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European Parliament


Established1952, as the Common AssemblyPresidentAntonio TajaniVice-Presidents14Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou (EPP)
Alejo Vidal-Quadras (EPP)
Gérard Onesta (Greens - EFA)
Edward McMillan-Scott (ED)
Mario Mauro (EPP)
Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez (PES)
Luigi Cocilovo (ALDE)
Mechtild Rothe (PES)
Luisa Morgantini (EUL-NGL)
Pierre Moscovici (PES)
Manuel António Dos Santos (PES)
Diana Wallis (ALDE)
Marek Siwiec (PES)
Adam Bielan (UEN)Political groups8EPP-ED (227)
PES (218)
ALDE (105)
UEN (44)
Greens - EFA (42)
EUL-NGL (21)
ID (23)
ITS (21)
Non-Inscrits (14)Committees22Budgets
Budgetary Control
Economic & Monetary Affairs
Employment and Social Affairs
Environment, Public Health & Food Safety
Industry, Research & Energy
Internal Market & Consumer Protection
Transport & Tourism
Regional Development
Agriculture & Rural Development
Culture & Education
Legal Affairs
Civil Liberties, Justice & Home Affairs
Constitutional Affairs
Women's Rights & Gender Equality
Foreign Affairs
- Human Rights (Sub)
- Security & Defence (Sub)
International TradeLast electionJanuary 18, 2017Meeting placeStrasbourg and BrusselsSecretariatLuxembourg and BrusselsWebsiteeuroparl.europa.eu

The European Parliament (Europarl or EP) is the directly elected parliamentary body of the European Union (EU). Together with the Council of the European Union (the Council), it forms the bicameral legislative branch of the Union's institutions and has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world.1 The Parliament and Council form the highest legislative body within the Union. However their powers as such are limited to the competencies conferred upon the European Community by member states. Hence the institution has little control over policy areas held by the states and within the other two of the three pillars of the European Union. The Parliament is composed of 785 MEPs (Member of the European Parliament) who serve the second largest democratic electorate in the world (after India) and the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world (492 million).2

It has been directly elected every five years by universal suffrage since 1979. Although the European Parliament has legislative power that such bodies as those above do not possess, it does not have legislative initiative like most national parliaments. While it is the "first institution" of the European Union (mentioned first in the treaties, having ceremonial precedence over all authority at European level), the Council has greater powers over legislation than the Parliament where codecision procedure (equal rights of amendment and rejection) does not apply. It has, however, had control over the EU budget since the 1970s and has a veto over the appointment of the European Commission.

The European Parliament has two meeting places, namely the Immeuble Louise Weiss in Strasbourg, France, which serves for plenary sessions and is the official seat and the Espace Léopold/Leopoldwijk complex in Brussels, Belgium, the smaller of the two, which serves for preparatory meetings and complementary, non-plenary sessions. The cost of having all MEPs and their staff moving several times a year from one place to another has been of concern to some. The Secretariat of the European Parliament, the Parliament's administrative body, is based in Luxembourg.3

The President of the European Parliament (its speaker) presides over a multi-party chamber, the two largest groups being the European People's Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) and the Party of European Socialists (PES).


The Parliament, like the other institutions, was not designed in its current form when it first met on September 10, 1952. One of the oldest common institutions, it began as the "Common Assembly" of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). It was a consultative assembly of 78 parliamentarians drawn from the national parliaments of member states, having no legislative powers. This change since its foundation was highlighted by Professor David Farrell of the University of Manchester:1

For much of its life, the European Parliament could have been justly labelled a 'multi-lingual talking shop'. But this is no longer the case: the EP is now one of the most powerful legislatures in the world both in terms of its legislative and executive oversight powers.

Its development since its foundation is testament to the evolution of the Union's structures without one clear "master plan." Some such as Tom Reid of the Washington Post said of the Union, "nobody would have deliberately designed a government as complex and as redundant as the EU."4 Even the Parliament's two seats, which have switched several times, is a result of various agreements or lack of agreements.

Consultative assembly

The body was not mentioned in the original Schuman Declaration, it was instead proposed by Jean Monnet on the second day of negotiations as an institution which would counterbalance and monitor the executive while providing democratic legitimacy. The wording of the ECSC Treaty demonstrated the leaders desire for more than a normal consultative assembly by using the term "representatives of the people" and allowed for direct election. Its early importance was highlighted when the Assembly was given the task of drawing up the draft treaty to establish a European Political Community. In this the "Ad Hoc" Assembly was established with extra members but after the failure of the proposed European Defence Community their project was dropped.

