EU law and budget: a video guide
The EU has a reputation for being slow and cumbersome - largely because of the difficulty of getting agreement among 28 member states with different languages and traditions.
Here BBC Europe correspondent Matthew Price gives a video guide to the complex bargaining that results in new EU laws and the EU budget.
The right to initiate legislation in the EU belongs to the European Commission - the union's civil service and rule-enforcer.
Usually Commission proposals go through many amendments before becoming law - a process that takes years.
In most policy areas the Council of Ministers - representing EU governments - and the European Parliament reach joint decisions through negotiation. Their role is called "the ordinary legislative procedure". During their negotiations they come under pressure from lobby groups, for example industrial firms or environmentalists.
Often EU laws arise because national governments and MEPs tell the Commission that there is a need for them. Public consultations, scientific research and impact assessments also feed into the legislation.
Once a measure becomes EU law the member states have two years to adopt it nationally - "transpose" it, in the jargon. The Commission can fine them for failure to do so.
The budget is one of the most contentious policy areas among the member states, whose priorities differ greatly. The 2013 EU budget is 132.8bn euros (£113bn; $178bn).
The size of the budget has to be decided annually, but there is also a seven-year budget framework, agreed in advance so that money can be set aside for long-term projects.
This year for the first time EU leaders agreed to cut the multi-year budget (for 2014-2020), under pressure from the UK and some other countries, including the Netherlands and Sweden.
The eurozone crisis has exacerbated tensions in the budget negotiations. Net contributors to the budget - the richer countries including the UK - argue that it should reflect the tough austerity policies adopted nationally. But net beneficiaries, such as the new member states in Central and Eastern Europe, oppose EU cuts to key areas like agriculture and infrastructure projects.
EU spending is a small fraction of what the national governments spend in total, but those governments have to pay for big public sector areas like education and health, which are largely outside the EU's remit.