The Court of Justice makes sure that EU law is interpreted and applied in the same way in all EU countries, thereby ensuring that the law is equal for everyone. It ensures, for example, that national courts do not give different rulings on the same issue.
The Court of Justice of the European Communities, located in Luxembourg, is composed of the same number of judges as there are Member States and therefore at present has 27 judges, assisted by eight advocates-general. They are appointed by joint agreement of the governments of the Member States. They can be relied on to show impartiality.
The Court makes sure that EU Member States and Institutions do what the law requires them to do. It can find any EU Member State guilty of failing to fulfil its obligations under the Treaties. It can check whether EU laws have been properly enacted and implemented in national legal systems. It can also find the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission guilty of failing to act as required.
The Court of Justice is the only Institution that can, at the request of the national courts, give a ruling on the interpretation of the treaties and on the validity and interpretation of EU law. Therefore, when a question of this sort is brought before a court in one of the Member States, that court may - and sometimes must - ask the European Court of Justice for its ruling. This system ensures that EU law is interpreted and applied in the same way throughout the European Union.
The Treaties explicitly allow the Court to check whether EU legislation respects the fundamental rights of EU citizens and to give rulings on questions of personal freedom and security.
The overloading of the Court and the increasing length of time taken to deal with cases led to the creation in 1989 of the Court of First Instance. It consists of a judge from each EU country and is responsible for giving rulings on certain kinds of cases, particularly actions brought by firms or private individuals against EU institutions, and disputes between the Institutions and their employees.
The Court of Auditors
The Court of Auditors checks the revenue and expenditure of the EU and any body created by the Community for legality and regularity, ensuring that its financial management is sound. It has the right to audit the accounts of any organisation, body or company that is handling EU funds and, where appropriate, to refer matters to the Court of Justice. However, it does not have the power to impose penalties.
The Court of Auditors acts in complete independence.
The Court of Auditors has a member from each EU country, appointed for a term of six years by agreement between the Member States, after consultation with the European Parliament.
It consists of 344 members representing three groups of people: employers, workers, and representatives of particular types of activity (such as farming, ‘artisanat’, small businesses, the professions, consumer groups, cooperatives, families, etc.).
The Council, the Commission and at times the Parliament consult the European Economic and Social Committee. Its members are appointed by the Council for a four-year term.
The Committee’s remit is to give its opinion on proposed EU decisions in a range of policy areas, including public health, social affairs legislation, vocational training, etc. On its own initiative it may also give opinions on other matters that it considers important.
The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions (CoR) is an advisory body that allows local and regional authorities to make their voices heard in the decision-making process of the European Union.
It consists of 344 representatives (the same number as EESC) from local and regional authorities, and its members are similarly appointed by the Council for four years.
The Council and the Commission must consult the Committee of the Regions on matters relevant to the regions (e.g. Structural Funds) and also on the subject of public health, employment, environment, etc. The Committee may also adopt opinions on its own initiative.
The European Central Bank
The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank for Europe’s single currency, the euro. It is responsible for monetary policy in the thirteen member countries of the Eurozone. and for managing the euro: for example, by setting interest rates. Its primary concern is ensuring price stability so that the European economy is not damaged by inflation. The Bank takes its decisions independently of governments and other bodies.
The ECB implements the European monetary policy defined by the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). The ECB decision-making bodies, the Executive Board and the Governing Council, administer the European System of Central Banks (ESCB), whose role is to manage money supply, conduct exchange operations, hold and manage the official foreign reserve assets of the Member States and ensure the smooth functioning of payment systems.
The planned enlargement of the Eurozone to include the countries that joined the EU in 2004 - 2007 will lead to more members of the Governing Council and to a re-arrangement of the voting system.
The European Investment Bank
The European Investment Bank (EIB) lends money for projects of European interest, particularly in the less well-off regions. It finances infrastructure projects such as rail and road links, airports and environmental schemes. It provides credit for investments by small businesses (SMEs). The Luxembourg-based bank also lends to candidate Member States and developing countries.
EIB’s shareholders are the 27 Member States of the European Union. The Bank is supervised by the Board of Governors, composed of the 27 EU Finance Ministers. Because it is owned by EU governments, the bank can raise capital and give credit at favourable rates.