Despite this the European Economic Community and Euratom were established in 1958 by the Treaties of Rome. The Common Assembly was shared by all three communities (which had separate executives) and it renamed itself the "European Parliamentary Assembly." The three communities merged in 1967 and the body was renamed to the current "European Parliament" in 1962. In 1970 the Parliament was granted power over areas the Community's budget, which were expanded to the whole budget in 1975.

Under the Rome Treaties, the Parliament should have become elected. However the Council did not put in place the necessary agreements and only did so after the Parliament threatened to take the Council to the European Court of Justice. However, the Council did not agree on the envisaged uniform voting system.5

Elected Parliament

In 1979, its members were directly elected for the first time. This set it apart from similar institutions such as those of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or Pan-African Parliament which are appointed. After that first election, the parliament held its first session on July 11, 1979, electing Simone Veil MEP as its President. Veil was also the first female President of the Parliament since it was formed as the Common Assembly.

The Parliament quickly made use of its legitimacy. For example in 1984, inspired by its 6 Since the election the membership of the European Parliament has simply expanded whenever new nations have joined (the membership was also adjusted upwards in 1994 after German reunification). Following this the Treaty of Nice imposed a cap on the number of members to be elected-732.

Like the other institutions, the Parliament's seat was not yet fixed. The provisional arrangements placed Parliament in Strasbourg, while the Commission and Council had their seats in Brussels. In 1985 the Parliament, wishing to be closer to these institutions, built a second chamber in Brussels and moved some of its work there despite protests from some states. A final agreement was eventually reached by the European Council in 1992. It stated the Parliament would remain in Strasbourg but must also hold part sessions in Brussels. This two seat arrangement was contested by Parliament but was later enshrined in the Treaty of Amsterdam. To this day the institution's locations are a source of contention.

Recent history

The Parliament had been gaining more powers from successive treaties, namely through the extension of codecision procedure, and in 1999, the Parliament forced the resignation of the Santer Commission.7 The Parliament had refused to approve the Community budget over allegations of fraud and miss-management in the Commission. The two main parties took on a government-opposition dynamic for the first time during the crisis which ended in the Commission resigning on mass, the first of any forced resignation, in the face of an impending censure from the Parliament.8

In 2004, following the largest trans-national election in history, despite the European Council choosing a President from the largest political group (the EPP), the Parliament again exerted pressure on the Commission. During the Parliament's hearings of the proposed Commissioners MEPs raised doubts about some nominees with the Civil liberties committee, rejecting Rocco Buttiglione from the post of Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security over his views on homosexuality. That was the first time the Parliament had ever voted against an incoming Commissioner and despite Barroso's insistence upon Buttiglione the Parliament forced Buttiglione to be withdrawn. A number of other Commissioners also had to be withdrawn or reassigned before Parliament allowed the Barroso Commission to take office.

In addition to the extension of codecision, the Parliament's democratic mandate has given it greater control over legislation against the other institutions. In voting on the Bolkestein directive in 2006, the Parliament voted by a large majority for over 400 amendments that changed the fundamental principle of the law. The Financial Times described it in the following terms:9

The European parliament has suddenly come into its own. It marks another shift in power between the three central EU institutions. Last week's vote suggests that the directly elected MEPs, in spite of their multitude of ideological, national and historical allegiances, have started to coalesce as a serious and effective EU institution, just as enlargement has greatly complicated negotiations inside both the Council and Commission.

In 2007, for the first time, Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini included Parliament in talks on the second Schengen Information System even though MEPs only needed to be consulted on parts of the package. After that experiment, Frattini indicated he would like to include Parliament in all justice and criminal matters, informally pre-empting the new powers they would gain in 2009 under the Lisbon Treaty.10

Powers and functions

The Parliament and Council are essentially two chambers in the bicameral legislative branch of the European Union, with legislative power officially distributed equally between both chambers. However there are some differences from national legislatures; for example, neither the Parliament nor Council have the power of legislative initiative. In Community matters, this is a power uniquely reserved for the European Commission (the executive). While Parliament can amend and reject legislation, and make a proposal for legislation, it needs the Commission to draft a bill before anything can become law.11

