Overview and Development
The European Parliament was originally constituted as the Assembly of the European Community. Its role has been progressively enhanced during the existence of the European Communities and the European Union. Initially, its powers were consultative in nature. The Single European Act introduced new legislative procedures, the so-called assent, and co-decision procedure. These procedures were further extended and enhanced under the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Treaty of Nice and the Lisbon Treaty.
The Parliament participates in decision-making procedures in the manner set out in the other chapters. It has both a formal and informal role. The co-decision procedure is now the norm and is known as the normal legislative procedure. The assent procedure is now the consent procedure and applies to a relatively narrow field.
Since 1979 European Parliament has been directly elected. However, its law-making powers are subscribed and it is in broad terms subservient to the Council. It may not initiate legislation. It may not impose taxes by itself. The Treaty on European Union provided for the European Parliament to request the Commission to prepare legislative proposals and provide it for the co-decision (normal legislative0 procedure.
The European Parliament is elected on the basis of universal suffrage in the various states. Any person qualified to vote in a national election may stand as a candidate for the European Parliament. The European states have the competence to lay down the entitlement to vote and be a candidate. It must do so in accordance with principles of European Union law.
States must respect the principle of equality of treatment which is a basic EU principle. Every citizen of the EU who resides in the state where he is not a national is entitled to vote and be a candidate in elections in that state under the same conditions as nationals.
European Union legislation provides that elections must be by national proportional representation. States may choose a list system or single transferable vote. States may set a minimum threshold vote as a precondition of election to a seat. This may not exceed 5 percent. There may be multi-seat constituencies.
European Union elections take place every five years in the fourth and ninth year of each decade.
The European Parliament does not comprise a government or opposition. Members sit in groups. A group must have at least 20 members representing at least a fifth of states. There is no strict party discipline.
The seats in the European Parliament are allocated between the states. Germany has 99. The United Kingdom, France, and Italy have 78 each. Spain and Poland 54 each, Romania 35. Greece, Belgium, Portugal, the Czech Republic have 24 each. Sweden has 19, Austria 18. Slovakia, Denmark, and Finland have 14 each. Ireland and Lithuania have 13 each. Latvia has nine, Slovenia seven. Estonia, Cyprus, and Luxembourg have six each. Malta has five. There were 732 seats as of the 2009 election.
In broad terms, national parties affiliate themselves with groups in the European Parliament. There are a number of political groups
- Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)
- Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
- European Conservatives and Reformists Group
- Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
- Confederal Group of the European United Left-Nordic Green Left
- Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
- Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group
- Europe of Nations and Freedom Group
Not all members belong to groups.
Funding of parties at European level from the EU budget may not be used directly or indirectly in funding national parties.
Procedures and Institutions of Parliament
The European Parliament adopts its own rules or procedures. It elects a President, 14 Vice Presidents and six other assistants for two and a half year periods. It seeks to take account of overall representation of member’s views, states’ and political views.
The members of the European Parliament enjoy almost the same privileges and immunities traditionally enjoyed by members of national parliaments. This includes freedom of movement to and from meetings in Parliament, immunity from proceedings in respect of opinions expressed and votes cast in Parliament. The immunity may be waived by the Parliament itself if a member commits a criminal offence.
The Parliament may adopt resolutions following a debate on the basis of a motion put by a member or Committee. Resolutions are not generally binding.
The President chairs debates and deals with certain administrative and disciplinary functions. He may represent the Parliament in international relations on ceremonial occasions and in certain administrative, legal and financial matter.
The President may delegate powers to Vice President. The President, Vice President, and Quaestors comprise the Parliament Bureau which organises and administers the Parliament.
The Quaesters have observer status.
The Conference of Presidents is made up of the President of the Parliament and the Chairman of the main groups. It organises the Parliament’s work and legislative program. It deals with relationships with other bodies and National Parliament. It determines membership of committees both Standing or Committees of Inquiry.
The Parliament has a Secretary-General and Secretariat which deals with the organisational matters.
The European Parliament holds an annual session. It may hold an extraordinary session on request of the majority of members or of the Council or Commission.
The European Parliament session run from March to March. There is a holiday break in August.
There were 12 four-day plenary sessions in Strasbourg and six two-day plenary sessions in Brussels. Two weeks a month are given to Parliamentary Committees and inter-Parliamentary delegations. These delegations maintain relations with parliaments of non-member states.
The normal procedure for making legislation is now for co-decision with the laws made jointly by the European Parliament and Council. This now covers the areas of freedom, justice and security. It covers judicial cooperation in criminal matters, asylum, immigration, police cooperation and Europol.
