European Parliament

Gain a deeper understanding of the governance of the European Union through this comprehensive examination of the European Parliament, its structure, and the influential roles within it. From exploring the parliamentary voting procedures to probing the legislative powers, you'll garner significant knowledge about these pivotal mechanisms. This guide will lead you through the diverse roles and responsibilities of its members, shed light on the importance and function of the different committees, and the vital role of the European Parliament in shaping the policies of the EU. Delve into this insightful discourse on the significance of the European Parliament.

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Table of contents

    Understanding the European Parliament

    When studying EU law, you will unquestionably encounter the term 'European Parliament'. This is one of the primary legislative institutions of the European Union (EU), representing around 447 million people in Europe. Being well informed about this parliament and its functionalities is an essential step towards understanding EU law.

    European Parliament: Represents the citizens of EU member states and is involved in draft legislation creation, budget approval, and actions of the other EU institutions' supervision.

    Introduction to European Parliament: What It Is and How It Works

    The European Parliament is one of three principal legislative branches of the European Union along with the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers) and the European Commission. The Parliament consists of 705 members (MEPs) who are elected every five years by voters across the 27 Member States of the EU.

    For example, voters in Italy go to the polls to choose their allotted number of MEPs, who go on to represent Italy in the European Parliament. It's a democratic process which allows EU citizens to have a direct influence on the laws and decisions made at a European level.

    • The Parliament can approve, amend or reject legislation proposed by the Commission.
    • It also oversees the work of the Commission and adopts the European Union’s budget.
    • Furthermore, many international agreements cannot become law without the Parliament's consent.

    Hence, the European Parliament plays a critical role in the democratic life of the European Union.

    The Structure of European Union Parliament

    The European Parliament is segmented into different structures to facilitate its operation.

    • The Parliament is divided into political groups, with MEPs from the same political family across different Member States working together.
    • There are currently seven political groups covering a wide political spectrum.

    In addition to political groups, the Parliament is also organised into committees that focus on specific policy areas.

    Committee for Economic and Monetary Affairs
    Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
    Committee for Environmental, Public Health and Food Safety issues

    Extra insight: The Parliament's President, elected for a two-and-a-half-year term, represents the Parliament to the other EU institutions and the outside world and presides over its plenary sessions. The current President is David Sassoli.

    In conclusion, understanding the structure, purpose and operations of the European Parliament is integral to gaining a firm grasp on EU law.

    Key Figures in the European Parliament

    The functionality of the European Parliament relies on the collective efforts of its representatives. However, there are key figures whose roles and responsibilities help steer the institution. These include the President of the European Parliament and the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

    The Role of the President of the European Parliament

    The President of the European Parliament plays a pivotal role in shaping the Parliament's policy. The President's duties are manifold and extend beyond being the face of the Parliament.

    President of European Parliament: The President represents the European Parliament in all legal affairs and external relations and presides over its internal discussions. The current President of the European Parliament is David Sassoli.

    To illustrate, if the EU enters into an international agreement, it is the President who signs that agreement on behalf of the European Parliament. The President co-signs all adopted legislative acts and represents the Parliament in the budgetary authority.

    The President's tasks also extend to overseeing official parliamentary meetings, steering the actions of the institution, and liaising closely with the other EU institutions, such as the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. Furthermore, the President ensures that the Parliament's procedures are properly adhered to, making them the guarantor of the institution's smooth running.

    Deep Dive: An interesting aspect of the President's role is his or her duty to deliver the opening and closing addresses for sessions, often using these speeches to affirm core European values or comment on current affairs.

    Understanding the European Parliament Members

    Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are crucial to the functioning of the Parliament. Each member is democratically elected by EU citizens in their home countries and represents the interests of these citizens at the European level.

    Members of the European Parliament (MEPs): MEPs represent EU citizens and play a key role in shaping EU legislation, adopting its budget, and supervising other EU institutions.

    • There are 705 MEPs, each serving a five-year term.
    • Each member state has a set number of seats, allocated according to the principle of "degressive proportionality". This means larger countries have more seats than smaller ones, but not in direct proportion to their populations.
    • MEPs are grouped by political affinity, not by nationality.

    For instance, the United Kingdom, before leaving the European Union, had 73 seats in the European Parliament, whereas Malta, the smallest EU state by population, has 6 seats.

    Diverse Roles and Responsibilities of Members

    While all MEPs share the common goal of representing their constituents' interests, their roles within the parliament can vary widely, based on their affiliations, committee assignments, and the roles they hold within their political groups.

    • Some MEPs serve as 'rapporteurs', tasked with drafting reports on specific legislative proposals.
    • Others hold leadership roles within their political group or serve as coordinators for their group within a committee.
    • MEPs may be chosen to chair one of the parliament's numerous committees, a role that involves steering the committee's work and representing it to the rest of the institution.

    Regardless of these varied roles, all MEPs participate in plenary sessions where they vote on legislation, and many contribute to committee works and engage with constituents in their home countries. In essence - every MEP has a responsibility to represent the interests of European citizens.