The Parliament also has indirect influence, through non-binding resolutions and committee hearings, as a "pan-European soapbox" with the ear of thousands of Brussels-based journalists. There is also an indirect effect on foreign policy; the Parliament must approve all development grants, including those overseas. For example, the support for post-war Iraq reconstruction, or incentives for the cessation of Iranian nuclear development, must be supported by the Parliament. Parliamentary support was also required for the transatlantic passenger data-sharing deal with the United States.12

Legislative procedure

The Parliament's hemicycle (debating chamber) in Strasbourg

With each new treaty, the powers of the Parliament have expanded. Its powers have been primarily defined through the Union's legislative procedures. The method which has slowly become the dominant procedure (about three-quarters of policy areas) is the Codecision procedure, where powers are essentially equal between Parliament and Council. Codecision provides an equal footing between the two bodies. Under the procedure, the Commission presents a proposal to Parliament and the Council. They then send amendments to the Council, which can either adopt the text with those amendments or send back a "common position." That proposal may either be approved or further amendments may be tabled by the Parliament. If the Council does not approve these, then a "Conciliation Committee" is formed. The Committee is composed of the Council members plus an equal number of MEPs who seek to agree a common position. Once a position is agreed, it has to be approved by Parliament, again by an absolute majority.13 In addition to codecision, the Parliament's mandate as the only directly democratic institution has given it leeway to have greater control over legislation than other institutions, for example over its changes to the Bolkestein directive in 2006.9

Other procedures include: Cooperation, meaning the Council can overrule the Parliament if it is unanimous; Consultation, which requires just consultation of the Parliament; and Assent procedure, where the Parliament has a veto. The Commission and Council, or just Commission, can also act completely independently of the Parliament, but the use of these procedures are very limited. The procedure also depends upon which type of institutional act is being used. The strongest act is a regulation, an act or law which is directly applicable in its entirety. Then there are directives which bind members to certain goals which they must achieve. They do this through their own laws and hence have room to maneuver in deciding upon them. A decision is an instrument which is focused at a particular person/group and is directly applicable. Institutions may also issue recommendations and opinions which are merely non-binding, declarations. There is a further document which does not follow normal procedures; this is a "written declaration" which is similar to an early day motion used in the Westminster system. It is a document proposed by up to five MEPs on a matter within the EU's activities used to launch a debate on that subject. Having been posted outside the entrance to the hemicycle, members can sign the declaration and if a majority do so it is forwarded to the President and announced to the plenary before being forwarded to the other institutions and formally noted in the minutes.


The legislative branch officially holds the Union's budgetary authority, powers gained through the Budgetary Treaties of the 1970s. The EU's budget is divided into compulsory and non-compulsory spending. Compulsory spending is that resulting from EU treaties (including agriculture) and international agreements; the rest is non-compulsory. While the Council has the last word on compulsory spending, the Parliament has the last word on non-compulsory spending.

The institutions draw up budget estimates and the Commission consolidates them into a draft budget. Both the Council and the Parliament can amend the budget with the Parliament adopting or rejecting the budget at its second reading. The signature of the Parliament's president is required before the budget becomes law.

The Parliament is also responsible for discharging the implementation of 145

Control of the executive

The President of the European Commission is proposed by the Council (in practice by the European Council) and that proposal has to be approved by the Parliament (by a simple majority), essentially giving the Parliament a veto but not propose the head of the executive. Following the approval of the Commission President, the members of the Commission are proposed by the President in accord with the member-states. Each Commissioner comes before a relevant parliamentary committee hearing covering the proposed portfolio. They are then, as a body, approved or rejected by the Parliament.6 In practice, the Parliament has never voted against a President or his Commission, but it did seem likely when the Barroso Commission was put forward. The resulting pressure forced the proposal to be withdrawn and changed to be more acceptable to parliament.15 That pressure was seen as an important sign by some of the evolving nature of the Parliament and its ability to make the Commission accountable, rather than being a rubber stamp for candidates. Furthermore, in voting on the Commission, MEPs also voted along party lines, rather than national lines, despite frequent pressure from national governments on their MEPs. This cohesion and willingness to use the Parliament's power ensured greater attention from national leaders, other institutions and the public, who previously gave the lowest ever turnout for the Parliament's elections.16

