Institutions and bodies of the EU – Austrians in EU institutions

The institutions of the EU are the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors. The authorities and responsibilities of the EU institutions and other EU agencies are specified in the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Austrians are involved in policy-making in all institutions and bodies of the European Union.

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The European Parliament exercises the legislative function of the EU and has control over the EU budget together with the Council. It fulfils the task of political control and elects the President of the Commission. The Treaty of Lisbon that entered into force on 1 December 2009 limited the total number of parliament members to 750 plus the President.

The citizens of the member states are represented in the European Parliament in "degressive proportionality". EU Member States with larger populations are entitled to more seats than those with smaller populations. The larger the population of a member state, the more citizens are represented by a state’s Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Therefore, less populous states are proportionally better represented, even though they have less MEPs. Each member state has a minimum of six and a maximum of 96 seats. Since the European elections 2014, Austria has been represented by 18 directly elected members of parliament.

The European Council comprises the heads of state or government of the member states, the President of the European Council and the President of the Commission, with the latter two not being entitled to vote. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also attends its meetings in an advisory capacity. The European Council provides the necessary impetus for the development of the EU and defines general political objectives and priorities. The European Council has a say in important personnel decisions (i.e. the appointment of the President of the European Commission, the High representative and the Director of the ECB) and plays a vital role in the amendment procedures of EU treaties.

The European Council elects its President with a qualified majority for a period of 30 months; the President can be re-elected once. In 2014, then Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, was appointed President of the European Council by the European heads of state or government and was re-elected for a second and last term in March 2017. He was also appointed Chairman of the Euro Summit. He represents the EU in matters of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

The Council of the European Union consists of the national ministers of the member states. Currently the Council meets in 10 different configurations. The Council – usually in conjunction with the EP – decides on legislative acts on the European level and together with the EP determines the multi-annual financial framework and the annual budget of the Union. Unlike the European Council, the Presidency of the Council still rotates every six months among the governments of the EU member states (see website of the Bulgarian EU Presidency).

The Foreign Affairs Council is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is elected for a term of five years. The General Affairs Council, which brings together the foreign ministers and ministers of European affairs of the member states, plays a special role. It coordinates the activities of the other council configurations, prepares European Council meetings and takes decisions of horizontal relevance (e.g. enlargement, multi-annual financial framework).

Depending on the voting item, the Council decides with single majority, qualified majority or unanimity. Since November 2014, the system of qualified majority is applied for votes of the Council and the European Council. It means that a so-called “double majority” is required for Council decision: For a legal instrument to be adopted a minimum of 55% of the member states (16 of 28 MS), representing at least 65% of the EU’s population (around 332 of the 510 million EU-citizens) is needed. A blocking minority requires at least four members of the Council to vote against the proposal.  

The Council generally decides unanimously on Common Foreign and Security Policy issues and on some issues specified in the Treaties, such as fiscal policy, treaty amendments or the accession of a new Member State. Single-majority-voting is used for non-legislative votes and procedural matters.

The European Commission (EC) ensures the application of Union law under the control of the Court of Justice of the European Union; it fulfils important coordinating, executive and administrative tasks and manages the budget of the Union as well as the programmes in the individual policy fields. With a few exceptions, the EC has the legislative initiative in the EU's law-making procedure. With the exception of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the European Commission represents the Union in its external relations. The Commission is composed of a college of 27 members and the President of the Commission.

Johannes Hahn has been the Austrian member of the European Commission since 10 February 2010. In 2014 he was appointed European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations in the Juncker Commission, which took office on 1 November 2014, and he represents the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Frederica Mogherini, in this area.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) audits the budget of the Union and consists of one member from each EU member state. The members have full independence and perform their duties to the general benefit of the Union.

On 1 March 2014, Oskar Herics was appointed Austrian member of the European Court of Auditors in Chamber I "Preservation and management of natural resources".

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the supreme court of the European Union. Besides the European Court of Justice, there is also the General Court (formerly known as Court of First Instance). Each member state appoints at least one judge to each instance, with the judges of the European Court of Justice being assisted by nine advocates general. The judges and advocates general are appointed by common accord of the governments of the member states and hold office for a term of six years. Every three years, some judges of both instances are replaced.

The Court of Justice is tasked with ensuring the uniform interpretation of European Union law. It rules on actions brought by a Member State, an institution, a natural or a legal person, and – in the way of preliminary ruling upon request of courts of the member states – on the interpretation of Union law or the validity of the acts of the institutions.

Viktor Kreuschitz was appointed Judge of the General Court (European Union) in September 2013.

The European Central Bank, together with the national central banks of the Euro states, forms the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). The members of its Executive Board are appointed by the European Council; it is, however, not subject to political instructions, but only to the objectives of monetary policy specified in the Treaties – in particular the preservation of stable prices. An important control instrument in this context is the determination of the key interest rates.

In addition to the EU institutions there are other important bodies that are involved in both the legislative process and the implementation of EU policy.

The Committee of the Regions is an advisory body and as such provides a platform for the representation of regional and local interests in the context of European integration. The Committee comprises representatives of regional and local authorities and administrative bodies of the member states and prepares its opinions in five specialised commissions. Austria is represented with 12 members in the Committee of the Regions; each federal province has one seat and the cities and communities share three seats.

The European Economic and Social Committee ties in representatives of business and social interests in the legislative processes of the EU. Organisationally, the 353 members are divided into 3 groups (employers, employees and "various other interests") or content wise into six working groups. Austria is represented in the European Economic and Social Committee by 12 members – representatives of the social partners and the Consumer Protection Association.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) supports projects that make a significant contribution to growth and jobs in Europe, by providing financial assistance (e.g.: loans or guarantees), but also by providing expertise. The Bank obtains funds for low-interest loans granted by the EIB (approximately 90% of them within the EU) through bond issues in the capital market. The bank's long-term loans often also encourage private and public investors to participate in investment projects (so-called multiplier effect). However, the EIB also operates outside the EU and supports EU development cooperation.

The European Investment Fund, part of the EIB Group, provides venture capital financing to small and medium-sized enterprises. The European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is an initiative of the EIB Group and the European Commission to close the existing investment gap within the EU with the involvement of private investors. Since November 2015 the Managing Director of the EFSI has been Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister a.D. Wilhelm Molterer.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) provides project financing for banks, industries and companies.

In addition, there are more than 40 specialised and decentralised Agencies working in various technical, scientific and administrative fields. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is the only EU agency based in Vienna.