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The European Union and its institutions

More than 450 legal instruments — in the form of regulations, directives and so on — have been adopted by the European Union in the field of environmental protection.

The European Commission is the executive arm of the European Union. It has three key roles: to develop policy initiatives; to enforce EU legislation; and to implement and manage EU policy, including responsibility for the EU's budget.

Besides the environment, areas of interest in the Commission's work include education, health, consumer affairs, trans-European networks, research & development, culture, and economic & monetary union.

All major decisions affecting the EU are made by the Council of Ministers (government ministers from each of the 15 member states), usually in 'co-decision' with the European Parliament in Strasbourg. When the Commission has drafted a policy, it is presented to the Parliament and Council for approval, then the three institutions work together to deliver a result.

As part of the process of developing new legislation, the Commission consults widely with, among others, national governments, interest groups, industry and technical experts.

The Council of Ministers can amend a piece of draft legislation put forward by the Commission. However, if the Commission is unhappy with the change, the proposed amendment needs unanimously agreement to pass.

The Commission is based in Brussels and employs around 15,000 people. It has 20 commissioners, typically senior figures who have held government office in one of the member states.

There are 36 directorates-general, each headed by a director-general. Each commissioner is responsible for one or more of these directorates.

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