About the European Parliament
In simple terms, the European Parliament is where MEPs debate and vote on European Legislation, just like MPs in the House of Commons debate and vote on national legislation.
The Parliament is the democratic arm of the EU, with each country holding an election for citizens to choose who they wish to represent them. The last European elections were held in May 2014 and the current number of MEPs sits at 751. There are currently 73 UK members and the Conservatives have 20 MEPs.
To see a breakdown of MEPs by country and political party click here:
The parliament’s role is to legislate in areas that are not the sole concern of national governments. For example, how we organise our education system and regulate our system of tax is clearly a matter for national parliaments. MEPs look at proposals by the European Commission in areas such as the environment, consumer protection, safety standards and the functioning of the single market. Not all MEPs agree with some of the areas the parliament can legislate in and it is their job to fight against proposals they feel are detrimental to their country. MEPs can do this by amending proposals and acting as an early warning system for their national parliament. This link between the European and national parliaments is important because, since the Treaty of Lisbon came into force in 2009, legislative decisions are adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the European Council. The Council of Ministers is composed of ministers from national governments.
So to re-cap… MEPs sit in the European Parliament (EP) and are democratically elected by the 28 Member States that make up the EU. The European Commission has the power of initiation and is headed by a College of 28 Commissioners, one from each member state, each responsible for different policy areas and each chosen by their national government. The Commission produces proposals and working documents for debate by the Parliament and Council. The Council is composed of ministers from national governments. The parliament’s final agreement is needed for legislation to be adopted.
The Work of the European Parliament
Each MEP sits on at least one main committee and holds a substitute seat on a secondary committee. This allows them to develop expertise in particular policy areas and deal more efficiently with proposals. With each proposal MEPs will consider how it affects their country as a whole and in particular the region they were elected to represent. MEPs will discuss the proposals with their own delegation and with MEPs from the political Group their delegation is aligned with. For example, the British Conservatives are currently grouped together with other euro-realist parties from across the EU under the membership of the ECR – European Conservatives and Reformists Group. It is the case that national delegations do not always agree with the wider political Group. When it comes to voting, the Whips Office of a delegation (responsible for keeping check on voting records) will produce a separate voting list from that of the Group for MEPs to follow.
The ECR is the third largest Group in the European Parliament with 73 MEPs.
European Peoples Party (EPP) is the largest Group – 218 MEPs
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – 189 MEPs
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) – 70 MEPs
Confederal Group of the European United Left (GUE) – 52 MEPs
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (Green) – 50 MEPs
Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) – 45 MEPs
Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) – 37 MEPs
The ECR Group is made up of MEPs from 17 different member states; Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia and the UK.
All members of the Group believe in a “euro-realist” approach to EU affairs and that a non-federalist centre/centre right Group in the European Parliament is a good thing for European democracy.
For more information please visit:
History of the European Parliament
Since the Enlargement of the EU in 2004 to incorporate 10 countries from Central and Eastern Europe, the arrival of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and the accession of Croatia in 2013 each committee and political group has grown in size. To make room for these new MEPs, existing member states had their allocation of seats in the European Parliament reduced. The UK’s allocation in 2004 was adjusted to 78 seats and was further reduced in 2009 to 73.
Initially the EU was composed of just 6 countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Denmark, Ireland and the UK joined in 1973; Greece in 1981; Spain and Portugal in 1986; Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995; Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Malta and the Czech Republic in 2004 and Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. The EU now consists of 28 member states, after Croatia joined in July 2013.
The European Parliament’s powers have increased with each treaty change. Treaties are agreements or contracts that bind the member states of the EU to its content. To change what is written in a treaty, each member state must agree.
We can see the development of the EU and the Parliament’s powers through the following Treaties:
1952 European Coal & Steel Community Treaty
1958 European Economic Community Treaty; European Atomic Energy Community Treaty (Treaties from 1952 to 1958 are often called the Founding Treaties).
1986 Single European Act – Established the present procedure that requires Parliament’s assent on all treaties marking the accession of a new member state and any international agreements having important budgetary implications.
1992 Maastricht Treaty – From Maastricht the Parliament’s assent was required for acts relating to the electoral procedure.
1997 Amsterdam Treaty – The Parliament now has powers to give assent for penalties on a member state flouting EU rules. By simplifying the co-decision procedure, the Parliament and Council are, in principle, on an equal footing. The cooperation procedure was also extended in the Maastricht Treaty which obliges the Council to take into account Parliament’s amendments in areas where the Council acts by majority.
2001-2003 Nice Treaty – Signed in 2001 but ratified in 2003 after an Irish referendum initially voted against the treaty. Designed to lay down the framework for EU expansion into Eastern Europe.
2007 Lisbon Treaty – Consolidated the treaties Of Maastricht and Rome. Brought about a more powerful European Parliament, giving full co-decision powers alongside the Council of Ministers under the ordinary legislative procedure, a consolidated legal personality for the EU, and the creation of a long-term President of the European Council and a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
For more information on the Parliament’s role and any points mentioned above, please visit the European Parliament website: