The complex nature of the European Union is reflected in its institutional framework. The European Parliament represents the citizens of the Union and the Commission the general interest, and the Court of Justice ensures the interpretation and application of the Treaties and Community (Union) law.
On the other hand the European Council, which is mentioned separately outside the institutional framework , and the Council are based on the member states. According to TEU Article 4: The European Council shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development and shall define the general political guidelines thereof.
The existing TEU Article 3(1): The Union shall be served by a single institutional framework which shall ensure the consistency and continuity of the activities carried out in order to attain its objectives while respecting and building upon the acquis communautaire.
The present TEU Article 5: The European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors shall exercise their powers under the conditions and for the purposes provided for, on the one hand, by the provisions of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and of subsequent Treaties and Acts modifying and supplementing them and, on the other hand, by the other provisions of this Treaty.
The existing TEC Article 7:
1. The tasks entrusted to the Community shall be carried out by the following institutions:
- a EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
- a COUNCIL
- a COMMISSION
- a COURT OF JUSTICE
- a COURT OF AUDITORS
Each institution shall act within the limits of the powers conferred upon it by this Treaty.
2. The Council and the Commission shall be assisted by an Economic and Social Committee and a Committee of the Regions acting in an advisory capacity.
The Convention proposed an Article I-18 on the institutions of the European Union. In addition to an overview of the institutional framework, Article I-18 clarified the role of the European Council by fully making it one of the institutions. (Informally the European Council started in 1974, and since 1986 it is mentioned in the Treaties.)
In the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, Title IV The Union Institutions and bodies, Chapter I The institutional framework, Article I-19 The Union’s institutions was the corresponding Article.
Compared to the existing Treaties, the Treaty of Lisbon introduces the European Council and the European Central Bank (ECB) as institutions, and the Court of Auditors is retained among the institutions.
Presently TEU Title III is an empty shell, since it contained provisions amending the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which expired after 50 years in existence.
The Treaty of Lisbon (OJ 17.12.2007, C 306) replaces TEU Title III, with a new Title III Provisions on the institutions. Article 9 is replaced by the following
1. The Union shall have an institutional framework which shall aim to promote its values, advance its objectives, serve its interests, those of its citizens and those of the Member States, and ensure the consistency, effectiveness and continuity of its policies and actions.
The Union's institutions shall be:
- the European Parliament,
- the European Council,
- the Council,
- the European Commission (hereinafter referred to as "the Commission"),
- the Court of Justice of the European Union,
- the European Central Bank,
- the Court of Auditors.
2. Each institution shall act within the limits of the powers conferred on it in the Treaties, and in conformity with the procedures, conditions and objectives set out in them. The institutions shall practice mutual sincere cooperation.
3. The provisions relating to the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors and detailed provisions on the other institutions are set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
4. The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission shall be assisted by an Economic and Social Committee and a Committee of the Regions acting in an advisory capacity."
The institutions have an obligation to act for the common good: the values, objectives and interests of the Union as well as those of its citizens. This obligation encompasses the intergovernmental institutions, the European Council and the Council, too.
Although not the most powerful among the institutions, the Lisbon Treaty continues to mention the European Parliament first, as a sort of “moral victory” for the citizens of the Union. Next, we turn to the EP.