The flag of the European Union
The European Parliament is just one cog in the complex machine of the wider European Union. So what are the other institutions? What do they do, and how do they work together?
Although there is no EU "government" as such, the nearest you get to this is the
Each member state appoints one
They are each given a policy area to deal with, such as transport.
The commissioners have to be approved by the European Parliament before they can take their seats at the round table. And if MEPs think the Commission has been misbehaving, they can table a
vote of censure
, similar to a no-confidence vote.
The Commission's job is to propose laws that are then passed by the Council and Parliament. Commissioners are supposed to "think European" and leave their national allegiances back in London, Paris, Riga or Ljubljana.
Whether this actually happens in practice is debatable.
Along with the Parliament, the
Council of Ministers
is the other organisation that is allowed to pass laws. Unlike Parliament, which is theoretically supposed to represent the citizens of Europe, the Council of Ministers represents national governments.
The Council of Ministers (usually shortened to "the Council") is made up of relevant government ministers from each member state, for example environment ministers to debate laws on air quality.
The Council votes using a complicated system called qualified majority voting. Basically this means that different countries have different voting weights, depending on their population.
It also ensures, however, that EU minnows like Malta or Estonia, do not get continually outvoted by the big beasts of Germany, France, the UK and Poland.
Unlike the Parliament, the Council also has powers to discuss and vote on certain issues relating to foreign policy. These, however, are done on an "intergovernmental" basis, meaning that unanimous agreement is usually required.
of the Council of Ministers rotates on a six monthly basis around the member states.
Often confused with the Council of Ministers, the
is the meeting of all the heads of government of EU member states that meet usually every six months.
Previously an informal part of the EU, it became an official institution following the passing of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.
The Treaty created the position of President of the European Council, lasting for two and a half years, and currently filled by former Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy,
The European Council can be seen as a "guiding hand" on the workings of the EU, looking at grand plans relating to the Union's future direction, rather than the nitty-gritty of making or passing laws.
And the rest
There are also a number of other organisations that make up the EU family. The
Court of Justice
makes sure member states are applying EU laws properly.
European Central Bank
looks after matters relating to the euro.
Court of Auditors
ensures that the EU spends its money correctly.
Finally, other institutions include the
Committee of the Regions
, the anti-fraud office
, the EU's criminal intelligence agency.