EU institutions

EU Institutions and Jargon 🇪🇺

European Union Institutions & Jargon Explained 🇪🇺 What is the EU?

EU institutions and jargon is confusing enough but the acronyms make it even worse. We sorted through dozens of European institutions to come up with the big 7 EU institutions which form the core of the European Union.

The Big Seven EU Institutions Explained + FAQs 🇪🇺 🔽

Big Seven EU Institutions:

  1. European Parliament (EP)
  2. European Council
  3. Council of the European Union (Council)
  4. European Commission (EC)
  5. Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU or ECJ)
  6. European Central Bank (ECB)
  7. Court of Auditors (ECA).

Well done if you spotted there are TWO European Councils! The key difference between these EU institutions is one passes laws and the other steers policy.

  • The European Council steers overall policy direction but CANNOT pass laws. This EC is made up of heads of member states and the President of the Commission.
  • The Council of the European Union DOES pass laws. National ministers from each EU member state meet to coordinate policy and adopt laws.

There’s also a third European council founded in 1949, decades before the EU was founded, called The Council of Europe (CoE). This council is NOT an EU institution and has 47[*dated info] member states including ALL EU countries. It was also the original creator of the EU flag which it continues to use.

“Informative and entertaining” – ADDucation

  • [*dated info] Dated information about EU institutions. Compiled by Joe Connor and last updated on May 30, 2024 @ 7:47 pm
ADDucation Tips: Click column headings with arrows to sort EU institutions and agencies. Reload page for original sort order. Resize your browser to full screen and/or zoom out to display as many columns as possible. Click the ➕ icon to reveal any hidden columns. Start typing in the Filter table box to find the EU institutions and jargon inside the table of all important EU Institutions.
EU Jargon Acronym EU Institutions and Jargon Explained
Acquis communautaire Acquis communautaire is EU-law including all EU treaties, regulations, standards, directives and rulings of the European Court of Justice, along with international agreements, fundamental rights provisions and principles including equality and non-discrimination. EU accession countries must reform their law to incorporate the acquis communautaire.
Advocate General There are currently 11[*dated info] Advocates General at the ECJ who offer advice on legal points before judges deliver their ruling. Despite being non-binding, Advocates General opinions are followed in the majority of cases.
Antitrust legislation EU antitrust legislation is included in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (2007) with various regulations added since. Competition encourages efficiency, innovation and helps keeps prices for goods and services low. This works when companies act independently, yet subject to, pressure exerted by their competitors. Anti-competitive practices, such as cartels, can be investigated and fines imposed.
Article 50 Article 50 in the Lisbon Treaty is commonly referred to as the “exit clause” and provides member states with a formal mechanism to leave the EU. The article states “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”. On the 29th March 2017 Great Britain became the first and, to date, only EU member state to formally triggered Article 50 and will leave the EU, on or before, the 29th March 2019.
Association agreement AA Framework to conduct bilateral relations, usually replacing an existing cooperation agreement and some form of trade agreement. They may lead to future membership of the EU and it was the association agreement with the Ukraine that triggered Russian hostility and played a big role in the Ukraine crisis.
Bailouts EU financial rescue plans following the 2008 global financial crisis. Greece accumulated massive debts after joining the euro and received three bailouts, largely from EU taxpayer money, totalling $358bn (£252bn / €326bn) with contributions from the IMF. In return for the loans Greece was forced to accept a harsh economic austerity package. Cyprus received the first bailout, followed by Greece, then Ireland, Portugal and Spain. In the UK, British bailouts, funded by taxpayers’ money, rescued UK banks Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds and Northern Rock.
