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European institutions and consultative bodies of the Union

European Parliament (EP)

The European Parliament represents the democratic character of the European project and plays a key role in the institutional balance of the European Union (EU), in particular in democratic oversight and political supervision of all the European institutions. This role has been strengthened in successive revisions of the Treaties. In addition, the EP performs legislative functions within the European decision-making process. The Treaty of Lisbon enshrined co-decision as the ordinary legislative procedure (Article 294 TFEU), with more than 40 new policies subject to this procedure, e.g. in the areas of freedom, security and justice, foreign trade, environmental policy and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), in addition to the powers of the European Parliament in the European budgetary procedure.

Elections to the EP are held every five years and all registered EU electors have the right to vote. Thus, the Parliament expresses the democratic will of the European peoples (around 500 million citizens), representing their interests in relations with the other EU institutions.

The European Parliament is based in Strasbourg and also works in two further places: Brussels and Luxembourg. The specialised parliamentary committees usually meet in Brussels. Their services, as well as the General Secretariat, are located in Brussels and Luxembourg.

The EP meets in plenary session every month (except August), in Strasbourg, for a session period of four days. It also meets in Brussels six times a year for a session period of two days. In order to facilitate contact with the European Commission and the Council of the European Union, the specialised parliamentary committees meet in Brussels, generally once or twice each month.

The 705 members elected by the 27 member states carry out their work within the framework of the 20 standing Committees and three subcommittees. Parliament may also set up special Committees to deal with specific issues and Committees of inquiry to examine allegations of infringement or maladministration in the application of EU Law.

Parliamentary Committees play a key role in drafting

policies, in that they are responsible for formulating Parliament's positions, particularly on new legislative proposals.

Parliamentary debates are interpreted in 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. All parliamentary documents are translated and published in these 24 languages.

There are currently (2019-2024 legislature) seven political groups. MEPs who are not registered with any political group are “non-registered" Members. They may join a group at any time during the legislature.

This is the current distribution, in terms of political groups and by Member States:

Portugal is represented in the European Parliament by 21 MEPs belonging to four political groups:

Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP) – 7
Carlos Coelho
– Maria da Graça Carvalho
– José Manuel Fernandes
– Nuno Melo 
– Cláudia Monteiro de Aguiar
– Lídia Pereira
– Paulo Rangel

Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D) – 9
– Sara Cerdas
– Isabel Estrada Carvalhais
– Maria Manuel Leitão Marques
– Margarida Marques
– Pedro Marques
João Albuquerque
– Isabel Santos
– Pedro Silva Pereira
– Carlos Zorrinho

Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (GREENS/EFA) – 1
– Francisco Guerreiro

The Left group in the European Parliament (GUE/NGL) – 4
– João Pimenta Lopes
– José Gusmão
– Marisa Matias
– Sandra Pereira

The specialised parliamentary committees of the Assembleia da República regularly participate in the interparliamentary meetings organised by the EP, where Members of both institutions, including the Members who act as Rapporteurs, can discuss matters of common interest.

Also, since 2007, the EP has housed the Permanent Representative of the Assembleia da República to the European institutions (originally, the representative of the AR to the COSAC Secretariat, in 2007), thereby ensuring a closer and more effective link between the work of both institutions.

In compliance with Law no. 43/2006 of 25 August 2006, as amended by Law no. 21/2012 of 17 May 2012, Law no. 18/2018 of 2 May 2018 and Law no. 44/2023 of 24 August 2023, the European Affairs Committee organises regular hearings with Portuguese MEPs in order to exchange information on European affairs under discussion in the Union and on dossiers that the MEPs might be following up, namely, as EP Rapporteurs.

European Council

This is the institution that sets the EU political agenda and represents the highest level of cooperation among its Member States. It brings the Heads of State and Government together and plays a key role in determining the overall political policies and priorities of the European Union. Legally recognised by the Single European Act, it was formally established by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon on 1 December 2009, the European Council, which “shall provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development", became one of the seven institutions of the EU, with a President elected for a two-and-a-half-year term (renewable once).

The first President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, a Belgium national, was elected on 19 November 2009 and was replaced on 1 December 2014 by Donald Tusk (Poland). On 1 December 2019, Charles Michel, also a Belgium national, was elected as President of the European Council and was re-elected for a second term of two and a half years, from 1 June 2022 to 30 November 2024.

The European Council consists of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, together with its President and the President of the European Commission. Meetings of the European Council are attended by the Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as, during the initial part of every meeting, the President of the European Parliament. If the members so decide, the meetings may be attended by a minister and, for the President of the European Commission, by a member of the Commission.

The European Council meets in Brussels twice every six months and may be convened extraordinarily by its President when the situation so requires.

Under Law no. 43/2006 of 25 August, as amended by Law no. 21/2012 of 17 May, Law no. 18/2018 of 2 May, Law no. 64/2020 of 2 November and Law no. 44/2023 of 14 August on the monitoring, assessment and pronouncement by the Assembleia da República within the scope of the process of constructing the European Union, the debate with the participation of the Prime Minister for the preparation and evaluation of the European Councils takes place in plenary session, to be held twice in each semester. If it does not take place in plenary, the debate may take place in the Committee on European Affairs, with the presence of a member of the government. In the same vein, the debate is held in the Committee on European Affairs in the weeks following the holding of the European Council to evaluate the respective conclusions.

Council of the European Union

The Council of the European Union, also referred to simply as the Council, is one of the EU institutions and has its origins in the founding Treaties. It is based in Brussels, where it meets several times a month (the meetings take place in Luxembourg in April, June and October). The Council is composed of representatives of the Government of each Member State, i.e. the ministers of each Member State with responsibility for a given area.

The Council shares the legislative function of the Union with the European Parliament. As co-legislator, it is responsible for adopting legislative acts (regulations, directives, decisions, etc.), and approving the Union's budget, together with the European Parliament. In addition, the Council helps coordinate Member States' policies, such as in the economic field; it concludes international agreements on behalf of the Union; and approves the decisions necessary to executing the common foreign and security policy based on strategic guidelines set by the European Council.

The Presidency of the Council rotates between the 27 Member States for periods of six months. During this six month period, the Presidency chairs meetings at every level, presents guidelines and draws up the commitments needed for the Council to make decisions. Only one Council configuration is not chaired by the six month presidency: the Foreign Affairs Council, which, since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, is chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

With a view to encouraging the continuity of the Council proceedings, the six month presidencies work closely together in groups of three and draw up a joint programme for the Council's work for the 18 month period that covers the three presidencies. Since its accession in January 1986, Portugal has held the EU presidency in 1992, 2000, 2007 and 2021.

Presidencies up to 2025

Portugal | January-June 2021

Slovenia | July-December 2021

France | January-June 2022

Czechia | July-December 2022

Sweden | January-June 2023

Spain | July-December 2023

Belgium | January-June 2024

Hungary | July-December 2024

Poland | January-June 2025

Denmark | July-December 2025

The Council, in order to organise its work, meets in ten different configurations depending on the subjects under discussion; Ministers of the Member States and European Commissioners with responsibility for a given area participate in the relevant configurations. The ten current configurations are:

  • General affairs
  • Foreign affairs
  • Economic and financial affairs (ECOFIN)
  • Justice and home affairs (JHA)
  • Employment, social policy, health and consumer affairs
  • Competitiveness (internal market, industry, research and space)
  • Transport, telecommunications and energy
  • Agriculture and fisheries
  • Environment
  • Education, youth, culture and sport

Council decisions are prepared by committees and working groups (more than 150) consisting of delegates from the Member States, who solve technical questions and prepare the meetings of the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States (COREPER). COREPER is composed of Ambassadors appointed by the Member States and is responsible for preparing the discussion of the most important matters to be placed on the agenda of meetings of the Council.

