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The European Union and the Significance of Policy

The EU is made up of 28 countries (member states) and structured into seven different institutions, some of which are quite cryptically named:

  • The European Parliament (EP) – has democratic control over the other six EU institutions via the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). It is in charge of the EU budget and shares legislative powers with the Council of the EU.
  • The European Council – comprises the heads of government from each of the 28 member states, and provides general objectives and priorities for the EU to focus on.
  • The Council of the EU – also referred to as ‘the Council of Ministers’ or just ‘Council’. It shares legislative powers with the EP and is made up of 28 ministers. Meetings are divided into specific council configurations which deal with different legislative areas. Formations include General Affairs, Agriculture & Fishers, and Environment, for example. Different ministers from each member state are sent for each council configuration.
  • The European Commission (EC) – proposes and drafts new legislation which is monitored and edited by the EP. It administers the EU budget and ensures compliance with EU law. The Commission is made up of many departments (called Directorates-Generals), services, agencies and bodies, which research and develop policies surrounding the EC’s priority areas.
  • The Court of Justice of the EU – implements EU law and determines legal disputes between member states, EU institutions and other bodies.
  • European Court of Auditors – audits the EU.
  • The European Central Bank – determines monetary policies.

The diagram below gives a good overview of how people are assigned or elected to work in the individual institutions.

Political System of the European Union
Political System of the European Union
by 111Alleskönner, sourced from Wikimedia Commons

Drafting Policy

The drafting of major EU legislation is a complicated and often lengthy process. The video below clearly explains this process. A specific example is used to highlight the timeframe involved. Please note that the video is a little out of date as it mentions only 27 member states (since the video was released Croatia has joined the EU).

Making EU Law – The EU Legislation Tracker Infographic: Six Pack
(Courtesy of The Institute of International and European Affairs, from YouTube)

There is a simpler process, for less substantial legislation, in which the Council of the EU is not involved with the editing process.

Policies are drafted before and after legislative frameworks are in place. The preparation of 'Impact Assessments' which set out the advantages and disadvantages of possible policy options are used to structure initial legislation. Additional policies, drafted after legislation approval, can ensure goals are achieved. For example, green incentive policies, such as tax reductions for companies which use renewable energy, help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; which legalisation following the UN’s Kyoto protocol demands.

EGU Science in the EU

The two major institutions within the EU that focus on the policy-making process are the European Commission (EC) and the European Parliament (EP).

EGU science is relevant for many different sections within these institutions. The Departments of the EC relevant to EGU science include Energy, Environment, Climate, Agriculture, and Research & Innovation to name but a few! All departments have opportunities to use evidence and scientific expertise during their policy-making process. In addition to this, the EC also has the ‘Joint Research Centre’ which funds in-house and external science to aid policy. Scientists can get involved with this process by answering the EC’s Calls for Tender and by signing up to their database of experts. The European Parliament has similar initiatives organised by their ‘Science and Technology Options Assessment’ (STOA) and the ‘European Parliamentary Research Service’ (EPRS) departments. Note that scientific advice can also be used in the EU’s legislative process during the ‘civil society’ stage mentioned in the above video.

The EGU’s Science Policy Fellow is to highlight the opportunities for both policy workers and scientists to get involved with science policy, as well as to inform those who may not be aware of this process’ importance.

If you have experience or an interest in science policy, please register on the EGU database of scientific expertise.

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