The European Parliament is one of the parliamentary legislative bodies of the European Union. Its membership consists of directly elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), from each of the 27 EU member-states. There are currently 785 members, elected for five-year terms. Tthe President is, since 14 July 2009, the Liberal Conservative Polish MEP Jerzy Buzek, who represents the European People's Party. The number of representatives per country is roughly determined by population, but the exact numbers were negotiated in treaties.
Parliament's powers have gradually grown with the entry into force of the Single European Act (1986), the Maastricht Treaty (1993) and the Treaty of Amsterdam (1999). Parliament shares decision-making power on an equal footing with the Council in many areas under the Community Pillar to which the "co-decision procedure" applies. The European Parliament is one of the two branches with budgetary authority – the Council is the other. The signature of the EP president brings the overall EU budget into effect.
The European Parliament also plays a role in the process of selecting the President and other members of the Commission. The European Council's nomination of the President is subject to approval by the Parliament. The EP holds U.S.-style public hearings of Commission nominees before taking a formal vote to approve the nomination of the Commission as a body. Parliament has the power to censure the entire Commission, but not to dismiss individual Commissioners.
The organization is based in both Strasbourg, France (for official legislative procedure) and in Brussels, Belgium (for unofficial or negotiative stages). While Brussels is the main seat for most other European Union offices, European law requires that the parliament sits 12 times a year in Strasbourg, which is also the seat of the other legislative body of the Union; namely the Council of Europe. The cost of having two seats for the parliament is significantly higher than were there a single seat, with an estimated price tag of €203 million of extra travel expenses. This extra cost, due to the perceived bureaucracy of the EU, has led to large amounts of criticism for the organization.
The European Parliament was first established in 1958; as the legislature of the (then) European Economic Community, the predecessor to the European Union. At this time, however, the representatives were not elected, instead appointed by their national governments. Even at this point, the parliament met in both Brussels and Strasbourg, and was criticized for its bureaucracy.
The representatives in the parliament are usually members of pan-European political parties, with the domestic parties of member states usually aligned with larger European groups; for example, the governing British Labour Party is aligned with the Group of the Party of European Socialists.
The responsibilities of the parliament include regulating the budget of the EU and monitoring the actions of the European Commission. The legislature's power over budgeting is not complete, however, with the much criticized farm-subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (which takes up £60 billion [$120billion] of the budget) being negotiated instead by ministers outside of the democratic process. Currently, 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farms across the EU.
- Welcome to the European Parliament - European Parliament website
- Strasbourg unfit for EU session - BBC News, August 20, 2008
- Breeze in Parliament - TIME, January 29, 1973
- Group of the Party of European Socialists - Labour Party website
- European Parliament : People power for Europe - International Herald Tribune, December 12, 2003
- EU loophole allows city ‘farmers’ to reap millions in subsidy harvest - The Times, March 13, 2007
- Time to come clean on EU farm subsidies