01 April 2024

Navigating EU Institutions: a guide for youth | EFIVOS Articles


Author: Gabriel Florinel ION

Have you ever wondered who is shaping the future of Europe? Or who leads the European Union? Why does this European Union exist and how does it work? In what follows, let's find out the answers to these questions together.

The European Union represents a unique partnership between the 27 member states that play an extraordinarily important role in the development and shaping of Europe's future. The European Union (abbreviated as EU) is thus a very complex political and economic entity, and for young people and citizens keen to understand how this entity works, how these institutions are governed, how they can connect with these institutions and what these institutions do for communities from member states, it can be a bit of a difficult task. Through this “guide”, we aim to provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the main institutions of the European Union, the framework of how they work and how we, young people, can actively participate in the decision-making processes of the European Union.

What is the European Union?

As we said in the introduction, the European Union is a political and economic union that represents 27 European countries that are united by the values of promoting democracy, peace, stability and prosperity in Europe. The European Union is formed by the system of supranational institutions, which work together to make decisions on policies that have an impact on all member states. All the institutions of the European Union are built to represent, inform and support the interests of all citizens of the European Union and to ensure that all decisions are taken in a democratic and transparent framework. To understand how important the European Union is, let's take a look and ponder these figures: 448,4 million  (the current population of the European Union, 112.5 million greater than that of the United States); over 4 million km² in Europe.

What are the key institutions of the European Union?

The European Union is formed on the system of supranational institutions, thus the most important institutions are the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the European Council, the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors, the European Central Bank, the European Investment Bank, the European Ombudsman and Consultative Bodies (European Economic and Social Committee; Committee of the Regions). 

  • The European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission have the role of directly representing the central institutions and are involved in the decision-making process at the level of the European Union;
  • The European Council does not have legislative power, but gets involved in discussions and community initiatives at the level of the European Union;
  • The European Court of Justice, the European Court of Auditors and the European Ombudsman have a very important role in the proper functioning of the European Union;
  • The European Central Bank and the European Investment Bank represent the financial institutions that are created in order to support the economic and monetary union, but also to implement the policies of the European Union.
Let's understand the institutions of the European Union - the role and functioning of each institution

The European Parliament - is the only institution within the European Union elected by universal suffrage, directly by the citizens of the member states. Members of the European Parliament, MEPs, are given a five-year term and are organized into political groups based on their ideological affiliation. The Parliament exercises three fundamental powers: the legislative power, the budgetary power and the power of political control over the European institutions. The Parliament plays a crucial role in shaping the legislation of the European Union and exercises the role of co-legislator, having, together with the Council of the European Union, the competence to adopt and amend legislative proposals and to adopt the Union budget. The European Parliament supervises the activity of the European Commission and other European bodies, cooperates with the national parliaments of the European Union countries, which also contribute. Legislative activity is carried out in 20 specialized parliamentary committees. Parliament takes decisions and expresses political positions in plenary sessions held in Strasbourg one week a month. The short-term sessions are held in Brussels, where the permanent offices of the European Parliament Committees and MEPs are located. The European Parliament is led by a president elected from among the MEPs. 

The European Commission - is an executive institution of the European Union, based in Brussels. The European Commission exercises the role of "guardian of compliance with the treaties", ensures compliance by each member state with the provisions of the European Union treaties, proposes community laws and ensures that, once passed through the legislative process, they are transposed and respected by the member states. The European Commission also has a key role in the administration of the European Union's funds and budget, including the management of pre-accession funds for states at various stages of their negotiations to become members of the European Union. The commission is made up of 27 commissioners, appointed by each member state and who are heard by the European Parliament. Each commissioner is assigned a portfolio or, as the case may be, a policy area for which they are responsible for a 5-year mandate. The European Commission or the Executive of the European Union is led by a President.

