The institutions of the European Union can be traced back mostly to their predecessors in the European Economic Community, Euratom and the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). All these had institutions that were broadly intergovernmental such as the European Council, the Council and the Committee of Permanent Representatives. Some had institutions of a supranational character such as the High Authority of the ECSC, the Commission, the Court of Justice and the European Parliament. The former group allowed governments of the member states to make their input to the decision-making process, while the latter, supranational institutions, have often tried to take into account the wider interests of the Communities.
The Commission is the engine of the European Communities element in the European Union. It consists of a fairly modestly sized bureaucracy of approximately 11,000 civil servants and a College of Commissioners. Of the 15 EU members, there are 20 Commissioners, two nominated from each of the 'big five' of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, and one from each of the other ten member states.
Although the national governments nominate the Commissioners, they do not represent that government or, indeed, their own state. They are often chosen on party political grounds as well as for their general competence and experience. Once members of the College of Commissioners, they are expected to act in the interest of the Union as a whole. At the start of each five-year term of office of a Commission, the member states nominate a President. The original term for each Commission was four years but the Maastricht Treaty changed both this and the term of office of the President to five years, allowing each to run almost in tandem with the new European Parliament's five-year term.
The College of Commissioners has a...