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.
The European Parliament together with the Council exercises the legislative function of the EU and has control over the EU budget. 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 members to 750 plus the President. The citizens of the member states are represented in the European Parliament in "degressive proportionality", but each member state has at least six seats.
Since the European elections 2014, Austria has been represented by 18 directly elected members of parliament. In addition to her seat in the Parliament, the Austrian MoEP Ulrike Lunacek was also appointed EP Vice President on 1 July 2014.
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; the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also attends its meetings. The European Council is to provide 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 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; with the possibility of renewal once. Hermann Van Rompuy from Belgium has been the President of the European Council since 1 December 2009. On 1 March 2012 he was reappointed by the European heads of state or government for another two and a half years and also appointed Chairman of the Euro Summit for the same period. Both office terms will end on 30 November 2014. 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 – normally together 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 Lativia 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).
In order for a legal instrument to be adopted with a qualified majority, a minimum of 260 (of a total of 352) votes of at least fifty percent of the member states are required. This system will apply until 31 Oct. 2014. Austria has ten votes. The Lisbon Treaty introduced the principle of double majority (55 percent of the member states, representing a minimum of 65 percent of the EU's population) which will apply as from 1 November 2014 unless a member state objects, in which case the current mode of voting will continue to apply until 2017.
The Council normally decides unanimously on Common Foreign and Security Policy issues and on some issues specified in the Treaties, such as fiscal policy.
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 a member of the European Commission since 10 February 2010. He was appointed European Commissioner for Regional Policy in the second Barroso Commission, a policy field to which a major part of the Union budget is allocated.
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) audits the budget of the Union and is composed 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 Court of Justice of the European Union (European Court of Justice) is the supreme court of the European Union. Besides the European Court of Justice, there is also the General Court (the former 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 the two instances are replaced.
The Court of Justice is tasked with ensuring the equal application of European Union law. It decides on actions of member states, institutions and natural and legal persons, and – in the way of preliminary ruling upon application of courts of the member states – on the interpretation of Union law and the applicability of actions of the institutions.
Former Austrian Minister Maria Berger has been one of the Judges of the Court of Justice in Luxembourg since October 2009. 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 form 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 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. The 353 members are organised in the employers' organisations group, the employees group and a "various other interests" group, plus six working groups. Austria is represented in the European Economic and Social Committee with 12 members – representatives of the social partners and the Consumer Protection Association.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) finances investment projects of the EU and supports small- and medium-sized companies through the European Investment Fund. The former Austrian Vice-Chancellor and Minister Wilhelm Molterer has been Vice-President and member of the Board of the European Investment Bank since July 2011. His term will end on 31 August 2015.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) provides project financing for banks, industries and companies.
In addition to all the institutions and organisations described herein, 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.