Banking union The 20[*dated info] countries in the eurozone are completing a banking union which includes a Single Supervisory Mechanism to supervise all euro-zone banks (non-euro-area countries can also join) and a Single Resolution Mechanism to wind up banks in trouble without damaging the economy or using taxpayers’ money. In November 2015 the EC also proposed a European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS) to provide insurance cover for all retail depositors in the banking union.
Bloomberg speech In January 2013 UK Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech at Bloomberg news HQ, London, England calling for a “new settlement” for the UK including a more competitive EU, more powers for national parliaments and a UK opt-out from “ever closer union” to be followed by an in-out referendum on EU membership. After negotiations on 19 February 2016 EU leaders reached a legally binding and irreversible decision by all 28 leaders that strengthens Britain’s special status in the EU. The UK held a referendum on 23 June 2016 which was narrowly won by the leave campaign and the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020.
Brexit Brexit Made up word combining Britain and exit. Used to describe the process of the UK leaving the EU. Derived from “Grexit” – the popular term for a possible Greek exit from the euro.
Bruges speech A speech by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in September 1988 in Bruges, Belgium where she expressed her fear that a European superstate was emerging, supported former French President Charles de Gaulle’s vision of a Europe of Nations and demanded the European Community (now EU) respect the diversity of nations and focus on free trade and economic liberalisation. Although seen as a Eurosceptic speech she also said “Britain’s destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community”.
Charter of Fundamental Rights The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU collects together the rights and freedoms of EU citizens in a single document under six titles: Citizens’ Rights, Dignity, Equality, Freedoms, Justice and Solidarity. It includes the right to freedom of speech and thought, equality before the law, the right to strike, fair working conditions, data protection, bioethics etc. It has been legally binding since December 2009 as part of the Treaty of Lisbon.
Citizens’ initiative ECI A European Citizens’ Initiative enables EU citizens to propose initiatives directly to the European Commission. A successful Initiative requires the support of at least one million citizens spread across one quarter or more EU member states (currently seven[*dated info]). Setting up an initiative requires a citizens’ committee, meet criteria and be approved, so it’s not easy to get started.
Co-decision The European Parliament shares decision-making with the Council of Europe. Co-decision currently applies to around 75%[date info] of EU legislation which means MEPs share real power with ministers. Since 1 December 2009 The Lisbon Treaty renamed Co-decision to Ordinary legislative procedure.
Cohesion EU cohesion policy aims to reduce the development gap between diverse EU regions using the Cohesion Fund to promote more balanced and sustainable territorial development.
Cohesion Fund The Cohesion Fund is aimed at member states whose gross national income (GNI) per inhabitant is less than 90% of the EU average. Former Soviet satellite states in central and eastern Europe are the main beneficiaries.
Common Agricultural Policy CAP The CAP provides an internal market for agricultural products at higher prices than those on the world market. Higher prices are kept competitive by taxing imports and subsidising exports. The CAP currently accounts for around 40%[*dated info] of European budget yet agriculture is less than 2%[*dated info] of European GDP. The CAP has been reformed many times and is still under reform. The wine lakes and butter mountains of the past are no longer created because farmers receive direct payments which are not tied to production.
Common Fisheries Policy CFP The CFP is designed to manage fish stocks, balance the needs of the fishing industry, fishing communities and provide food for EU citizens at reasonable prices. The CFP gives all European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds. Recent CFP reforms and technical changes are designed to make fishing more sustainable.
Council of Europe CoE The CoE is NOT one of the EU institutions however the 27[*dated info] EU member states and candidate countries are among the 46[*dated info] member states. The CoE was founded in 1949 and is based in Strasbourg, France and aims to promote democracy and protect human rights. The CoE set up the European Convention on Human Rights and cases relating to the convention are brought before the European Court of Human Rights.
Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) Council The Council of the European Union is based in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, Belgium and forms one part of a bicameral legislature (divided into two assemblies, chambers or houses) along with the European Parliament. One of the big seven EU institutions.
Council of Ministers Commonly referred to as “the Council” it represents the member states’ national governments. Government ministers from all member states meet regularly, according to policy area. The presidency of the Council rotates between each member state every six months. Together with the European Parliament, the Council has the power to make EU laws and decide the budget.
Court of Auditors ECA The ECA, based in Luxembourg, is the EU’s independent external auditor that produces an annual report for the European Parliament and Council of the EU to help decide whether to approve the European Commission budget. The ECA is also obligated to reports suspected fraud, corruption and illegal activity to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). One of the big seven EU institutions.
Democratic deficit Used to describe the gap between the power of EU citizens to influence EU decision making and the power delegated to the EU by member states.
Directorates-General DG There are 34[*dated info] DGs in the European Commission. Each Directorate (Department) covers a different policy area and is the responsibility of a European Commissioner, assisted by the Director-General, (aka a DG) and civil servants.
Directive An EU legislative act setting a goal that all EU countries must achieve, but it is left up to each country to decide how/when they reach that goal. It differs from an EU Regulation.
Dublin Regulation (Dublin Convention) Establishes which member state (usually the state of EU entry) should handle an asylum application taking into account, family considerations, recent possession of visa or residence permit in a member state and how the applicant entered the EU. The idea was to prevent “asylum shopping” but the migrant crisis has forced the EU to reform this regulation.
Ecofin Ecofin Meetings of the 28[*dated info] EU finance ministers.
European Central Bank ECB The ECB, based in Frankfurt, Germany, is responsible for implementing European monetary policy in collaboration with the national central banks of each EU state and maintaining price stability in the eurozone. Following the 2008 global financial crisis it was assigned with additional reform and supervisory powers. One of the big seven EU institutions.
European Economic and Social Committee EESC Consultative and advisory committee designed to unite employers, employees and their representatives with other economic interest groups to help establish a single market and act as a bridge between Europe and organized civil society. Based in the Jacques Delors building on Belliardstraat / Rue Belliard 99 in Brussels, Belgium.
European Economic Area EEA Provides for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital in the EU’s single market. All member states are in the EEA along with 3 (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway [*dated info]) of the 4 EFTA countries excluding Switzerland which have a separate bilateral trade agreement with the EU.
European External Action Service EEAS The EU’s diplomatic service. It has its own staff and offices worldwide, as well as diplomats seconded from member states. It is headed by the High Representative, Federica Mogherini[*dated info] from Italy.
European Free Trade Association EFTA Promotes free trade and economic integration between Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. EFTA was set up in 1960 as an alternative group for those countries which were not, or did not want to be, in the then European Economic Community. Some countries left EFTA when they joined the EU.
Economic and Monetary Union EMU Official name of the monetary union that led to the single currency, the euro.
EU Enlargement Enlargement of the EU is the process of admitting new member states. To date the EU has been enlarged 7[*dated info] times:
  • 1973: The UK, Ireland and Denmark joined the EU
  • 1981: Greece joined the EU
  • 1986 Spain and Portugal joined the EU
  • 1995 Austria, Sweden and Finland joined the EU
  • 2004 the “big bang” admitted Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia
  • 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU
  • 2013 Croatia joined the EU.

This brings the total to 27[*dated info] countries and the total EU population to 445[*dated info] million people. Following the UK leaving the EU in 2020 the EU shrunk for the first time leaving 27[*dated info] member countries.

European Stability Mechanism ESM The ESM is a permanent agency based in Luxembourg which, like governments, sells bonds to borrow in the financial markets and uses that cash to fund bailouts to eurozone countries or loan capital to failing banks. The ESM replaced the temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and has a maximum lending capacity of €500bn ($550bn; £360bn).
EU Emissions Trading Scheme ETS ETS covers around 45% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions from around 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 31 countries, as well as airlines. The third (current) period runs from January 2013 to December 2020. A total cap on emissions is set and “allowances” for emissions are auctioned (or allocated) and can subsequently be traded. Installations which exceed their allowances must purchase allowances from installations with leftover credits, in this way installations are encouraged to find ways to reduce their emissions without further government intervention. In October 2014, a new target to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (from 1990 levels) was introduced and a “market stability reserve” set up to help drive cuts following a period of permit oversupply which threatened further progress.
European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo EULEX The EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) is a civilian mission launched under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) to support Kosovo authorities to establish the rule of law after it separated from Serbia in 1999. EULEX became fully operational in April 2009. The legal basis for the mission follows the EU Joint Action of February 2008 and Council decisions June 2010 and June 2012 and EULEX works within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. EULEX is supported by all EU member states along with Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States and has a unified chain of command to Brussels. The mandate for the Kosovo mission ends on 14 June 2016.
Euro The Euro is currency launched on paper as book money in 1999 by 11 EU member states (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands). Greece joined the Euro in 2001. Cash in Euros was introduced on 1 January 2002 as a replacement for national currencies. The eurozone currently includes 19 countries[*dated info] with the addition of Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Eurogroup Eurogroup is a forum where the 19 eurozone economics and finance ministers meet, usually before Ecofin meetings.
European Arrest Warrant EAW A European Arrest warrant is valid in all EU member states and designed to simplify extradition between member states. All member states are required to arrest and transfer any criminal suspect or sentenced person to the warrant issuing state so the person can be put on trial or complete a detention period. The EAW replaced earlier extradition practice after adoption by the Council of the European Union on 13 June 2002 and implemented in 2004.
European Commission EC The European Commission is the EU’s civil service which formally initiates all EU legislation and is ultimately under the control of member states. Each member state appoints one commissioner, with a duty to act in the interest of Europe in general. There are currently 27[*dated info] commissioners. Portfolios are assigned to each commissioner by the EU Commission President.
European Convention on Human Rights ECHR International treaty covering human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. Originally drafted in 1950 by the Council of Europe and entered into force 3 September 1953. Jurisdiction covers all 47[date info] CoE member states with new members expected to ratify the convention at the earliest opportunity.
European Council Meetings are commonly referred to as “EU summits” where heads of state and foreign ministers get together to set EU objectives and priorities. The European Council President is appointed for a fixed five-year term, currently Charles Michel from Namur in Belgium.[*dated info] The European Council is one of the big seven EU institutions.
European Court of Human Rights ECtHR The ECtHR sits in Strasbourg and enforces compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the ECtHR is not an EU institution its rulings are binding on all EU and Council of Europe member states. Any individual can take their case to the ECtHR after exhausting the legal process in their home state.
European Court of Justice (Court of Justice of the European Union). ECJ (CJEU) The ECJ rules on disputes over EU treaties and legislation. Decisions are binding on EU institutions and member states. Individual citizens, companies, governments and EU institutions can take their cases to the ECJ which is based in Luxembourg.
European Environment Agency EEA Provides independent scientific data on the environment which is used to formulate EU policy. The EEA is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.
European Food Safety Authority EFSA The European Food Safety Authority carries out independent scientific research focusing on animal and plant health to advise on risks to the food chain. The EFSA is based in Parma, Italy.
European Parliament EP The European Parliament is one of the big seven EU institutions. It’s the directly elected body of MEPs which holds monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg. The EP secretariat in based Luxembourg with most MEPs working out of Brussels, Belgium.
Europhile The term is often used by Eurosceptics to describe their opponents. A Europhile is used colloquially, in the same way Anglophile and Francophile are used to describe fans of English and French culture, to describe people or groups that support Europe.
European Police Office Europol EU agency to improve cooperation between member state police forces to fight organized crime within the EU based in The Hague, the Netherlands. It has no executive or investigative powers.
Eurosceptics Euroscepticism is the belief that EU integration threatens the sovereignty of nation states. Eurosceptics want anything from EU reform to dissolution of the EU itself. The Brexit Party was an example with popular support within the UK.
Federalism A system of government where states pool sovereignty in some areas but retain their independence. EU integration is often referred to as federalism where EU institutions appear to be overriding national governments.
Fiscal Compact An intergovernmental agreement signed in 2012 by all EU states except the UK and Czech Republic to enforce budget discipline. Signatories have to adopt a balanced budget law, without which they cannot apply for an ESM bailout.
Frontex EU agency to improve cooperation between national border guards to secure EU external borders. Based in Warsaw, Poland. In December 2015 the EC proposed a new European Border and Coast Guard Agency with a stronger mandate and powers which may replace Frontex[*dated info].
