The 754 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by European citizens. The number of MEPs per country reflects the size of the population. The current EP was elected in June 2009 and the term of office is five years. When the term started in 2009, there were 736 MEPs. With the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, 18 new MEPs took their seats in December 2011.
The EP holds a four-day plenary session once a month in Strasbourg, while all other activities, including Committee meetings, political group meetings and additional two-day plenary sessions, are held in Brussels.
The MEPs organise themselves into political groups, based on ideology and these groups play a central role in the work of EP. Organisation of work and positions adopted follow discussion and agreement within the political groups. Political groups also employ their own staff.
Co-decision – otherwise known as ordinary legislative procedure – with the Council is the main procedure by which directives and regulations are adopted. This is also the case with most areas of fisheries policy, where the EP and Council have equal power and both have to approve draft legislation before it can become law. Here is a graph showing co-decision procedures.
Although it can amend and approve legislation, the EP has no power of legislative initiative, unlike many national parliaments. The right of legislative initiative lies with the European Commission.
Other powers attributed to the EP include the right to approve or veto Fisheries Partnership Agreements with third countries (when an exchange of money is involved), power to dismiss the Commission as a whole and sharing with the Council authority over the EU budget. The EP also has the function of monitoring and assessing the work of the Commission and Council and examines reports sent by the Commission and asks questions of the Commission and Council. The Parliament can also indirectly influence policy making, for instance through non-binding resolutions and by holding hearings in committees.
Adopting an EP position
The EU gives its opinion and proposes amendments to legislative proposals in plenary session after the details have been drawn up in a report, debated and voted in one of twenty EP Parliamentary Committees specialising in that area of EU policy. Each committee has a secretariat to organise its work. The committees usually meet once per month in Brussels and the meetings are usually open to the public.
In a Committee a rapporteur – the MEP who drafts a report – is chosen by political group coordinators. Other committees may be asked to prepare an opinion and so select a draftsperson to prepare this.
The parliamentary committee meets several times to study the draft report. The rapporteur and the members (or substitutes) of both the parliamentary committee responsible and any other EP committee may propose amendments to the Commission’s proposal. The report and amendments are put to the vote in the parliamentary committee responsible.
Once the report is adopted in the parliamentary committee, it is placed on the agenda of the plenary session. Additional amendments to the report may be tabled by political groups or at least 40 Members and put to plenary vote.