EU Glossary

By Manon Godot, January 2010

  • European Council

Created in 1974 as an informal forum for discussion between heads of states or governments, it became one of the seven institutions of the EU with Lisbon Treaty (1st December 2009).  The European Council is composed of the heads of states or governments of the member states, who can when the agenda requires, decide each to be assisted by a minister. The other members of the Council are the President of the Council, the President of the Commission, and the High Representative of the Union fro Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The European Council meets twice every six months, in cessions convened by its President. When the situation so requires, the President will convene a special meeting of the European Council. The European Council provides the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and defines the general political directions and priorities thereof. It does not exercise legislative functions. Decisions of the European Council are normally taken by consensus. In some cases, it adopts decisions by unanimity or by qualified majority, depending on what the Treaty provides for.

  • Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union is composed of the Ministers of the member states. Depending on the issue on the agenda, each country will be represented by the minister responsible for that matter (foreign affairs, finance, social affairs, transport, agriculture, etc.). The Council is presided for a period of six months (from January to June, and from July to December) by each Member State in turn, in accordance with a pre-established rota. Depending on the subject, different kinds of majorities can be required, according to the treaties: simple majority, qualified majority, or unanimity. The Council of the EU shares the legislative and budgetary competences with the parliament.

  • European Parliament

The European Parliament is the only supranational institution whose members are democratically elected by direct universal suffrage. It represents the people of the Member States. The European Parliament is made up of 736 Members elected in the 27 Member States of the enlarged European Union. They are elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year period since 1979. The Members of the European Parliament sit in political groups. They are not organised by nationality, but by political affiliation. There are currently seven political groups in the European Parliament. Each revision of the Treaties has seen an increase in the power of the European Parliament in relation to the other institutions. Today the European Parliament is firmly established as a co-legislator, has budgetary powers and exercises democratic controls over all the European institutions. The European Parliament shares legislative power equally with the Council of the European Union. This means it is empowered to adopt European laws (directives, regulations etc.), through the co decision procedure (On a broad range of issues, Community legislation proposed by the Commission, and adopted jointly by the Parliament and the Council using a procedure known as «co-decision».)

  • European Commission

The Commission is composed with 27 Commissioners, one Commissioner per member state. The Commissioners are supposed to represent the interests of the EU, rather than their home state.  One of the 27 is the Commission President, currently José Manuel Durão Barroso. The European Council appoints him. The Council then appoints the other 26 Commissioners in agreement with the nominated President, and then the 27 Commissioners as a single body are subject to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. The present ‘Barroso Commission’ took office in late 2004 and had approval to serve until the 31 October 2009. However, it is continuing in a caretaker capacity in order to deal with current business until the new College is approved and takes office. The Lisbon Treaty gives competence to the Commission as an executive of the EU (transferring this power from the Council of the EU, who used to hold this competence). The executive competence of the Commission is however more restricted than the national executives, the foreign policy being held by the European Council. With Lisbon, the European Commission became what we could call a European ‘Government’. The Commission is also the only institution of the EU competent to initiate a legislation. The legislative initiative of the Commission is necessary for the Council of the EU and the European Parliament to legislate. Once a legislation has been voted, it is also the Commission’s responsibility to make sure that the law is implemented in each member state. The Commission is also responsible for the implementation of the EU budget.

  • European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)

The European Food Safety Authority was set up in January 2002 and it is based in Parma, Italy. The EFSA is an agency of the European Union that provides scientific advice and communication on existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain. The Authority’s work covers all matters with a direct or indirect impact on food and feed safety, including animal health and welfare, plant protection and plant health and nutrition. EFSA supports the European Commission, European Parliament and EU member states in taking effective and timely risk management decisions that ensure the protection of the health of the European consumers and the safety of the food and feed chain. The Authority communicates to the public on all matters within its remit.

  • Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI)

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland was established under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998. The Act was enacted in July 1998 and came into effect on 1st January 1999. The principal function of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is to take all reasonable steps to ensure that food produced, distributed or marketed in the State meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene reasonably available. The FSAI aims to ensure that food complies with legal requirements, or where appropriate with recognised codes of good practice. The Authority is a statutory, independent and science-based body, dedicated to protecting public health and consumer interests in the area of food safety and hygiene. It comes under the aegis of the Minister for Health and Children and currently has a board of ten. It also has a 15 member Scientific Committee that assists and advises the Board. Therefore, decisions relating to food safety and hygiene take account of the latest and best scientific advice and information available.

  • Regulatory Committee

Generic designation for a committee which has been created by a regulation. The Committees plays a key role in the EU decision-making process as Committee members are representatives of the EU Member States. The Commission may consult the relevant Regulatory Committee on a proposal. The Committee can then deliver an Opinion which may allow the measure to be formally adopted by the Commission in accordance with the appropriate procedure.

  • Standing Committee of Food Chain and Animal Health

Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) was established following the adoption of Regulation (EC) 178/2002. This Regulation set out the general principles and requirements of food law. The Committee’s mandate covers the entire food supply chain, ranging from animal health issues on the farm to the product that arrives on the consumer’s table, therefore significantly enhancing its ability to target risks to health wherever they arise in the production of our food. It is chaired by a European Commission representative.


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