Grexit Grexit combines the words “Greek” and “exit” and refers to the possibility of Greece leaving the eurozone.
Maastricht Treaty TEU The Maastricht Treaty (Treaty on European Union) was signed on 7 February 1992 by members of the European Community in Maastricht, Netherlands. This created the EU, led to the euro and defined the pillar structure of the EU. The treaty has since been amended by the treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon.
Member of the European Parliament MEP Elections for MEPs are held every five years using a form of proportional representation chosen by the member state. The total number of MEPs is decided by treaty negotiations based on the principle of degressive proportionality, which allows smaller states to elect more MEPs than would be allocated by population size alone. There are currently 751 MEPs[*dated info].
European Ombudsman The Euro-Ombudsman is an independent watchdog who helps ensure EU institutions are accountable and transparent. The current ombudsman is Emily O’Reilly (Ireland) elected by the European Parliament for a five-year period. Any EU citizen, resident, organization or company can submit a complaint. Rulings are not binding but compliance is high. Based on the 7th floor of the administrative Salvador de Madariaga Building, Strasbourg, France.
Ordinary legislative procedure The European Parliament shares decision-making with the Council of Europe. Co-decision currently applies to around 75%[date info] of EU legislation which means MEPs share real power with ministers. Before December 2009 the Ordinary legislative procedure was called Co-decision.
Permanent Representatives Committee Coreper The Coreper committee provides a forum between representatives and their national capitals and political control over agendas for the ministerial Council. The committee includes an ambassador from each member state chaired by the EU country which holds the Council Presidency.
EU President There is no single EU President but each of the three main EU institutions has a president: President of the European Commission, President of the European Council and President of the European Parliament.
Qualified Majority Voting QMV System of weighted votes used to make decisions in the Council of Ministers. Votes are weighted according to a country’s size and population. A double majority rule applies to votes on European Commission proposals. A measure is approved if 55% (16 or more[*dated info]) EU countries vote for it so long as they represent at 65% or more of the total EU population. The Lisbon Treaty extended QMV to more policy areas to speed up EU decision-making by reducing veto powers of member states. See also Unanimity.
Rapporteur A rapporteur is the author of a draft legislative report, typically the position of MEPs on legislation as part of the co-decision process with the European Council.
Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals REACH EU regulatory system for chemicals since 2007 which companies must use to report all chemical hazards linked to their products.
Rebate Despite opposition some countries have negotiated annual rebates on their EU contributions including Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and notably the UK. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher organized the UK rebate in 1984.
Regulation An EU legislative act that becomes enforceable law in all member states simultaneously and with immediate effect. This is not the same as an EU directive.
R&D RTD Research and Development is commonly described as RTD in technical documents.
Schengen Agreement The 1985 Schengen agreement (named after a town in Luxembourg) removed internal border controls allowing travel without passports between 22[*dated info] EU and 4[*dated info] EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). 3 microstates (Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City) are de-facto part of the Schengen Area. Ireland opted out.
Social Chapter This protocol (not a chapter) was attached to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and extends EU influence over social policy enhancing the role of workers’ and employers’ representatives to shape EU directives in education, equal opportunities, health and safety, industrial relations and training. The UK opted out but eventually signed up following various amendments and subsequent treaty changes.
Special legislative procedures Special legislative procedures replaced earlier consultative, cooperation and assent procedures to simplify and increase the effectiveness of the EU decision-making process. The Council of the EU is effectively the sole legislator and rules are defined on an ad-hoc basis.
Subsidiarity Subsidiarity is an EU principle that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen. This means all decisions should be scrutinized to check whether actions would be more effective at local, national or European level.
Treaty on European Union TEU The Treaty on European Union is part of the Treaty of Lisbon 2007. It’s one of the primary Treaties of the European Union and forms the basis of EU law. The TEU sets out the principles, institutions, rules on security, external and foreign policy. An older form of the same document was part of the Treaty of Maastricht 1992.
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership TTIP The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a controversial and ongoing negotiation between the European Union and the United States of America which could create the world’s biggest free trade zone.
Troika Troika is the jargon used to describe the decision making group made up of; European Commission (EC), European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Troika organized and monitored the eurozone bailouts to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus.
Unanimity Unanimity is the EU voting system which means everyone agrees or abstains. Abstention does not prevent an EU decision from being taken. Unanimity applies to common foreign and security policy, citizenship, EU membership and other sensitive issues and areas.
Vade mecum Vade mecum is Latin for (operating) manual or handbook, most commonly used in French documents.
Working Time Directive The EU Working Time Directive covers work breaks, holidays, night work and the length of a working week. All workers in the EU are guaranteed a working week no longer than 48 hours (average) including overtime, at least 11 consecutive rest hours in any 24-hour period, a 24-hour rest day every week and 4 weeks paid annual leave.
Zero sum game In gaming and economic theory, a zero sum game means for every winner there is a loser and for every gain there is a loss. The phrase was used in cold war rhetoric and more recently to describe the EU Russian rivalry in Europe.

See Also: All EU Countries… | Neutral Countries…

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One response to “EU Institutions and Jargon 🇪🇺”

  1. Cheryl McKay says:

    Thanks for this very useful list! It doesn’t make it much easier to understand the European system (although the video does a very good job!), but it’s very useful to come back and refer to whenever I need it.
    Best, Cheryl

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