Structure and operation of the European Union


The organisational and institutional system of the European Communities and of the European Union, based on it since 1993, is complicated. It results mainly from the fact that this system and decision making mechanisms connected with it have been shaped in the course of many years’ evolution of the European Communities and institutions connected with them. The European Union is an organisation which develops permanently and in connection with this its organisation still undergoes changes. The aim is to perfect this system so that it is best adjusted to the enlarging Community and changing social, political and economic conditions. The Treaty of Lisbon, accepted in 2009, leads in this direction.

Legal character of the European Union until the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force. The European Union should be viewed form a perspective of an interstate organisation created by the founder countries (member states). This organisation was created on the basis of the Treaty of Maastricht on European Union, signed on 7 February 1992 (TEU). The treaty entered into force on 1 November 1993. In the Treaty on European Union the founder countries did not assign legal personality to the European Union on the international arena. In this document it was only written that „By this Treaty, the High Contracting Parties establish among themselves a European Union (…)”.The European Union did not have its own institutional structure. If we commonly talk about „Union’s institutions” until recently we meant the European Communities’ institutions. The European Council, in accordance with art. 4 of the TEU, was the only organ of the European Union. The European Union cannot be classified as a typical interstate organisation or a federation or a confederation of countries. The optimal definition of the European Union was suggested by professor Jan Barcz, a distinguished Polish lawyer, according to whom the European Union is a specific organisational structure which is not a legal person (until The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, the insertion by the editorial staff), functioning on the basis of an international agreement and undergoing constant development. In pursuance of the TEU, “The Union shall be founded on the European Communities, supplemented by the policies and forms of cooperation (…)”. 3 Pillars represented them: the First Pillar „European Communities”, the Second Pillar II ”Common Foreign and Security Policy”, the Third Pillar” ”Policy and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters”.

The First Pillar was a continuation of economic co-operation of the European Communities executed before the TEU entered into force. Its aim was to tighten economic co-operation among the European Union’s member states in the scope of a single market and customs and monetary union. The functioning of the First Pillar was based on a communal regime Community integration method, which meant that all the European Union’s member states had to strictly conform to common agreement pertaining to the functioning of the economic and monetary union and the communal law regulations in this sphere.
     The goal of the Second Pillar was to coordinate foreign policies of the European Union’s member states. The purpose was the protection of common values, interests and integrity of the Community, strengthening its international safety, peacekeeping in the world, support of international co-operation as well as development and strengthening of democracy.  The functioning of the Second Pillar was based on the Intergovernmental co-operation method, which meant that the co-operation among the European Union’s member states in the sphere of Common Foreign and Security Policy took place at the level of governments of the individual member states. The lack of the communal regime in the Second Pillar caused the fact that individual member countries of the Community did not always conform to common decisions pertaining to foreign and security policy.
     The Third Pillar initially encompassed co-operation in justice administration and internal affairs, and from 1999 police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. Its goal was to assure internal safety of the European Union. The purpose was to conduct coordinated policy among others in the sphere of fight against drug addiction and drug trafficking, organised crime and terrorism, as well as protection of external borders of the Community. Similarly to the Second Pillar, the functioning of the Third Pillar was based on the intergovernmental co-operation method.

The European Union’s organisation system based on the three pillars was abolished when the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009. At this moment the European Union became legal personality on the international arena and took over competencies previously belonging to the European Community. Law, on the basis of which the European Communities and the European Union functioned until that time, termed communal law, became law of the European Union.

European institutions. Until the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force, the European Union did not form institutions separate from those created in the treaties establishing the European Communities (the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community the European Community and the European Atomic Energy Community). Only the European Communities had legal personality and had their own institutions. The institutions of the European Communities were the institutions of these Communities and not of the European Union created when the Treaty on European Union (TEU) entered into force. However, the TEU charged the communal institutions with the realisation of particular activities belonging to common tasks of the European Union’s member states.


—The European Parliament

—The European Council

—The European Commission

—The Court of Justice of the European Communities

—The Court of First Instance

—The European Court of Auditors



—The Committee of the Regions

—The European Economics and Social Committee



—The European Central Bank

—The European Investment Bank

—The European Investment Fund



—The Office of Official Publications of the European Communities -Publications Office

—The European Personnel Selection Office

—The European Administrative School



—Community agencies

— Common foreign and security policy agencies

—Police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters agencies

—Executive agencies



—The European Ombudsman

—The European Data Protection Supervisor
The European Council constituted a separate category which was not included in the communal institutions (as the only body of the European Union).

Mainly the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council take part in the decision making process in the European Union. So far only the European Commission had the right of legislative initiative, thus it could put forward applications for new legal acts. Both the European Parliament and the European Council act jointly with the European Commission in the process of communal law constituting. Decision making procedures in the European Union are described in details in the treaties. Every new legislative proposal of the Commission must have its legal foundation in the treaties. The decision making process is very complicated. Three basic decision making procedures are applied in it – codecision, consultation and agreement.


The Treaty of Lisbon. The Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, TL, also called the Reform Treaty, introduced a unified organisational structure of the European Union and gave legal personality to the Community. According to the provisions of the TL, the European Union functions on the basis of two hitherto basic documents, that is the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), which were amended by the establishments of the International Conference on 29 October 2004 during which a draft of the European Constitution was accepted. The settlements of first part of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe were included in the TEU, whereas the communal policy principles contained in the third part of the Constitutional Treaty were added to the TEC.

As mentioned before, the TL, gave legal personality to the European Union. The European Union became a legal successor of the European Community (EC). The Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) was renamed to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The new treaty abolished the three pillar organisational system of the European Union, retaining certain separateness within the Community, related to the previously functioning the Second and Third Pillars. The implementation of the TL provisions results in the division of the Community’s competences into three areas:
— the European Union’s competences (the realisation of the EU’s goals and foreign policy and safety),

— shared competences (in which communal/Union’s law takes precedence over national law of the European Union’s member states, excluding certain areas which are in the competence of the member states),

— competences in which decisions are made independently by the individual member states of the European Union.


The TL changed the way of leadership in the Council of the European Union. The hitherto six months’ Presidency of the member states the European Union was substituted by the leadership conducted commonly by three member states for 18 months. Also a function of a president of the European Council was established, termed informally “the President of the European Union”. The treaty strengthened the role of the European Parliament, providing it with new competences in the sphere of the creation of communal law, budgetary issues and political control. For the first time the citizens of the European Union’s member states gained the indirect right of legislative initiative. The implementation of the TL provisions results in the change in the European Commission composition. It was decided that from 2014 on the European Commission will be composed of the representatives of 2/3 of the Community’s member states and the individual countries will nominate commissioners in a rotating system. The TL appointed the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Polity, whose aim is the lead the European External Action Service.

One of the most important changes introduced by the TL is the voting system in the Council of the European Union. The hitherto voting system by the qualified majority voting (the Nice Treaty system) is to be valid till the end of October 2014 and then a double majority voting system will be introduced (55% of the EU’s states representing at least 65% of the Community’s population). Additionally a stipulation was made that till 31 March 2017 r. each member state of the European Union will be able to demand repetition of particular voting according to the Nice system. From 2017 on it is planned to move totally to the double majority system (retaining a safety mechanism enabling member states to delay decision taking for a particular period of time even when they don’t have the required blocking capacity (a mechanism analogous to the Ioannina compromise).