Depending on the issue under discussion, the Council of the EU takes its decisions by: simple majority (14 Member States vote in favour), qualified majority (55% of the Member States representing at least 65% of the EU population vote in favour) and unanimity (all votes in favour). The Council may vote only if a majority of its members are present, and each member of the Council may represent only one of the other members by delegation.​ 

European Commission

The European Commission (EC) is the Union's executive body established by the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) Treaty. Its mission is to defend the common interest, placing it above the interests of its Member States, and it is therefore the most original of the European institutions. To this end, it participates in the decision making process by presenting proposals for European legislation, overseeing the correct application of European Union (EU) law, and implementing and managing the Union's common policies and budget.

The EC consists of 27 members appointed by their national governments but who do not represent them. Therefore, the Commission is composed of one President (currently Ursula von der Leyen) elected by the EU governments and approved by the European Parliament; 26 European Commissioners, three of whom are also Executive Vice-Presidents and five are Vice-Presidents; and, following the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, one High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Josep Borrell Fontelles for 2019-2024), who is simultaneously Vice-President of the Commission.

Each Commissioner is responsible for a particular policy area and is expected to perform his responsibilities with complete impartiality and independence from the respective Member State during his term of office. The term of office of Commissioners can only be terminated at their own wish or by order of the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The work done by the Commissioners is divided into the following policy areas: European Green Deal; a Europe fit for the digital age; an economy that works for people; a stronger Europe in the world; interinstitutional relations and foresight; values and transparency; democracy and demography; promoting our European way of life; budget and administration; innovation, research, culture, education and youth; jobs and social rights; economy; agriculture; internal market; cohesion and reforms; health and food safety; justice; equality; home affairs; crisis management; transport; neighbourhood and enlargement; international partnerships; energy; environment, oceans and fisheries; and financial services, financial stability and Capital Markets Union.

The Commission works in Brussels and decides collegiately, meaning that the powers which are conferred on it by EU law belong to all its members collectively and should be expressed in the form of proposals for directives, draft regulations, recommendations or opinions resulting from a collegiate decision adopted at a formally convened meeting of the Commission at which decisions are taken by a majority of its members.

Since the 'Barroso Initiative' of 2006, the EC has sent its legislative and non legislative proposals to national Parliaments (NPs), inviting them to express their opinions to the Commission. The Assembleia da República has actively participated in this 'political dialogue' with the EC, which aims at bringing the EC closer to national Parliaments and bringing European legislation closer to the concerns and interests of citizens. Within the framework of this 'dialogue', it is important to mention the regular contact between the EC and national Parliaments, namely the Assembleia da República, which consists of organising meetings with European Commissioners, in Lisbon, to present legislative draft acts and discuss European policies.

Portugal has designated one European Commissioner since its accession in 1986. Elisa Ferreira is the current Portuguese European Commissioner responsible for Cohesion and Reforms.

These were the previous Portuguese Commissioners:

António Cardoso e Cunha – 1986/1993, responsible for Fisheries (until 1988) Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, Crafts, Trade, Tourism and Social Economy, and Energy (1988/1993).

João de Deus Pinheiro – 1993/1999, responsible for Culture (1993/1995) and African, Caribbean and Asian Relations (1995/1999).

António Vitorino – 1999/2004, responsible for Justice and Home Affairs.

José Manuel Durão Barroso – 2004/2014, President of the European Commission.

Carlos Moedas – 2014/2019, responsible for Research, Science and Innovation.


Court of Justice of the European Union

The establishment of the Court of Justice by the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community) Treaty in 1952 was of major importance in ensuring the uniform application of EU legislation in all Member States and in ensuring compliance with the legislation adopted by the competent Community institutions. The ECJ reviews the legality of acts by the EU institutions, ensures compliance by Member States with their obligations under the Treaties and interprets EU law at the request of national courts. The Court has two jurisdictions: Court of Justice and General Court.

The Court has various remedies for upholding the democratic legitimacy and legality of cases that are brought before it. The five most common types of cases are:

– Reference for a preliminary ruling: this is a ruling by the ECJ on the interpretation of the Treaties or the validity of a provision of EU law.

