Students from Bangor University’s Business and Law Schools have visited some of the key institutions of the European Union and the Council of Europe in Brussels (Belgium), Luxembourg and Strasbourg (France) from November 12-17, 2017.
The tour of Europe began in Brussels, where the students were welcomed to the European Commission, the EU Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee, Council of the European Union and the European Council. The European Commission (EC) is the executive of the European Union what promotes its general interest. The Commission is steered by a group of 28 Commissioners, one from each member state, known as ‘the college’.
Together they take decisions on the Commissioner’s political and strategic direction. The Commission is organised into policy departments, known as Directorates-General (DGs), which are responsible for different policy areas. DGs develop, implement and manage EU policy, law, and funding programs. In addition, service departments deal with particular administrative issues and executive agencies manage programmes set up by the Commission. It is held accountable by the Council, the Parliament and the European Court of Justice.
The Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) - are established by Treaty and are advisory. They must, however, be consulted and are invited to give an opinion on any proposed legislation. Although their opinions are advisory only, the purpose of this formal consultation is to create better informed legislation.
The EESC is committed to European integration, contributes to strengthening the democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of the European Union by enabling civil society organisations from the Member States to express their views at European level.
The CoR is the European Union’s assembly of regional and local representatives. It is composed of 350 members who must be democratically elected and or hold a political mandate in their home country. Through the CoR, EU local and regional authorities can have a say on the development of EU laws that impact regions and cities. The members of the CoR have political legitimacy. The role of the CoR is to bring EU closer to citizens.
The European Council consists of the heads of state or government of the EU’s member states, together with its President and the European Commission President. It defines the EU’s general political direction and priorities and sets the EU’s political agenda.
The Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) represents the member state, governments. Informally also known as the EU Council, it is where national ministers from each EU country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies.
Next stop was Luxembourg, where the group were offered a visit to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and briefed on a case of Ernst & Young P/S v Konkurrenceradet and attended a full bench Court hearing.
The ECJ is the highest Court in the European Union in matters of European Union law and plays the judiciary function. It interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way in all EU countries, and settles legal disputes between national governments and EU institutions.
The ECJ is divided into 2 courts: Court of Justice what deals with requests for preliminary rulings from national courts, certain actions for annulment and appeals. The other one is General Court what rules on actions for annulment brought by individuals, companies and, in some cases, EU governments. In practice, this means that this Court deals mainly with competition law, State aid, trade, agriculture, trade marks.
Later that evening, the group stopped off at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France where we sat on a parliamentary session. The European Parliament is the EU’s law-making body. It is a legislator and directly elected by EU voters every 5 years. The parliament has 3 main roles: legislative where it passes EU laws, together with the Council of the EU, based on European Commission proposals, supervisory and budgetary.
The European Parliament is a unique multinational parliamentary assembly elected directly by the citizens. The 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) represent over 500 million citizens.
Strasbourg is also home for European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and Council of Europe (COE). Both the ECHR and COE are in Strasbourg and we visited both the institutions the following day. They are dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. The Council of Europe was established first in 1949 and following the adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights, which has the standing of an International Treaty in 1950, the European Court of Human Rights was established in 1959 to uphold the Treaty. The ECHR comes under the auspices of the COE.
This was an exceptionally good study visit where the students received a large amount of information from a range of speakers in nine separate institutions spread over three countries. It was highly informative and very interesting tour having great opportunity for us to meet very interesting people with highly influential and prestigious positions. Visiting the European Court of Justice was possibly the most interesting part of all. We were really lucky to witness a Court case having instant translation of French submission into other nine different languages.
During those six days, we also visited Amsterdam (Netherlands), Switzerland and Colmer, a north-eastern city of France with those leading institutions. This trip also gave the opportunity to discover the European history closely.
The writer is a student of LLM in International Criminal Law and International Human Rights Law at Bangor University, UK