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The European Parliament

Page history last edited by Jake Willis 13 years, 1 month ago


The European Parliament






The European Parliament first met on September 10th 1952, known as the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community. The Common Assembly was made up of seventy-eight representatives, or members of parliament, from the original member states. Although the Assembly had consultative powers, it held no legislative powers. The Common Assembly was generally described as a 'talk-shop' with no legislative or executive oversight powers.


In 1962, the Common Assembly became known as the European Parliament, the name it still holds today. In 1970 the European Parliament was granted some Community Budget powers, and five years later the Parliament was granted powers over the entire budget. In 1979, the first directly elected members took the seats of the parliament, with Simone Veil being the first member to be elected as the President of Parliament.


The European Parliament has been gaining power with every subsequent treaty since its establishment, especially by way of the co-decision procedure, which has helped the Parliament gain equal power to the council on a legislative level. The Treaty of Lisbon recently gave greater power to the parliament; this treaty is yet another piece of the puzzle which has helped the European Parliament go from a relatively unimportant body (labelled as the Common Assembly) to one of the most powerful legislative bodies in Europe and the world.



Composition and Powers


As of April 2011, the European Parliament consists of 736 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) who each hold five-year renewable terms. (European Parliament, 2011)  Since 1979 the process for election of MEPs has been via direct elections.


Direct elections for MEPs are held in all member states every five years, although there is not a standardised electoral system in place for all member states. (Nugent, 2006, p 258)  The 736 European Parliamentary seats are allocated amongst the 27 member states roughly on the basis of each member states population (McCormick, 2008, p 83). However, the ratio of European Parliamentary seats to member states’ population varies from state to state.  For example as of 2007 Germany has one MEP per 800,000 citizens, compared to Malta which has one MEP per 80,000 citizens.


Plenary meetings of the European Parliament are held in Strasbourg, whilst parliamentary committees and political group meetings are held in Brussels.  This is further complicated by the fact that the Parliament's administrative offices are located in Luxembourg.  Typically MEPs meet for plenary meetings in Strasbourg for 3-4 days each month and in Brussels for committee meetings for 2-3 weeks each month.  This applies throughout the year except in the month of August.


The European Parliament elects one of its members as President.  The President of the European Parliament holds a two and a half year renewable term (McCormick, 2008, p 84). As of May 2011 the current President of the European Parliament is Jerzy Buzek (European Parliament, 2011).


The main powers of the European Parliament are those of amendment, decision-making and providing a check on the actions of the other institutions.  Notably the European Parliament has the power to reject the budget with a two-thirds majority or to force the resignation of the Commissioners with a two-thirds majority. (McCormick, 2008, p 85)





The European Parliament functions primarily as a decision-making legislature as well as a supervisory body.  In terms of its legislative capabilities, the European Parliament shares its legislative powers with the Council.  The legislative procedures for which are detailed below (see 'Procedures').


The European Parliament's supervisory function relates to its ability to scrutinize the activities of the Commission. (Dinan, 2005, p 260)  The European Parliament acts as a check and balance on the power of the Commission.  It is held accountable to the EP through the EP's ability to put questions to the Commission and the EP also has the power vested in it to (in extreme circumstances) force the resignation of the College of Commissioners.  Furthermore, the Commission requires the approval of the EP for the appointment of the College of Commissioners.  The supervisory function of the European Parliament is an interesting topic because the EP is the only directly elected and therefore democratic of the EU institutions, that is has supervisory powers is significant to the democratic accountability of the EU institutions as a whole.



Inside the European Parliament


Because of the Parliament's various functions, there are several distinct procedures that it has to follow depending on the area the decision-making procedure being required. These are the co-decision procedure, the budgetary procedure and it's supervisory powers.


The co-decision procedure was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and extended with the Amsterdam Treaty (1999). Co-decision allows the Parliament to share the legislative capacity of policy proposed by the Commission with the council of the European Union. The procedure goes as follows:


The Commission initiates a proposal. It is then sent to the EP (European Parliament) and the Council of the EU (European Union).


The First Reading (No time limit)


Both the EP and the Council of the EU receive the Commission's legislative proposal. However the EP has the power to amend the proposal. The accepted or amended proposal is then sent up to the Council of the EU. If the Council accepts the EP's first reading, then the legislative text is adopted.


Second Reading (3 month Time limit)


However if the Council does not accept the EP's first reading, then it must draw up a common position, which is sent back to the EP. The Parliament may then accept it or decide to abstain itself from taking a position, in which case the common position is adopted as a legislative text. The EP also has the right to amend the common position resulting in two possible outcomes: either the Council accepts the amended position and it is adopted or the Council refuses and a Conciliation Committee is convened.


If the EP rejects the common position by an absolute majority, then the legislative text is rejected outright.


Third Reading (Six week Time Limit)


The Conciliation Committee (composed of 27 Members of Parliament and 27 members of the Council of the EU) draws up a joint text based on the Council's Common Position and the EP's second reading amendments.If the Council and the EP agree on it in its entirety, then the act is adopted.


If they fail to agree on the joint text, then the act is deemed not to have been adopted and the legislation fails.


The Budgetary Procedure is rather more complex and generally takes up to eight months to be finalized. The Budgetary Procedure goes as follows:


The Commission draws up a draft budget which is adopted by the Council. The draft budget is then sent to the EP, which it may choose to amend it at the first reading.The amended budget is then sent to the Council for a second reading. The council then sends the EP a revised draft budget, in which case the EP may confirm the original amendments. The amended version may be adopted or rejected by the EP at the second reading. If adopted then the the President of the European Parliament adopts the "final budget".


The EP has also been granted several important supervisory powers over the activities of the EU. These fall within the following categories and jurisdiction:


The Discharge Procedure


Every year the Court of Auditors scrutinise the implementation of the EU budget and release an annual report.The Council then examines the report and makes recommendations to the Parliament. The EP in turn, based on the advice given by its Committee on Budgetary Control, issues a discharge to the Commission.  This contains recommendations on how to better implement the budget. The Commission is obliged to pay heed to the discharge and engage in follow-up actions for the next budget. Theses actions are monitored by the EP, the Council and the Court of Auditors. The EP may also refuse to grant the discharge (Europa, 2011).


Supervisory Powers


- Citizen Petition. The Parliament can be petitioned by EU citizens to deal with perceived problems within the EU's sphere of activities. The Parliament's Ombudsman is also present to deal with any complaints that an individual may have towards the EU's institutions or bodies.


- Inquiries. The EP has the power to set up inquiry committees to investigate possible EU law violations by member States.


- Right of Recourse before the Court of Justice of the European Community.


- Financial Control. The President, Vice-president and members of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank cannot be appointed without the EP's consent. Moreover, the European Central Bank's president must make his annual report to the EP's plenary session.


Council and Commission Oversight


- The Parliament can approve or reject a candidacy proposed by the Council for the position of President of the Commission, as well as the remaining Commissioners.


- The MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) have the power of censorship towards the Commission. The EP can force the Commission to be dissolved.


- The Commission regularly submits reports to Parliament, such as: The Annual Commission Report on the Functioning of the Communities and The Annual Report on the Implementation of the Budget.







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