Council of the European Union – The Council of the European Union or the Council of Ministers is based in Brussels and ensures the representation of the national interests of the 27 member states and their governments at the community level. The Council is composed of the ministers of the governments of the member states, responsible for a certain field and has as its main missions the adoption of European legislation, the coordination of the general policies of the member states and approves the annual budget of the European Union. The presidency of the Council rotates between each member state and the mandate of each presidency lasts 6 months, which is held by the relevant ministry for each individual meeting. The Council of the European Union develops the foreign policy of the European Union and signs agreements between the European Union and other countries. The Council of the European Union has its main meeting place in Brussels, and Strasbourg as its second place.

European Council - The European Council brings together the heads of state or government of EU member states to provide strategic direction and resolve key political issues they face but has no law-making power. The European Council does not negotiate or adopt legislation. It meets at least four times a year and whenever necessary. 

The Court of Justice of the European Union - has the role of ensuring compliance with Community laws by all member states, but also the application of the constitutive treaties of the European Union with subsequent amendments. The European Court of Justice is based in Luxembourg and is made up of one judge from each member state, the European and international courts. In the political system of the European Union, the European Court of Justice exercises and represents judicial power, having jurisdiction over legal disputes between member states, European Union institutions, businesses and natural persons.

The European Court of Auditors - does not have legal powers, but has the capacity of an independent external auditor based in Luxembourg. The role of the European Court of Auditors is to control the legality of the use of funds from the European Union budget, the defense of the interests of taxpayers in the European Union and reporting on the financial situation of the European Union.

European Investment Bank - finances EU investment projects and supports European businesses through the European Investment Fund. The European Investment Bank is made up of all the member states of the European Union and aims to strengthen the European Union's leadership in terms of economic growth, jobs, mitigation of climate effects, but also the promotion of European Union policies outside the Union.

The European Central Bank – is the central bank of the European Union, based in Frankfurt, and together with the national central banks of the member states of the European Union make up the European System of Central Banks, although only 12 countries have adopted the euro currency.

The European Ombudsman - has the main purpose of investigating complaints regarding cases of maladministration by the institutions and bodies of the European Union, discrimination, abuse of power, lack or refusal to provide information, unjustified delays. All complaints can be submitted by both citizens and residents of the European Union. 

Consultative Bodies (European Economic and Social Committee; Committee of the Regions) - The European Economic and Social Committee is a consultative body made up of representatives of workers' and employers' organizations and other interest groups, and through its activities, connects the European institutions with decision-making role and the citizens of the European Union. The Committee of the Regions is an advisory body made up of representatives of the member states, elected at local and regional level, who have the opportunity to directly express their views on European Union legislation that has an impact on regions and cities. The Consultative Bodies are in direct contact with the key institutions of the European Union and thus there are consultations on a wide range of fields aimed at citizens and the future of the European Union.

How can we, young people and citizens, actively participate in the future of the European Union?

For young people interested in getting involved in the affairs of the European Union, to discover how it works, what role it plays and how the future of Europe is decided through the lens of the European Union institutions, there are several ways to get involved:
  • Participate in youth programs: The European Union offers various programs, such as Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps, which offer young people opportunities to study, volunteer or work abroad.
  • Join youth organisations: There are many youth organizations across Europe that focus on promoting civic engagement, democracy and youth empowerment both at national and European Union level.
  • Attend events and conferences: Attending conferences, seminars and workshops organized by the European Union institutions can provide valuable insights into how they work and provide networking opportunities with policy makers.
  • Follow European Union news and communication channels: Staying informed about current events and EU policy developments through reputable sources can help young people understand the key issues facing Europe.
  • Get in touch with MEPs: Contacting members of the European Parliament to express their views on specific policies or issues can be an effective way to influence decision-making at the level of the European Union.
Navigating the institutions of the European Union can be challenging, but with a solid understanding of how they work and proactive engagement, young people can play an active role in shaping Europe's future. By participating in youth programs, joining organizations, attending events, informing and engaging with European Union decision-makers, young people can contribute to building a more inclusive and democratic European Union.


This article is published under the framework of the EFIVOS project. EFIVOS is an initiative aimed at increasing knowledge and awareness of EU institutions, policies, and democratic procedures. This podcast has been funded through project 101081482 — EFIVOS in Europe — CERV-2022-CITIZENS-CIV.

​​The European Commission support for the production of this article does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflect the view only of the authors, and the Commission can not be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.