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The European Parliament

European Parliament (Strasbourg), MAEE, F. de la Mure European Parliament (Strasbourg) MAEE, F. de la Mure

Originally, the European Parliamentary Assembly was established in 1958 as a consultative body that brought together Members of the national parliaments of the Member States. In 1962, the Assembly changed its name to "European Parliament". Since 1979, European Parliament members (MEPs) are elected by direct universal suffrage by European Union citizens. These elections are governed by proportional representation in all Member States. The European Parliament is elected every five years and contributes to drafting European legislation (directives, regulations, etc.) designed to improve the daily lives of European citizens.

How does the European Parliament work?

The European Parliament has its seat in Strasbourg where the twelve periods of monthly plenary sessions, including the budget session, are held. Additional plenary sessions are held in Brussels. The committees of the European Parliament meet in Brussels. The Secretariat of the European Parliament and its departments are based in Luxembourg.

The European Parliament is made up of 785 members, about one-third of whom are women, elected in the 27 Member States of the European Union. The next elections will be held in June 2009. On that occasion, the number of MEPs will be reduced to 750, plus the President, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon.

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MEPs are grouped by political affinity and not by nationality. There are currently 7 political groups in the European Parliament. Political groups are assigned places in the Chamber according to political affiliation, from left to right, and also according to their positions on European integration, from Federalists to Eurosceptics.

Breakdown of meps by country

The President of the European Parliament is elected for half the lifetime of a Parliament, i.e. a renewable term of two and a half years. The President represents the European Parliament vis-à-vis the European institutions, EU Member States and non-EU (third) States. Hans-Gert Pöttering was elected President of the European Parliament in January 2007.

MEPs meet in standing committees dealing with specific EU policy areas in order to define the positions to be voted on in plenary sessions. Subjects to be debated are also discussed in the political groups. During the monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg, the Parliament studies legislative proposals and may amend them before their adoption. The agenda may also include Council or Commission "statements", or topical issues relating to events taking place in the European Union or elsewhere in the world. The Parliament is empowered to vote resolutions on the basis of these statements.

In the European Parliament, all Community languages are equally important: all Parliamentary documents are published in all the official languages of the European Union and every MEP has the right to speak in his/her language. The budget of the European Parliament accounts for about 1% of the General Budget of the European Union. 

What does the European Parliament do?

The powers of the European Parliament (EP) have increased with successive revisions of the Treaties. The Parliament today is a co-legislator, has budgetary powers and exercises democratic controls over all European institutions.

The EP exercises legislative power which it shares with the Council of the European Union in many areas including transport, the environment and consumer protection when it adopts legislation. The EP can approve, amend or reject legislative proposals presented by the European Commission. This is known as the codecision procedure introduced by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and extended and revised by all the following Treaties. Two legislative acts in three are hence adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

The EP exercises budgetary power and together with the Council of the European Union they constitute the Union's budgetary authority. The European Parliament thus decides each year on Union expenditure and revenue. Following a specific procedure involving the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, the latter can adopt or reject the budget proposed by the European Commission.

The EP exercises parliamentary control over European institutions, notably over the Commission. The Parliament approves or rejects the appointment of the President of the Commission proposed by the Member States. It can also approve or reject the designation of Commissioners and is empowered to dismiss the College of Commissioners as a whole on the basis of a motion of censure. The Parliament can supervise the "Comitology" process and is empowered to express disagreement with Commission and/or Council proposals regarded as extending beyond the scope of their implementing powers. The Parliament also exercises democratic control over European Union activities through the right of citizens to submit petitions to the Parliament, investigations by the committees of inquiry, the right to bring actions before the Court of Justice of the European Communities, and financial control.

  • Updated: 25.06.2008
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