The most important EU institutions include:
- The European Council
It consists of the heads of states or prime ministers of the EU member states. The Council meets at least four times per year to discuss the future of the EU. It was founded as an informal body in 1975 and became the official EU institution in 2009.
The meetings of the European Council are presided by the President of the European Council and is attended by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. The meetings typically take place in the Justus Lipsius building (Brussels, Belgium) which is the seat of the Council of the European Union.
- The European Parliament
The European Parliament represents the citizens of the EU, while members of parliament (754 in total) are elected every five years. The first elections to the only directly elected EU institution were held in 1979 when the member states of the European Community elected 410 members of parliament.
Due to the enlargement of the EU, the number of members of parliament grew to the current 754 which, however, probably is not the final number considering that the Union is expected to be joined by Croatia in the mid-2013 and considering that several other states seek to become members of the EU in the future.
The Parliament mainly meets in Brussels. But according to the Treaty of Amsterdam, 12 plenary sessions are to be held in Strasbourg, while the Secretariat of the European Parliament are held in Luxembourg.
- The Council of the European Union
Also referred to as the Council of Ministers, the Council of the European Union is the highest decision making body of the EU and consists of 27 national ministers, one per state. Which ministers are attending the sessions, however, depends from the topic that is discussed. For example, if environment is discussed, the session will be attended by 27 ministers whose portfolio includes the environment. The Presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates between the member states every six months.
- The European Commission
The European Commission represents the interests of the Union and is intended to be above the national interests of member states. It consists of 26 Commissioners who are headed by the President of the European Commission. They are responsible for day-to-day running of the Union, for representing the EU abroad and initiating legislation. 26 Commissioners are nominated by the member states in consultation with the President. The latter is nominated by the Council and confirmed by the Parliament for a term of five years. The headquarters of the European Commission is the Berlaymont building in Brussels.