The European Parliamentarian as legislator in EuropeMay 1, 2018
Every five years since 1979, the citizens of the European Union have directly elected their representatives in the European Parliament by universal suffrage. Thus, on 13 June 2004, the French will elect 78 members to a new Assembly which will include 732 parliamentarians from 25 countries, including 99 Germans, 78 British, 78 Italians, 54 Spaniards and 54 Poles.
The role of the European parliamentarian
With increasingly important powers, MEPs influence all areas of daily life through their actions: The texts it adopts apply to the whole territory of the Union and have made it possible to obtain, for example, the adoption of stricter anti-pollution standards for fuels (unleaded petrol), the distribution of warnings on cigarette packs to indicate the dangers of tobacco, reinforced surveillance measures for the feeding of farm animals or the recognition of diplomas throughout the Union.
A new voting system was introduced in France for the June 2004 vote. Thanks to the division of the territory into 8 interregional constituencies (North-West, South-East, East, Massif-Central-Centre, South-West, Ile-de-France, West, Overseas), the MEP for France will be closer to his fellow citizens and will be able to be more attentive to their concerns.
The place of women is constantly increasing: 29.7% of women in 1999, 222 elected (including 39 French) against 16.5% in 1979.
What are the powers of a parliamentarian?
By mandate of his electors, the MEP exercises three kinds of powers: legislative, budgetary and control. It adopts most of the “European laws” (regulations and directives) in consultation with the Council of Ministers (entity representing the governments of each country) according to a so-called “co-decision” procedure. This rule currently covers 43 sectors of application of Community law, including health, environment and transport. The texts thus adopted shall apply directly or indirectly to the national territory. In some sectors, they represent up to 80% of the regulations applicable in France. Codecision could extend to 80 areas if the draft European Constitution is adopted, which would further considerably strengthen the power of Members. It approves or rejects the Union’s budget and the various European action programmes. It exercises a power of control over the activities of the European Commission, which it may overturn, and of the Council of Ministers by means of written and oral questions or by opening temporary committees of inquiry. This was the case during the “mad cow” crisis and resulted in
The creation of a European veterinary agency.
Relays at the service of European citizens
An essential link in the dialogue between the citizens and the European institutions, the Member’s task is to facilitate the direct expression of Europeans when it seems necessary. This is how the citizens of the Union have the possibility of exercising the right to petition. It allows them to refer their petitions to the European Parliament, provided, of course, that they fall within the scope of Community competence. The petition may take the form of a complaint or petition and may concern matters of public interest (for example, protection of ecological heritage) or private interest (such as recognition of pension rights). It is dealt with by the Committee on Petitions.
Furthermore, the’European Ombudsman’, established in 1995, is a person appointed by the European Parliament. Its function is to deal with complaints from European citizens concerning maladministration by Community institutions and bodies. The number of complaints to the Ombudsman rose from 1863 in 2001 to 2198 in 2002 and 2436 in 2003.
How an MEP works ?
Called upon to travel a lot, the European elected representative divides his time between Strasbourg, Brussels and his election territory. In Strasbourg, Parliament’s seat, he takes part in plenary sittings (one week a month). In Brussels, as in any elected parliamentary assembly, the MEP is above all a member of a political group, in which relations of influence and power are expressed in a traditional way. He takes part in the meetings of these political groups (one week per month). It is also in Brussels that he receives, to prepare his files, the representatives of the very numerous interest groups (lobbies) registered with the institutions of the Union. Among them: consumer associations, representatives of businesses, law firms, trade unions, NGOs (non-governmental organisations), etc. Full participants in the Community decision-making process, there are many of them in Brussels (over 4810) and they are accredited to the European Parliament. In addition, more than 1000 journalists based in Brussels follow their work. In total, around 10 000 people work in Brussels for these lobbies. In addition, for the past fifteen years or so, working and reflection groups have been formed around various themes such as “sport”, “forest”, “wine”… There are about 120. They are officially declared and provide an opportunity for informal exchange of ideas and information.
Committees: the heart of legislative work
Each Member is a member of at least one of the 17 standing parliamentary committees (of which there will be 20 in the next parliamentary term) and takes part in their work (two weeks a month). They are divided into sectors: agriculture, budget, industry, regional policy, culture, women’s rights. It is within these committees that the core legislative work is carried out. MEPs examine the draft directives and regulations proposed by the Commission (which is based in Brussels and has a monopoly on the initiative). They are also responsible for writing reports according to their field of expertise; thus the French wrote 173 reports between 1999 and 2004.
Public debates in plenary sessions
In Strasbourg, in the Chamber, Members may speak during plenary sittings either as rapporteurs for the committee of which they are members, or on behalf of their political groups, or in their personal capacity. Apart from the plenary sessions, there are “mini-sessions” which last two half-days and which are held in Brussels and this, within the limit of 6 per year. Members of the European Parliament may not vote by proxy: they must take part in the vote personally. The European Parliament is the only European institution where all debates are public
Political groups: multi-national formations
Once elected, MPs are grouped into political groups composed of several nationalities (see table). Before each vote in plenary, these groups examine reports from parliamentary committees and table amendments. They play a major role in setting the agenda for plenary sessions and in the choice of current affairs debates. The more a political group is large in number, the more weight it has to make its voice heard. Thus, benefits are awarded to larger groups on a “points” basis, with the right to speak and to take political initiative proportional to the size of the group. This rule allows them to benefit from technical means (staff, meeting room, budget for publications, translations) and access to positions of responsibility (vice-presidencies of the European Parliament, College of Quaestors, committee and delegation chairs and vice-presidencies, rapporteurs). So the larger the groups, the more influential their MPs are