The Commission is one of the seven European Union institutions listed in Article 13(1) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Its powers, tasks and functions are laid down in Articles 244 to 250 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The European Commission acts as an executive of the European Union. The body is responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the Union's treaties and the general day-to-day running of the Union. The Commission is appointed for a five-year term by the Council acting by qualified majority in agreement with the Member States. It is subject to a vote of appointment by the European Parliament, to which it is answerable. The Commissioners are assisted by an administration made up of Directorates-General and specialised departments whose staff are divided mainly between Brussels and Luxembourg.
The term ‘Commission’ can mean either the 27 Commissioners themselves (known as the College of Commissioners), or the larger institution that also includes the administrative body of about 25,000 European civil servants who are split into departments called Directorates-General and Services.
The Commission embodies the supranational interests of the European Community. For this reason, members of the Commission ‘shall neither seek nor take instructions from any Government or other institution, body, office or entity. They shall refrain from any action incompatible with their duties or the performance of their tasks’ (TEU, Article 17(3)). As ‘engine of the Treaties’, one of the principal sources of the Commission's authority within the EU polity lies in its monopoly to issue legislative proposals. All legislative acts must begin with an initiative by the Commission. Legislative proposals in each policy area are usually formulated within the relevant unit of a Directorates-General (DG) before being processed upwards to the Cabinets first, and finally, to the College of Commissioners. If approved by the College, the initiative is channelled through the relevant legislative or other regulatory procedures. Decisions in the College of Commissioners are put to a simple majority vote, but once adopted, they are supported by all Commissioners. In drawing up and submitting policy proposals, though, Article 154 TFEU requires the Commission to ‘consult management and labour on the possible direction of Union action’. Once the Commission concludes that action is required, it again consults the European social partners on the content of any eventual proposal.
In promoting European policy, the Commission calls on the expertise of some 40 DGs and services, which are sub-divided in turn into directorates, and then into units. Each DG is allocated a specific administrative responsibility for a policy area and under the political responsibility of a Commissioner. In the area of European employment and social policy, the responsible organ is the Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion DG (DG-EMPL). The DG-EMPL is also the department of the European Commission responsible for industrial relations in Europe.DG-EMPL is organised into directorates. Directorate B (composed of 4 units: Social Dialogue/Industrial Relations (B/1), Labour Law (B/2), Health, Safety and Hygiene at Work (B/3) and Free Movement of Workers Coordination of Social Security Schemes (B/4)) is responsible for accompanying the European social dialogue both at intersectoral and sectoral levels.
In the social policy domain, as well as in other policy fields, the European Commission operates in a close relationship and dynamic institutional equilibrium with the other Community institutions, in particular the Council, European Parliament and European Court of Justice (ECJ). Legislative initiatives on social issues will depend to a large extent on the good cooperation with these other Community institutions, with the Member States and, in the social dialogue process, with the social partners.
Another important function of the Commission is its role as guardian of the Treaties. As such, the Commission firmly supervises, controls and, if need be, files complaints to the ECJ in order to ensure that the other Union institutions, Member States, companies and individual citizens comply with the Community acquis communautaire. In cases where the Commission believes EU law has been infringed, it responds as follows. First, it usually tries to resolve the problem through informal dialogue with the EU Member State accused of breaching Community law. Should this chosen strategy prove unsuccessful, a formal letter is despatched outlining the breach and requesting the EU Member State to respond accordingly. If the allegation remains unresolved, however, the Commission, under Article 258 TFEU, delivers a ‘reasoned opinion’ to the Member State that is in breach. If the breach is not remedied within eight weeks, the Commission may bring the matter before the ECJ. Finally, ‘If the European Court of Justice finds that a Member State has failed to fulfil an obligation under the treaty, the State shall be required to take the necessary measures to comply with the judgement of the Court of Justice’ (Article 260 TFEU).