This article needs to be updated.(July 2013)
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
When the European Parliament (then known as the Common Assembly of the ECSC) first met in 1952, its members were directly appointed by the governments of member states from among those already sitting in their own national parliaments. Since 1979, however, MEPs have been elected by direct universal suffrage. Each member state establishes its own method for electing MEPs – and in some states this has changed over time – but the system chosen must be a form of proportional representation. Some member states elect their MEPs to represent a single national constituency; other states apportion seats to sub-national regions for election.
For a list of current MEPs, see Members of the European Parliament 2014–2019.
From 1 January 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, there were 785 MEPs, but their number was reduced to 736 at the elections in 2009. With effect from the elections held in May 2014 the number has risen again and now stands at 751, with each member state having at least six and at most 96 MEPs.
Elections are held once every five years, on the basis of universal adult suffrage. There is no uniform voting system for the election of MEPs; rather, each member state is free to choose its own system, subject to three restrictions:
The allocation of seats to each member state is based on the principle of degressive proportionality, so that, while the size of the population of each nation is taken into account, smaller states elect more MEPs than would be strictly justified by their populations alone. As the number of MEPs granted to each member state has arisen from treaty negotiations, there is no precise formula for the apportionment of seats. No change in this configuration can occur without the unanimous consent of all national governments.
The most recent elections to the European Parliament were the European elections of 2014, held in May of that year. They were the largest simultaneous transnational elections ever held anywhere in the world, since nearly 500 million citizens were eligible to vote.
The European Parliament has a high turnover of members compared to some national parliaments. For instance, after the 2004 elections, the majority of elected members had not been members in the prior parliamentary session, though that could largely be put down to the recent enlargement. Only one (Hans-Gert Pöttering) has served continuously since the first elections in 1979.
MEPs are organised into seven different cross-nationality political groups, except the 15 non-attached members known as non-inscrits. The two largest groups are the European People's Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D). 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. As a result of being broad alliances of national parties, European groups parties are very decentralised and hence have more in common with parties in federal states like Germany or the United States than unitary states like the majority of the EU states. Although, the European groups, between 2004 and 2009, were actually more cohesive than their US counterparts.
Aside from working through their groups, individual members are also guaranteed a number of individual powers and rights within the Parliament:
This section possibly contains original research. (June 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Every month except August the Parliament meets in Strasbourg for a four-day plenary session, six times a year it meets for two days each in Brussels, where the Parliament's committees, political groups and other organs also mainly meet. The obligation to spend one week a month in Strasbourg was imposed on Parliament by the Member State governments at the Edinburgh summit in 1992.
In addition, an MEP may be part of an international delegation and have meetings with outside delegations coming to Brussels or Strasbourg or visiting committees or parliaments of external countries or regions. There are also a number of international parliaments that members participate in such as the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the Euro-Merranean Parliamentary Assembly, the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly and lately, the Euromed Parliamentary Assembly. This work entails full annual parliamentary meetings and more frequent multilateral committee meetings. Members also make up a portion of European Election Observation missions.
Also, there is the need to keep in touch with constituents in the home state. Most MEPs return to their constituencies on a Thursday evening to spend the Friday and often weekends dealing with individual constituents, local organisations, local and national politicians, businesses, trade unions, local councils and so on. Four weeks without parliamentary meetings set aside during the year and the parliamentary recess (four weeks in summer, two at Christmas/New Year) can also be used for constituency duties.
MEPs may employ staff to help them, typically three or four split between their constituency office and office in Parliament.
Because MEPs sit in a parliament with powers over fewer high-profile subjects than national parliaments (few or no powers over health, education, housing, law & order or defence, but significant powers over environmental standards, consumer protection, trade, employment law) their public profile in their home state is typically lower than that of national parliamentarians, at least those of the latter who are ministers or opposition spokesmen.
Some MEPs choose to make their family home in or near Brussels rather than in their home state.
This section does not cite any sources. (January 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Since the ratification and entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon the adoption of nearly all European Union laws requires the approval of both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Under the co-decision procedure, they each have up to three readings of legislative proposals put forward by the European Commission in which they can each amend the proposal, but must ultimately approve a text in identical terms for it to be passed. This amounts to bicameralism.
MEPs also elect the President of the Commission, on the basis of a proposal by the European Council and, following public hearings of the candidates, approve the appointment of the Commission as a whole. The Parliament may also dismiss the Commission in a vote of no-confidence (for instance, in 1999, the Commission presided by Jacques Santer resigned when faced with the certain adoption of such a vote of no confidence). MEPs may table parliamentary questions for Question time or for a written answer.
International agreements entered into by the European Union (e.g. WTO, trade agreements, etc.) must be approved by the European Parliament, as must the accession of new Member State to the Union.
