Chapter 3 The institutional framework


  • The EU institutional framework consists of seven institutions that each represent different interests and have been allocated executive, legislative, judicial and other powers (see table 3.1 for an overview).
  • Executive powers are carried out by the European Council and Council which represent the member states and the Commission which represents the general interest of the Union. Legislative powers are in the hands of the Council, representing the member states, and the European Parliament, representing the citizens. Judicial powers are in the hands of the Court of Justice.
  • The organizational structure of the EU’s executive and legislative institutions is characterized by a horizontal and vertical division of labour. Council, Commission and EP have organized themselves according to different policy sectors. In additions each of these institutions prepares and discusses policies at lower levels (in committees), allowing the top level to rubber-stamp most of the decisions and concentrate on unresolved issues.
  • The division of labour between these different institutions can not be readily compared to those of national political systems. The EU does not have a presidential or a parliamentary system because legislative and executive powers do not solely emanate from the people. Instead it can be better characterized as ‘mixed government’ or as ‘a polity with many principals’.
  • While the institutional hardware of the EU is unique, it is based upon a common model for organizing democratic systems: that of consensualism. It aims to disperse power and constrain the use of it.

© Herman Lelieveldt and Sebastiaan Princen 2022

Cambridge University Press