What is it?
The term “Commission” refers at the same time to the College of Commissioners, i.e. the heads of the Commission appointed by each Member State and approved by the European Parliament, and to the institution and its nearly 25.000 civil servants.
It is both the executive arm in the institutional triangle (composed by Council and the European Parliament) that has the responsibility of implementing EU laws, the initiator of such laws and the “Guardian of the Treaties”.
The Commission is supposed to reason and act in the interest of Europe, regardless of the nationality of the Commissioner leading on a given dossier.
Where is it?
The seat of the Commission is in Brussels,Belgium but it also has offices in Luxembourg as well as EU representation offices in every EU member State and delegations outside of Europe.
What does it do?
The European Commission has four main roles:
- Propose legislation to Parliament and the Council through its “right of initiative”. It does that after consulting stakeholders and requesting the advice of the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, as well as, in most cases, the opinions of national parliaments and governments. Its scope of action is mainly limited by the so-called principle of subsidiarity, whereby the Commission should only intervene when and to the extent an issue cannot be handled at national or local level.
- Manage and implement EU policies and the budget, as the EU’s executive arm. The Commission needs to get discharge for implementing the budget by the European Parliament, which looks closely at the opinion issued by the Court of Auditors but also uses this instrument as a political pressure tool.
- Enforce European law (jointly with the Court of Justice), as Guardian of the Treaties. This practically means that the Commission can launch an infringement proceeding against a Member State, first through the sending of an official letter to the concerned government, then through a court case before the European Court of Justice when a Member State fails to implement or improperly transposes EU legislation into national law. Decisions by the ECJ are binding and can include penalties.
- Represent the European Union on the international stage, for example by negotiating agreements between the EU and other countries. It does notably so at the World Trade Organisation.
Why would it care?
The European Commission is an interesting mixture of political thinking (mostly at Commissioner and Cabinet levels) and bureaucratic and technical approach (at Directorate-General level).
Making both levels care can be achieved in different manners.
From the technical point of view, by providing them with well-argumented documents early on, that can help them shape their thinking process by providing sufficiently balanced arguments. Do not hesitate to involve your engineers or chemists or any other technical staff that can help the person at working level within the Commission better understand all the layers of the dossier he or she is handling.
Get involved early on, as a common reproach the Commission staff like to make is: “Why did you not come to us before with is issue?” i.e. when they issued a Green Paper or another form of consultation. Basically, do not give them any excuse to say: “We did not realise…”
At a political level, every Commissioner is different and therefore making them care is dependent on their nature. Some are press hungry and keen at constructing a specific image in the press (the defender of the little people, the intransigent upholder of competition, etc), others have kept a strong national concern, others come from a background that makes them more concerned about certain issues, etc. Moreover, the level of influence cabinets have on their Commissioner, and which individual has that influence within the Cabinet also varies quite a bit: it is not always the Head of Cabinet that runs the show!
The Commission tends to listen more to associations than to individual industry players, and hence conveying once message at that level can be more effective.