The EU's annual budget is adopted jointly by Parliament and the Council of the European Union, within overall limit on EU spending decided on by unanimous agreement of all Member States and a multilateral Financial Framework laid down by Council with Parliament's consent.
The Parliament may also block certain Commission decisions where there has been a delegation of powers to the Commission and may repeal such delegation of powers.
The Parliament also elects the European Ombudsman and holds hearings with candidates for the President and Board members of European Central Bank, the Court of Auditors and various EU agencies.
The total cost of the European Parliament is approximately €1.756 billion euros per year according to its 2014 budget, about €2.3 million per member of parliament. As this cost is shared by over 500 million citizens of 28 countries, the cost per taxpayer is considerably smaller than that of national parliaments.
Until 2009, MEPs were paid (by their own Member State) exactly the same salary as a member of the lower House of their own national parliament. As a result, there was a wide range of salaries in the European Parliament. In 2002, Italian MEPs earned €130,000, while Spanish MEPs earned less than a quarter of that at €32,000.
However, in July 2005, the Council agreed to a single statute for all MEPs, following a proposal by the Parliament. Thus, since the 2009 elections, all MEPs receive a basic yearly salary of 38.5% of a European Court judge's salary – being around €84,000. This represents a pay-cut for MEPs from some member states (e.g. Italy, Germany, and Austria), a rise for others (particularly the low-paid eastern European Members) and status quo for those from the United Kingdom (depending on the euro-pound exchange rate). The much-criticised expenses arrangements were also partially reformed.
Members declare their financial interests in order to prevent any conflicts of interest. These declarations are published annually in a register and are available on the Internet.
Under the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Union, MEPs in their home state receive the same immunities as their own national parliamentarians. In other member states, MEPs are immune from detention and from legal proceedings, except when caught in the act of committing an offence. This immunity may be waived by application to the European Parliament by the authorities of the member state in question.
Around a third of MEPs have previously held national parliamentary mandates, and over 10% have ministerial experience at a national level. There are usually a number of former prime ministers and former members of the European Commission. Many other MEPs have held office at a regional or local level in their home states.
Current MEPs also include former judges, trade union leaders, media personalities, actors, soldiers, singers, athletes, and political activists.
Many outgoing MEPs move into other political office. Several presidents, prime ministers or deputy prime ministers of member states are former MEPs, including former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, former Deputy PM of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg, former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Belgian PM Elio Di Rupo.
The so-called "dual mandate", in which an individual is a member of both his or her national parliament and the European Parliament, was officially discouraged by a growing number of political parties and Member States, and is prohibited as of 2009. In the 2004–2009 Parliament, a small number of members still held a dual mandate. Notably, Ian Paisley and John Hume once held "triple mandates" as MEP, MP in the House of Commons, and MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly simultaneously.
The proportion of MEPs elected in 2009 who were female was about 34 percent (in 2004 it was 30 percent and back in 1979 it was just 16.5 percent), a higher percentage than most national parliaments. This figure varies considerably among the various national delegations, however. Of UK members, for instance, approaching half of the Labour MEPs are female. The figure for the Parliament elected in 2009 is 35 percent.
The oldest member is Jean-Marie Le Pen, aged 89, born in 1928, the founder and former member of the National Front. The youngest is Anders Primdahl Vistisen of ECR, aged 30, born in 1987, who joined the parliament in 2014.
European citizens are eligible for election in the member state where they reside (subject to the residence requirements of that state); they do not have to be a national of that state. The following citizens have been elected in a state other than their native country;
|Bárbara Dührkop Dührkop||1987||German||Spain||Socialist|
|Miguel Mayol i Raynal||2001||French||Spain||Green|
|Bairbre de Brún||2004||Irish||UK||GUE/NGL|
|Daniel Strož||2004||German||Czech Republic||GUE|
|Derk Jan Eppink||2009||Dutch||Belgium||ECR|
|Anna Maria Corazza Bildt||2009||Italian||Sweden||EPP|
It is conventional for countries acceding to the European Union to send a number of observers to Parliament in advance. The number of observers and their method of appointment (usually by national parliaments) is laid down in the joining countries' Treaties of Accession.
Observers may attend debates and take part by invitation, but they may not vote or exercise other official duties. When the countries then become full member states, these observers become full MEPs for the interim period between accession and the next European elections. From 26 September 2005 to 31 December 2006, Bulgaria had 18 observers in Parliament and Romania 35. These were selected from government and opposition parties as agreed by the countries' national parliaments. Following accession on 1 January 2007, the observers became MEPs (with some personnel changes).
An unofficial list of MEPs Twitter accounts can be found here.