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 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who belong to one of the eight political groups and at least one of the 20 different committees. The European Parliament is in charge of the EU budget and shares legislative powers with the Council of the EU.
- The Council of the EU – also referred to as the Council of Ministers or just Council shares legislative powers with the EP. Meetings are divided into 10 specific council configurations with 28 ministers (one from every member state) in each. Each council configuration deals with a different legislative area, e.g. General Affairs, Agriculture & Fishers, and Environment, etc.
- 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 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 Directorate-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’s budget in terms of revenue and spending
- The European Central Bank – is the central bank of the 19 EU countries that have adopted the euro. It aims to maintain price stability in the euro area and preserve the euro’s purchasing power
The diagram below gives a good overview of how people are assigned or elected to work in the individual institutions.
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 Please note that the video is a little out of date as it mentions only 27 member states since it was released before Croatia joined the EU.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 and the European Parliament.
EGU science is relevant for many different sections within these institutions. The Directorate-Generals of the European Commission relevant to EGU science include Energy, Environment, Climate, Agriculture, and Research & Innovation to name but a few. All Directorate-Generals have opportunities to use evidence and scientific expertise during their policy-making process (see ‘Getting involved’ for more details). In addition to this, the Commission 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 Commission’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 Officer will 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.