The Parliament also has the power to censure the Commission if they have a two-thirds majority which will force the resignation of the entire Commission from office. As with approval, this power has never been used but it was threatened to the Santer Commission, who subsequently resigned of their own accord. There are a few other controls, such as: the requirement of Commission to submit reports to the Parliament and answer questions from MEPs, the requirement of the President-in-office of the European Council to present their program at the start of their presidency, the right of MEPs to make proposals for legislation and policy to the Commission and Council, and the right to question members of those institutions (e.g. "Commission Question Time" every Tuesday).6

Supervisory powers

The Parliament also has other powers of general supervision, mainly granted by the Maastricht Treaty.17 The Parliament has the power to set up a Committee of Inquiry, for example over mad cow disease or CIA detention flights-the former led to the creation of the European veterinary agency. The Parliament can call other institutions to answer questions and if necessary to take them to court if they break EU law or treaties. Furthermore it has powers over the appointment of the members of the Court of Auditors18 and the president and executive board of the European Central Bank. The ECB president is also obliged to present an annual report to the parliament.

The European Ombudsman is elected by the Parliament, who deals with public complaints against all institutions. Petitions can also be brought forward by any EU citizen on a matter within the EU's sphere of activities. The Committee on Petitions hears cases, some 1,500 each year, sometimes presented by the citizen themselves at the Parliament. While the Parliament attempts to resolve the issue as a mediator they do resort to legal proceedings if it is necessary to resolve the citizens dispute.19


The parliamentarians are known in English as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). They are elected every five years by universal adult suffrage and sit according to political allegiance, about a third are women. Prior to 1979 they were appointed by their national parliaments. The number now stands at 751, with each member state having at least six and at most 96 MEPs.

As states are allocated seats according to population, the total number of MEPs should be 732; however, after January 1, 2007 there were 785 MEPs. This was due to the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, as the allocation of seats does not take into account members that join mid-term. Under the existing rules the number of members would have been reduced again to 732 following the 2009 election20 however the rules were due to be changed under the Lisbon Treaty. Instead, there would be 751 members, however the President would no longer be counted as a voting member once in office so in practice there would be 750 members.21 In addition, the maximum number of seats allocated to a state would be lowered to ninety-six, from the current ninety-nine, and the minimum number of seats would be raised to six, from the current five. These seats are distributed according to "degressive proportionality," meaning that the larger the state, the more citizens that are represented per MEP.

Before 2009, members received the same salary as members of their national parliament. However, from 2009 a new members statute came into force, after years of attempts, which gave all members an equal monthly pay, of 8,020.53 euro each in 2014, subject to a European Union tax and which can also be taxed nationally. MEPs are entitled to a pension, paid by Parliament, from the age of 63. Members are also entitled to allowances for office costs and subsistence, and traveling expenses, based on actual cost In addition to their pay, members are granted a number of privileges and immunities. To ensure their free movement to and from the Parliament they are accorded by their own states the facilities accorded to senior officials traveling abroad, and by other state governments the facilities of visiting foreign representatives. When in their own state they have all the immunities accorded to national parliamentarians, and in other states they have immunity from detention and legal proceedings. However immunity cannot be claimed when a member is found committing a criminal offense. The Parliament also has the right to strip a member of their immunity.22

Political groups

MEPs in Parliament are organized into seven different parliamentary groups, including fifteen non-attached members known as non-inscrits. The two largest groups are the European People's Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) and the Party of European Socialists (PES). These two groups have dominated the Parliament for much of its life, continuously holding between 50 and 70 percent of the seats together. No single group has ever held a majority in Parliament.23

Groups are often based around a single European political party such as the socialist group. However they can include more than one European party as well as national parties and independents, like the liberal group. For a group to be recognized, it needs 20 MEPs from six different countries. Once recognized groups receive financial subsidies from the parliament and guaranteed seats on Committees, creating an incentive for the formation of groups. However some controversy occurred with the establishment of the Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) due to its ideology; the members of the group are far-right, so there were concerns about public funds going towards such a group. There were attempts to change the rules to block the formation of ITS, however that never came to fruition. They were, however, blocked from gaining leading positions on committees-a right that is meant to be afforded to all parties.24 When this group engaged in infighting, causing the withdrawal of some members, its size fell below the recognizable limit causing its collapse.25

