The European ParliamentMay 1, 2018
It examines proposals for European directives and regulations which it accepts, modifies or refuses. It controls the European Commission, which it can overturn by a motion of censure. It votes the Community budget. Its 626 members (including 87 for France) are directly elected by European citizens for a 5-year term. The seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg.
The European Parliament’s missions
The European Parliament represents the 374 million inhabitants of the Member States of the European Union. The only institution of the European Union directly elected by the citizens, it contributes to the drafting of European legislation and to the management of the European Union alongside the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. It develops reflection on social problems and, through its own-initiative resolutions, provides political impetus.
Like any Parliament, the European Parliament exercises three fundamental powers:
It adopts Community legislation. On this point, it shares decision-making power with the Council of the European Union. A Community law shall be declared void if the obligation to consult Parliament is not fulfilled. The European Parliament’s legislative power is exercised according to four different procedures depending on the nature of the proposal in question:
simple consultation: it gives an advisory opinion, for example, on agricultural pricing;
cooperation procedure: where Parliament’s opinion at first reading has not been taken into account in the Council’s common position, Parliament may reject the proposal at second reading. The Council can then overrule Parliament’s position only unanimously. This procedure has become the exception since the implementation of the Amsterdam Treaty;
co-decision procedure: if the Council has not taken Parliament’s position into account in its common position, Parliament may prevent the proposal from being adopted. The Amsterdam Treaty extended this procedure to some 40 areas and reduced it to two readings;
assent: Parliament’s opinion must be respected for the conclusion of association agreements with third countries and for the accession of new Member States.
the European Parliament may, within certain limits, amend the breakdown and amount of so-called non-compulsory expenditure (administrative expenditure of the institutions and operational expenditure of the European Union budget). For example, appropriations from the ESF, ERDF, for research, industrial policy, etc.). Parliament may also propose changes to compulsory expenditure (arising from the Treaty, in particular CAP-related expenditure), but in this case the Council of the European Union takes the final decision.
Parliament adopts the final budget of the European Union (usually in December each year). He can reject it en bloc (this has already happened twice).
Political control of the European institutions
Debates that give rise to votes on resolutions;
Written or oral questions to the Commission, the Council and the Conference of Foreign Ministers;
Approval of the appointment of the President of the European Commission and the Commissioners;
The overthrow of the European Commission by the vote of a motion of censure (by a 2/3 majority of the votes);
The power to ask the Commission to submit a proposal to the Council (power of initiative);
the power to set up, at the request of one quarter of its members, a temporary committee of inquiry to examine any infringements or cases of maladministration in the application of Community law. For example, a temporary committee investigated the delays in European intervention on mad cow disease;
The right of appeal to the Court of Justice of the European Communities;
The European Parliament receives petitions from any citizen on a matter which is of direct concern to the European Union;
The European Ombudsman, elected by the European Parliament for a 5-year term, examines citizens’ complaints against Community institutions or bodies.
With the Treaty of Amsterdam, which entered into force on 1 May 1999, the powers of the European Parliament are strengthened:
The co-decision procedure is considerably extended and simplified;
The number of Members is limited to 700, including future enlargements, and the European Parliament is preparing a draft uniform voting procedure for Members of the European Parliament in the Member States.
The Role of the European Parliament
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, 54 Poles….
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
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 the MEP?
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 led to the creation of a European veterinary agency.
relays at the service of European citizensrelays 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 (e.g. protection of ecological heritage) or of private interest (e.g. recognition of pension rights) and 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, etc. 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, etc.) 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.
Function and organization
The European Parliament sits in plenary session one week a month in Strasbourg. Between each monthly session, two weeks are devoted to the specialised standing working committees in which MEPs sit and one week to the meetings of the political groups in Brussels.
The first election by direct universal suffrage was held in June 1979. No provision yet organises a common electoral procedure for the 15 Member States of the European Union. Only fixed items: the term of office of Members (5 years); the number of Members elected in each State (87 for France) and the timetable for the elections (the last took place on 13 June 1999).
Any citizen of the European Union may vote or stand as a candidate in European elections in the country where he resides, even if he is not a national of that country.
The composition of Parliament
There are currently 626 MEPs elected by direct universal suffrage by the citizens of their country. Large countries have more seats than small ones. Parliament is organised into political groups: Members do not group together by national delegations but by political affinity according to the national parties to which they belong.
In anticipation of enlargement, the Treaty of Nice set a maximum number of 732 elected representatives.
The Bureau of Parliament, composed of the President and 14 Vice-Presidents elected for two and a half years, heads the institution. The Conference of Presidents (the President of Parliament and the chairmen of the political groups) sets the agenda for the sessions.
Standing committees prepare the work of the plenary sessions: legal and citizens’ rights; employment and social affairs; regional policy; transport and tourism; environment, public health and consumer protection; culture, youth, education and media; development and cooperation; public freedoms and home affairs.
In addition to these standing committees, Parliament may also set up subcommittees, temporary committees dealing with specific problems, or committees of inquiry.
The seat of the Parliament is in Strasbourg where the 12 plenary sessions are held. Additional sessions are held in Brussels. The General Secretariat is located in Luxembourg. Offices represent the Parliament in each Member State.