– Actions for failure to fulfil an obligation: these are used to review Member States' compliance with EU law. The European Commission may bring an action before the Court of Justice for failure to fulfil an obligation by a Member State under EU law. Similarly, a Member State may bring an action against another Member State, if the Commission fails to do so. The consequences of failure to fulfil an obligation were laid down in the Treaty of Maastricht which provides for the possibility of sanctions against the offending Member State.

– Actions for annulment: this is a remedy available to Member States, the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Court of Auditors, the European Central Bank, the Committee of the Regions and any citizen, company or organisation. Under such actions, the legality of legislative acts or legal acts that produce effects on third parties is referred for consideration by the Court. The Court has jurisdiction to hear actions on grounds of lack of competence, breach of essential formalities, infringement of the Treaties or of any legal provision relating to its application.

– Actions for failure to act: the Treaty stipulates that the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission must make their decisions in accordance with certain rules. If they do not do so, the Member States, other European institutions and, in certain cases, citizens, companies or organisations can apply to the Court for a declaration of the omission.

– Actions for damages: any citizen, company or organisation may bring an action seeking compensation for losses caused by an act or omission of the EU institutions or their agents.

The Court of Justice of the European Union, which sits in Luxembourg, is composed of 27 judges, one from each Member State, and eleven advocates general. The judges and advocates general are appointed by agreement between the Member States for a term of six years, which is renewable. They must be chosen from among persons who hold senior positions of prestige and competence in their countries of origin and may not take instructions from national governments or individuals, nor hold any political or government office or have another occupation, even if unpaid.

The advocates general assist the CJEU by examining the arguments presented by the various parties and the evidence, and are responsible for preparing the draft decision known as the "Opinion of the Advocate General".

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the Court of Justice has jurisdiction to hear actions for breach of the principle of subsidiarity in relation to legislative acts brought by a Member State on its own behalf or on behalf of its national parliament.

European Court of Auditors (ECA)

The European Court of Auditors is an independent body which decides freely on the organisation and timing of its audits. Its role is to oversee the expenditure, including its legality, of the European Union and its institutions, in order to improve the efficiency of the Union's financial management. It is required to provide a report on the accounts of the European Union to the European Parliament and the Council, and may issue opinions on the financial implications of a proposal for a legislative act by the institutions. However, the ECA has no legal powers of its own. It issues opinions and conducts audits of the financial management of EU funds, which are presented in reports which it sends to the competent EU institutions.

The Court operates as a collegiate body of 27 Members, one from each Member State. The Members are appointed by the Council after consultation with the European Parliament for a renewable term of six years. Members elect one of their number as President for a renewable term of three years. The ECA is organised into five chambers, to which Members and staff are assigned. The Members of each chamber elect a dean for a renewable term of two years. Each chamber has two areas of responsibility: to adopt special reports, specific annual reports and opinions; and to prepare the annual reports on the EU budget and the European Development Funds, for adoption by the Court as a whole. 

The full Court of 27 Members meets around twice a month to discuss and adopt documents such as the ECA's main annual publications – the reports on the EU general budget and the European Development Funds.

The members of the Court must be completely independent of the Member States. In addition, they must fulfil their role on an exclusive basis and may not have any other occupation.

The Court cooperates with national services and the European institutions. It may also request any information required for the performance of its role from EU institutions and bodies, organisations receiving payments from the EU budget or national audit bodies.

At the end of each year, the Court of Auditors prepares a report on the management of the EU budget by the competent institutions. The report is sent to the other EU institutions and subsequently published in the Official Journal of the European Union and must contain the replies of the institutions to the Court's observations.

It should be noted in this respect that each year the European Affairs Committee of the Assembleia da República debates the Annual Report of the Court of Auditors, usually in the presence of the Committee on Budget and Finance, including a hearing with the Court's Portuguese Member.


European Central Bank

The European Central Bank (ECB) is the EU central bank responsible for the European single currency. It was created within the framework of the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) with the adoption of the euro (1 June 1988).  It is based in Frankfurt, Germany.

Its primary mission is to preserve purchasing power in the EU by ensuring price stability and defining and implementing monetary policy in the euro area. The institution works together with the central banks of the 19 countries which have adopted the euro as their official currency. Together, they set interest rates, conduct foreign currency operations, and manage the foreign reserves of the various countries.