The European Parliament may establish committees. They may be Standing Committees, General Committees or Specialised Committees. They may examine into particular matters, prepare opinions on request by the Council and prepare resolutions on new initiatives.
There are 20 permanent committees which meet once or twice a month which deals with specific aspects of community affairs. They make the legislative process more efficient by preparing reports for debate in the full Parliament and liaising with Commission and Council on relevant issues.
Temporary committees may be formed from time to time for periods up to 12 months. Committees of Inquiries may investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration of community law. These inquiries have to submit its report within 12 months. This may be extended to a maximum of 18 months.
The European Parliament may establish joint Parliamentary Committees with parliaments of states associated with the community or in negotiations for accession.
Electing and Dismissing Commission and Others
The European Parliament must approve the appointment of the Commission and members of the Commission. The Commission’s annual legislative and work program must be presented. An annual general report must be presented on the activities of the Communities which also reports on the application of community law. Parliament may censor an EU body.
The Parliament approves the nomination of the Commission President and College of Commissioners. It may examine the proposed Commissioners. The Parliament must agree to the appointment of the President, Vice President and Executive Board of the European Central Bank. It appoints the European Ombudsman.
The Parliament may require the Commission as a created body to resign. It may not require particular Commissioners to resign. This occurred in 1999 when the whole Commission was dismissed. There are particular procedures required. 50 percent of MEPs must vote and a two-third majority is required.
Holding Commission and Institutions to Account
Parliament may ask questions of the Commission and Council on any matter. There is provision for written questions and oral questions. There is provision for question time. Written questions must be answered within a certain period. Oral questions can be posed with the approval of the Bureau of Parliament to the Council and Commission. Oral questions may be put through a Parliamentary Committee or political group.
The Parliament has the right to examine annual programs of action and periodic reports by EU institutions. Each of the Commission, Council, and Central Bank submit annual reports and details of its work program to the Parliament. Each must report on the results and outcomes of its policies and work. Ministers from the Council may participate in debates of the Parliament. With the consent of the President of the Parliament, they may make statements.
The European Council Summit is preceded by a report and declaration by the President of the Parliament setting out the position of the Parliament on the matters on the agenda. The European Council must submit a written report to the Parliament on the activities and progress achieved by a European Union.
The Parliament may request the Council to submit proposals for legislation on matters which it considers the Union should legislate on in order to fulfill its obligations under the EU treaty. The Commission is not obliged to do so.
The Permanent Committees may invite members of the Commission to present proposals for legislation and answer questions.
Citizens may petition the parliament. The petition must relate to matters within the EU’s competence which affects the person making the petition.
The European Union budget is made up of a set proportion of certain taxes. This includes one percent of VAT on goods and services in the Union, customs duties, agricultural levy and contributions by states (capped at 1.27 percent of GNP, miscellaneous resources).
The Parliament has a right to reject the budget as a whole. The Commission prepares a draft budget based on estimates of expenditure placed before the Council not later than 1st October in the preceding year. The Council may make amendments by qualified majority. The draft budget must be referred to parliament by 5th October. The Parliament has 45 days in which to accept, reject or amend the budget.
The power to amend expenditure depends on the type of expenditure involved. Compulsory expenditure based on treaty obligations and legislation is subject to limited modification. The Council has the ultimate right of approval. In the case of non-compulsory expenditure, the Parliament has greater power; acting by a majority of all MPs, it may make amendments.
That Council must undertake a second reading within 15 days. It may modify the budget in accordance with the amendments. If it does not accept the amendments and the proposed amendment increases compulsory expenditure, the Council acting by a qualified majority must accept it or it is deemed rejected.
If it does not increase compulsory expenditure, the Council must reject or alter it and if it does not do so, it is deemed accepted. If the amendments or alter they refer to the European Parliament for a second reading. The second reading must be completed within 15 days. It is deemed adopted together with amendments modified by the Council unless the European Parliament otherwise resolve.
The Parliament may change non-compulsory expenditure acting by a majority of members and 3/5th of the votes cast or reject alterations by the Council for the amendments. This terminates the procedure and the budget is deemed declared.
The European Parliament by a majority of its members and 2/3rd of votes cast may reject the budget as a whole. If this occurs, the process must recommence.
The European Parliament may add an amount of non-compulsory expenditure equivalent to half the annual rate of increase. If the budget is rejected, the institutions must operate on the basis of one-twelfth of the previous year’s budget per month.
The parliament was given a further enhanced role in approving the budget under the Lisbon Treaty which took effect in 2009. It has the final say in relation to all expenditure including that under the structural funds and the common agricultural policy.