Grand coalition

Given that the Parliament does not form the government in the traditional sense of a Parliamentary system, its politics have developed along more consensual lines rather than majority rule of competing parties and coalitions. For much of its life it has been dominated by a grand coalition of the People's Party and Socialist Party. The two major parties tend to co-operate to find a compromise between their two groups leading to proposals endorsed by huge majorities. However, there have been some occasions where real party politics have emerged, like the resignation of the Santer Commission;8

When the initial allegations against the Commission emerged, they were directed primarily against Édith Cresson and Manuel Marín, both socialist members. When the parliament was considering refusing to discharge the Community budget, President Jacques Santer stated that a "no vote" would be tantamount to a vote of no confidence. PES supported the Commission and saw the issue as an attempt by the EPP to discredit their party ahead of the 1999 elections. PES leader, Pauline Green MEP, attempted a vote of confidence and the EPP put forward counter motions. During this period the two parties took on similar roles to a government-opposition dynamic, with PES supporting the executive and EPP renouncing its 8 Politicization such as this has been increasing, in 2007 Simon Hix of the London School of Economics noted that;1

Our work also shows that politics in the European Parliament is becoming increasingly based around party and ideology. Voting is increasingly split along left-right lines, and the cohesion of the party groups has risen dramatically, particularly in the fourth and fifth parliaments. So there are likely to be policy implications here too.

During the fifth term, 1999 to 2004, there was a break in the grand coalition resulting in in a center-right coalition between the Liberal and People's parties.26 This was reflected in the Presidency of the Parliament with the terms being shared between the EPP and the ELDR, rather than the EPP and PES.27


Election results by European party, 1979 to 2004

Elections have taken place, directly in every member-state, every five years since 1979. Occasionally, when a member joins mid-term, a by-election will be held to elect their members. This has happened four times, the last time was when Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007 (see below). Elections take place across several days according to local custom and, aside from having to be proportional, the electoral system is chosen by the member-state. This includes allocation of sub-national constituencies; while most members have a national list, some, like the UK and France, divide their allocation between regions. Seats are allocated to member-states according to their population, with no state having more than 99, but no fewer than 5, in order to maintain proportionality.

The proportion of MEPs elected in 2004 who were female was 30.2 percent; in 1979 it was just 16.5 percent. There were a number of proposals to "dress up" the 2009 elections to attract greater public attention to them. These included most notably the idea of linking them more closely to the Commission presidency. This would be by having political parties running with candidates for the job, so the largest party would essentially be forming the government, as in the parliamentary system of government. It is hoped such changes would add legitimacy and counter the falling turnout2829 which had dropped consistently every year since the first election; from 1999 it has been below 50 percent.


The hemicycle in Brussels

Each year the activities of the Parliament cycle between committee weeks where reports are discussed in committees and interparliamentary delegations meet, political group weeks for members to discuss work within their political groups and session weeks where members spend three days in Strasbourg for part-sessions. In addition six two-day part-sessions are organized in Brussels throughout the year. Four weeks are allocated as constituency week to allow members to do exclusively constituency work. Finally there are no meetings planned during the summer weeks. The Parliament has the power to meet without being convened by another authority. Its meetings are partly controlled by the treaties but are otherwise up to Parliament according to its own "Rules of Procedure" (the regulations governing the parliament).30

During sessions, members may speak after being called on by the President, with a time limit of one minute. Members of the Council or Commission may also attend and speak in debates.3132 Voting is conducted primarily by a show of hands, that may be checked on request by electronic voting.33 Votes of MEPs are not recorded in either case however, that only occurs when there is a roll-call ballot. Each MEP in turn is called by name, in alphabetical order, to state their support or opposition. This is a historical system used when the Parliament was much smaller in membership and is rarely used now. Votes can also be a completely secret ballot (for example when the President is elected). All recorded votes, along with minutes and legislation, are recorded in the Official Journal of the European Union and can be accessed online.

Members are arranged in a hemicycle according to their political groups who are ordered mainly by left to right, but some smaller groups are placed towards the outer ring of the Parliament. All desks are equipped with microphones, headphones for translation and electronic voting equipment. The leaders of the groups sit on the front benches at the center, and in the very center is a podium for guest speakers. The remaining half of the circular chamber is primarily composed of the raised area where the President and staff sit. Further benches are provided between the sides of this area and the MEPs, these are taken up by the Council on the far left and the Commission on the far right. Both the Brussels and Strasbourg hemicycle roughly follow this layout with only minor differences. With access to the chamber limited, entrance is controlled by ushers who aid MEPs in the chamber (for example in del