. 17.3 TEU).

These provisions are intended to preserve the primary role of the European Commission: the genuine representation of the supranational interests of the European Union. In case a Commissioner seems to be lacking of these requirements, the President considers seriously to reshuffle the college to avoid the disapproval of the entire Commission by the European Parliament. Indeed, the EP can refuse the Commissioners proposals, before the Commission is elected, or vote a motion of censure, during the Commission's term of office, but these acts refer to the whole Commission and not individually to the Commissioners.


The European Commission is a collective body, structured in departments known as Directorates-General (DGs) and services. Every DG covers a specific policy area, has got its portfolio and is headed by a director-general chosen directly by the Commissioner related to that portfolio. The main role of DGs consists in preparing the legislative proposals that, if approved by the majority of the Commissioners, go forward to EP and Council for consideration. On the other hand, services deal with general administrative tasks (e.g. Communication) or with very technical matters (e.g. Internal Audit Service). Formally, the services are also Directorates-General of the European Commission.

DG Home

DG InfoSoc

DG Justice

DG Markt

DG Trade

Legislative and executive functions

The role played by the European Commission is fundamental both in the legislative and executive branches. Indeed, the European Commission has the monopoly to introduce legislative proposals, except in a few cases provided by the Treaties. It is important to underline that this power is exerted in respect of the principles of conferral, subsidiarity and proportionality:

  • Conferral: the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences
    • conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out therein. Competences not conferred upon the Union in the Treaties remain with the Member States” (art. 5.2 TEU)
  • Subsidiarity: “in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level” (art. 5.3 TEU)
  • Proportionality: “the content and form of Union action shall not exceed what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaties” (art. 5.4. TEU).

Introducing and consulting about legislation

In the legislative area, the Commission not only introduces proposal but also tries to ensure an EU better regulation through different actions: assessing the social, economic and environmental impact of its proposals; providing simplification of the existing legislation; promoting alternatives, where it is possible, to laws and regulations (such as self-regulation, or co-regulation by the legislator and interested parties); consulting stakeholders and interested parties into all Commission initiatives.

Executive powers

In relation to the executive powers, the EC manages and implement the EU budget and policies, playing the role of supervisor towards the Member States. Indeed, the national and local authorities materially have the power of spending and the duty of implementing the European policies, but the European Commission, in collaboration with the Court of Auditors, ensures the good financial management and the correct implementation of the EU policies. The implementation is assured through the involvement of committees composed of national representatives and chaired by a Commission representative (a phenomenon known as “comitology”).

Enforcement of EU obligations

The European Commission is defined as “guardian of the Treaties” because it supervises and controls the respect of the EU law by institutions, Member States, companies and individual citizens. This role is performed through the powers of investigation, prevention, sanction and authorisation. So, for example, in the competition policy area the EC enjoys the power of preventing and blocking market distortions caused by state aids, mergers or agreements between companies, abuses of a dominant position. Moreover, in case the Commission believes that an infringement has occurred, it can files complaints to the European Court of Justice (if informal and formal dialogues with the potential infringer has proved unsuccessful).

External role

Finally, the European Commission is responsible for some areas of the external representation of the European Union, participating at international forums such as the Word Trade Organization or negotiating international agreements on behalf of the EU.