A directorate-general (DG) is the main administrative unit to be found within the principal European Union institutions, namely the European Commission, Council of Ministers and European Parliament. (The European Council is serviced administratively by the secretariat of the Council of Ministers).

Within the European Commission, each Commissioner is responsible for one or more directorates-general, of which there are at present 33 (listed below). The DGs, which vary considerably in size, are each headed by a director-general and sub-divided into directorates and units. Most are dedicated to particular areas of domestic or external policy. Under deals struck on the seats of the EU institutions, they are located predominantly in Brussels, with a small minority in Luxembourg. In addition to its DGs, the Commission has ten horizontal services – notably the secretariat general, the legal service and the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (the Commission’s internal think tank) – as well as (since 2005) half a dozen executive agencies tasked with the management of certain EU programmes.

Until 1999, the Commission’s DGs were numbered (DG I, DG II, DG III and so on), but this was widely thought to make their respective functions unintelligible except to experts. Following a modest consolidation of DGs undertaken by Commission President Romano Prodi, they are now known by their names, like national governmental departments. However, rather confusingly, they also have short acronyms, based on their titles in various languages. The structure of DGs may be reorganised by internal decision of the Commission, with the most recent changes in May 2012.

Internal Policy DGs

Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI); Climate Action (CLIM); Communications Networks, Content and Technology (CNECT); Competition (COMP); Economic and Financial Affairs (ECFIN); Education and Culture (EAC); Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (EMPL); Energy (ENER); Enterprise and Industry (ENTR); Environment (ENV); Health and Consumers (SANCO); Home Affairs (HOME); Internal Market and Services (MARKT); Joint Research Centre (JRC); Justice (JUST); Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MARE); Mobility and Transport (MOVE); Regional Policy (REGIO); Research and Innovation (RTD); Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD).

External Policy DGs

Enlargement (ELARG); EuropeAid Development and Cooperation (DEVCO); Foreign Policy Instruments Service (FPI); Humanitarian Aid (ECHO); Trade (TRADE).

Horizontal DGs

Budget (BUDG); Communication (COMM); Eurostat (ESTAT); Human Resources and Security (HR); Informatics (DIGIT); Interpretation (SCIC); Secretariat General (SG); Translation (DGT).

Other Horizontal Services

Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA); European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF); European Commission Data Protection Officer (EDPO); European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO); Internal Audit Service (IAS); Legal Service (SJ); Office for Administration and Payment of Individual Entitlements (PMO); Office for Infrastructure and Logistics -Brussels(OIB); Office for Infrastructure and Logistics -Luxembourg  (OIL); Publications Office of the European Union (OP)

Executive Agencies

Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA); European Research Council Executive Agency (ERC); Executive Agency for Competitiveness and Innovation (EACI); Executive Agency for Health and Consumers (EAHC); Research Executive Agency (REA); Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency (TEN-T EA).

The general secretariat of the European Parliament comprises ten directorates-general, together with a legal service. The most important DGs politically are DG Presidency (PRES), which handles plenary business and a variety of horizontal functions, DG Internal Policy (IPOL), which organises the activities of the Parliament’s 17 committees in the domestic policy field, and DG External Policy (EXPO), which does the same for its three external committees and 40 delegations with parliaments around the world. Any restructuring of DGs within the Parliament has to be approved by its Bureau, which is responsible for the allocation of staff and financial resources.

The general secretariat of the Council of Ministers boasts eight directorates-general – known as DGs A to I – together with a legal service. Six of the eight DGs deal with policy, whilst two perform horizontal tasks, as do a range of other services attached to the Secretary General. A number of more political services in the field of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – notably the EU Military Staff (EUMS), Situation Centre (SITCEN) and Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC) – were located in the Council secretariat until their transfer to the new European External Action Service (EEAS) in December 2010.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry


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