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Representation in Ireland
Factsheet6 April 2019Directorate-General for Communication2 min read

The EU is undemocratic and run by unelected bureaucrats

Critics sometimes accuse the European Union of being undemocratic with laws forced on citizens by unelected officials. However, all EU laws can, in fact, only be approved by democratically elected politicians.

Legislation has to be agreed by two EU institutions, one of which is the European Parliament made up of MEPs who are elected by the people of Europe every five years.

Over the years, changes in European treaties have given the Parliament increased legislative and budgetary powers and it adopts and amends legislation as well as deciding on the annual EU budget.

The Parliament shares its power over EU budget and legislation with the Council of the European Union, which is the voice of EU member governments.

It’s made up of ministers from each EU country who meet to discuss, amend and adopt laws, as well as coordinate policies.

The Council of the European Union is sometimes confused with the European Council, which is made up of the government leaders of all the EU member states.

The European Council also has a President - appointed by European Council leaders - and the European Commission president, who has to be approved by the European Parliament, is a member too.

It defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities but it’s not one of the EU's legislating institutions, so doesn’t negotiate or adopt EU laws.

The European Union also has a politically independent executive arm, which is what the European Commission is.

The Commission is responsible for drawing up proposals for new European legislation, and it implements the decisions of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

The Commission is led by a team or 'College' of Commissioners, one from each EU country, and it manages EU policies, allocates EU funding, enforces EU laws and represents the EU internationally, particularly in areas of trade policy and humanitarian aid.

The Commission is led by a President who is proposed by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament.

Commissioners are proposed by the national governments of Member States and they have to be approved by the European Parliament before being appointed.

In the past, the European Parliament has sometimes found candidates unsuitable, with their governments having to replace them. Very often candidates are former members of national governments or even former Prime Ministers.

The European Parliament also endorses new Commissions, holds the Commission to account and can even force the Commission to resign in a so called ‘motion of censure’.

Commissioners are supported by a Civil Service. Civil servants are recruited through open pan-European competitions.

Every EU Member State has a civil service so there is nothing new, novel or overly-bureaucratic here. In fact, the European Commission’s civil service has less staff than some European city councils (e.g. around 55,000 for Birmingham or 50,000 for Paris).


Publication date
6 April 2019
Directorate-General for Communication