The ECB also maintains working relationships with other appropriate institutions, agencies and forums both in the EU and internationally whenever issues are discussed related to the tasks assigned to the Eurosystem, which consists of the ECB and the central banks of the Member States.

Under the Treaty establishing the European Community, the main responsibilities of the ECB are:

defining and implementing monetary policy for the euro area;

conducting foreign currency operations;

holding and managing the official reserves of the euro area Member States;

encouraging the smooth running of payment systems.

It consists of the Governing Council, the Executive Board and the General Council.

The Governing Council is the supreme decision making body of the European Central Bank and its main task is the formulation of monetary policy for the euro area. It consists of the members of the Executive Board and the governors of the central banks in the euro area, and it is chaired by the President of the ECB, Christine Lagarde from 1 November 2019.

The Executive Board of the ECB is responsible for implementing the monetary policy set by the Governing Council and is composed of the President of the ECB, the Vice President (who is Portuguese) and four other members, all appointed by agreement between the Heads of State or Government of the countries in the euro area.

The General Council's role is more one of consultation and coordination of the ECB, and consists of the President and Vice-President of the ECB (who currently is Luís de Guindos, a Spanish national) and the governors of the central banks of the Member States of the European Union.

In addition, the ECB has the exclusive right to authorise the issuance of banknotes in the euro area.


Consultative bodies

European Economic and Social Committee

The EESC is a consultative body of the European Union based in Brussels, consisting of representatives of the economic, social and cultural sectors of the Member States, and was created in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome.

It brings together three groups: 'Employers', 'Workers' and 'Diversity Europe', thereby creating a bridge between the EU institutions and civil society organisations in the Member States.

Its role is to encourage European society to play an active role in EU policies and to issue opinions to the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament on its own initiative or at their request. The Committee is an integral part of the EU decision making process and it must be consulted before decisions on economic and social policy are adopted.

The EESC's debates are prepared by 'sections' specialised in the different areas. The President and Vice-Presidents are appointed by the Committee for a two-and-a-half-year term.

The members of the Economic and Social Committee are not bound by any instructions of the Member States who nominate them. They perform their functions with complete independence, in the general interest of the Union. The number of members of the EESC is proportional to the population of each Member State, as follows:

Germany, France and Italy: 24

Poland and Spain: 21

Romania: 15

Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Sweden: 12

Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Finland and Croatia: 9

Latvia and Slovenia: 7

Estonia: 6

Cyprus and Luxembourg: 6

Malta: 5

Portuguese full members of the Committee of the Regions, available here.​

Committee of the Regions (CoR)

The Committee of the Regions (CoR) is an advisory body created in 1992 by the Treaty of Maastricht. It consists of representatives of local and regional authorities in the European Union (EU).

Its creation and work have helped to ensure that EU decisions take into account the protection of local and regional interests and put into practice the principle of subsidiarity where the exclusive competence of the European institutions is not in question, thereby upholding the principle that decisions should be taken as closely to citizens as possible.

The Council decides the composition of the Committee of the Regions on the advice of the European Commission, in accordance with proposals made by the Member States. The term of office of members of the CoR, who may not exceed 350, is four years, and is renewable. Its members are the elected members of municipal or regional authorities.

As a consultative body and in the specific cases stipulated in the Treaties, the Council and the Commission must consult the CoR, especially on matters relating to the environment, education and transport, or where deemed necessary, and may set a deadline for the submission of its opinion. In addition, the CoR can also issue opinions on its own initiative, thereby putting topics it regards as important on the European agenda.

The opinions issued by the Committee of the Regions on European initiatives, accompanied by a report setting out its deliberations, must be submitted to the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.

The Committee of the Regions operates in plenary sessions and specialised commissions, whose job is to prepare the former: There are six specialised commissions:

Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX)

Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER)

Commission for Economic Policy (ECON)

Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC)

Commission for the Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE)

Commission for Natural Resources (NAT)

Portuguese full members of the Committee of the Regions, available here.