Council of Ministers is the EU’s principal decision-making body. The government of each EU Member State has a seat on the Council. Some decisions of the Council can be taken by a qualified majority, though in principal unanimity is the rule. The vote of each EU Member State is weighted.
EU Presidency is responsible for setting the priorities for the Council of Ministers. It will usually set specific objectives to achieve during the six months of responsibility. Every EU Member State runs the presidency in turn.
European Commission (EC) proposes and executes EU policies. It also acts as a mediator between EU Member States. It can take cases to the European Court of Justice for breaches of EU law. EU Member States can also take the EC to the European Court. It is composed of 24 directorates general, each headed by a Commissioner. It can be compared to national ministeries.
European Parliament (EP) The EP is a co-legislator in areas covered by the co-decision procedure. Co-decision gives the same weight to the EP and the Council of Ministers on a wide range of areas (e.g. transport, environment, consumer protection). 2/3 of European laws are adopted jointly by the EP and the Council. The EP has also budgetary powers and adopts the annual EU’s budget.
European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules on questions of EU law and whether actions of the EC, the Council of Ministers, EU Member State Governments and other bodies compatible with the Treaties. Judgements are directly binding on all parties.
Economic and Social Committee (ECOSOC) is an advisory body composed of employers, workers and other interest groups. It can be consulted by the EC and the Council of Ministers. It must be consulted where the EU Treaties so provide. It can also develop opinions on its own initiative.
EU LAW AND ACTION
The EU Treaties represent the primary law of the EU as a constitution. The Treaty of Rome in 1957 builds the EU foundation. The Single European Act in 1986 promotes free movement of goods, services and people and brought significant changes to the EU Institutions. The Maastricht Treaty in 1991 expanded existing responsibilities of the EU. The Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 marked further changes, e.g. asylum policy moves to the first pillar, anti-discrimination and social exclusion provisions are written into the Treaty as well as chapter on employment.
Regulations are immediately binding on EU Member States once they have been adopted (usually by the Council of Ministers). They may also bind individuals without further implementing legislation.
Directives are forms of EU law which require legislation in each EU Member State to give effect to them. Member States have typically two or three years to implement a directive, e.g. the EU Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications.
Communications are advisory statements by the EC which examine the context and content of particular policy issues and explore EU policy objectives in relation to these. However they are not binding on EU Member States.
Recommendations and Opinions are advisory statements on policy without binding legal force. They usually aimed at encouraging good practice across the EU. National Courts are bound to take them into consideration when interpreting national law.
Joint Actions are adopted under the third pillar of the EU Treaty. EU Member States jointly agree to meet certain goals by a certain time.
Council of Ministers Conclusions are a statement of policy or intent arising from the Council of Ministers meetings without binding force. But they can be used as a limited basis for EU action.
Action Programmes have been adopted by the social policy field on several occasions, and have been used to develop policy statements and fund research studies and awareness raising activities. The issues covered have included poverty and social exclusion, disability, needs of older people. However a ruling by the European Court of Justice on 12.5.1998 has tended to undermine the legal basis for Action Programmes and other relevant social budgetlines.
Green papers are discussion papers published by the European Commission on a specific policy area. Primarily they are documents addressed to interested parties - organisations and individuals - who are invited to participate in a process of consultation and debate. In some cases they provide an impetus for subsequent legislation.
White papers are documents containing proposals for Community action in a specific area. They sometimes follow a green paper published to launch a consultation process at European level. While green papers set out a range of ideas presented for public discussion and debate, white papers contain an official set of proposals in specific policy areas and are used as vehicles for their development.
Open Method of Coordination (OMC) The open method of coordination (OMC), created as part of employment policy and the Luxembourg process, has been defined as an instrument of the Lisbon strategy (2000).
The OMC provides a new framework for cooperation between the Member States, whose national policies can thus be directed towards certain common objectives. Under this intergovernmental method, the Member States are evaluated by one another (peer pressure), with the Commission's role being limited to surveillance. The European Parliament and the Court of Justice play virtually no part in the OMC process.
The open method of coordination takes place in areas which fall within the competence of the Member States, such as employment, social protection, social inclusion, education, youth and training.
It is based principally on:
• jointly identifying and defining objectives to be achieved (adopted by the Council);
• jointly established measuring instruments (statistics, indicators, guidelines);
• benchmarking, i.e. comparison of the Member States' performance and exchange of best practices (monitored by the Commission).
Depending on the areas concerned, the OMC involves so-called "soft law" measures which are binding on the Member States in varying degrees but which never take the form of directives, regulations or decisions. Thus, in the context of the Lisbon strategy, the OMC requires the Member States to draw up national reform plans and to forward them to the Commission. However, youth policy does not entail the setting of targets, and it is up to the Member States to decide on objectives without the need for any European-level coordination of national action plans.
The Bologna Process aims to create a European Higher Education Area by 2010, in which students can choose from a wide and transparent range of high quality courses and benefit from smooth recognition procedures. The Bologna Declaration of June 1999 resulted in a series of reforms needed to make European Higher Education more compatible, comparable, competitive and attractive for Europeans and students from other continents. For more info… The Bologna Process is part of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs including reinforced cooperation in vocational education and training (Copenhagen Process). To establish synergies between Copenhagen and Bologna, the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning (EQF) has been developed by the EU Commission.
The EQF is enriched by other initiatives to enhance transparency of qualifications:
- Credit transfer system (ECTS)
Also important is the link between the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and the European Research Area (ERA)
These efforts are supported by EU programmes like Erasmus , Tempus and Erasmus Mundus and the implementation of the
7th EU Framework Programme for Research
Competitiveness and Innovation Programme
European Investment Bank.
Publications of the EU Commission on Education and Training
The Lisbon Strategy, also known as the Lisbon Agenda or Lisbon Process, is an action and development plan for the European Union. It was set out by the European Council in Lisbon on March 2000 to face the challenges of globalization, demographic change and the knowledge society.
The Lisbon Strategy intends to increase productivity by improving employment and encouraging greater social cohesion in the EU, through the formulation of various policy initiatives to be taken by all EU member states. Lisbon also introduced the OMC which encourages member states to share common goals, while leaving the implementation of policies entirely in the hands of member states. The OMC is important for Education and Training 2010.
The Lisbon Strategy was reviewed in 2005 and as a result the prominence of education and training has been further enhanced. The European Council, at its meeting in March 2005, continued to underline the importance of developing human capital as Europe's main asset, and called for the implementation of lifelong learning to be indispensable in achieving the Lisbon objectives.
Recent info ( January 2008) can be found in a leaflet of the European Commission.