    The Working Mechanisms of the European Parliament

    The European Parliament operates through a complex set of rules and procedures, all designed to ensure democratic decision-making within the European Union. Key aspects of these workings include the voting procedure and the legislative powers invested in the Parliament.

    European Parliament Voting Procedure Explained

    Voting procedure: The process by which MEPs cast their votes on legislative proposals, budget issues, resolutions and other decisions within the Parliament. This is an essential component of the Parliament's democratic decision-making.

    Each member has one vote, and decisions are generally taken by an absolute majority. That means more than half of the given votes, excluding abstentions. In some special cases, rules or treaties require a different number of votes for a motion to be passed.

    Most of the voting in parliament is done on the basis of a simple majority, which involves open roll call votes. Every MEP's vote is recorded and made public.

    • A single majority vote: More 'yes' votes than 'no' votes, irrespective of the number of abstentions or MEPs not voting.
    • Absolute majority: More than half of all MEPs must be in favour. This typically applies when electing the President of the European Parliament.
    • Qualified majority: At least 314 out of the 705 MEPs must vote in favour. This applies to certain important decisions.

    Deep Dive: Voting in the European Parliament can also be done by show of hands, when the President of the session can judge the result of a vote based on MEPs raising their hands. Less common, it’s still a legal and accepted method.

    Understanding European Parliament Legislative Powers

    The European Parliament shares legislative power with the Council of the European Union. This means it plays a major role in creating EU law.

    Legislative Power: The ability to create, amend or reject laws. The European Parliament uses this power to affect changes in areas such as environmental regulations, consumer rights and transport policy.

    The Parliament's legislative powers are exercised in various ways depending on the type of legislative procedure that applies:

    • Ordinary legislative procedure: Also known as co-decision, is the most common procedure and applies to most areas of EU legislation. Both the Council of the EU and the Parliament must agree on the text of a legislative proposal.
    • Special legislative procedures: Either the Council or the Parliament has the final say on the proposal, with the other institution being simply consulted.

    For instance, in the case of a directive to improve air quality, the European Commission would first draft a proposal. That proposal would then pass to the Parliament and the Council, both of which need to agree on the final legislative act. The Parliament may suggest amendments and must approve the final text.

    The Impact of European Parliament Legislative Powers

    Given that the European Parliament shares equal legislative power with the Council, its impact on policymaking is profound. Through passing legislation, the Parliament directly shapes the daily lives of European Union citizens.

    Impact of legislative powers: The concrete effects emerging from the exercise of the power to make and pass laws. The legislative impact of the European Parliament is seen in EU directives and regulations which must be implemented by Member States, affecting various aspects of EU citizens' lives.

    The Parliament’s directives and regulations have led to improved product safety, cleaner environments, consumer protection, and the safeguarding of human rights. Plus, these laws have the potential to impact the global market since companies in non-EU countries often have to comply with EU standards if they want to sell their products within the EU.

    To illustrate, EU legislation regulates various aspects of car production, such as emissions standards and safety features. A car manufacturer in Japan producing cars for the EU market will have to comply with these regulations, demonstrating the global reach of EU law.

    Investigating the Workings of European Parliament Committees

    Acknowledging the importance of the European Parliament in the EU's law-making process, it's imperative to understand its internal workings. Particularly, how parliamentary work is divided amongst different committees. Therefore, in this section, you'll get to learn about the composition and functions of these committees.

    The Importance of Committees in the European Parliament

    Committees: They are smaller subsets of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) tasked with oversight of specific policy areas. They help manage the workload of the wider Parliament and delve into the intricacies of their assigned policy fields.

    The importance of committees in the European Parliament cannot be overstated. Comprising MEPs from different member states and political groups, these committees are able to explore complex policy areas in greater depth than is feasible in wider parliamentary meetings. They’re where most of the Parliament’s legislative and scrutiny work is carried out.

    Deep Dive: There are currently 20 committees, each focusing on a different policy area. Additionally, the Parliament can set up sub-committees and special or temporary committees to address specific issues or carry out investigatory functions.

    Committees have three crucial functions in the legislative process:

    • Examination and amendment: When legislative proposals come to the Parliament, they are assigned to the relevant committee, which reviews the details and suggests amendments.
    • Report compilation: A 'rapporteur' from the committee will draft a report, including proposed amendments, which is then voted on by the committee.
    • Plenary preparation: If the committee adopts the report, it is prepared for a vote in a Plenary session. The rapporteur presents the report and ensuing negotiations with the Council takes place.

    By scrutinising legislation and proposing amendments, committees play a pivotal role in shaping EU law.

    Different Types of Committees and Their Functions

    Each committee in the European Parliament covers a specific area of EU policy. Together, they cover all areas of EU competence, reflecting the diversity of issues the EU legislates on.

    Different types of committees: Permanent (covering legislative areas), special (for particular matters), joint parliamentary (for relations with national parliament) and inquiry committees (for investigating alleged violations of EU law or maladministration).

    Here are examples of permanent committees in the European Parliament:

    Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET)
    Committee on International Trade (INTA)
    Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE)
    Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE)

    For instance, the Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy (ITRE) focuses on industrial policy and the application of new technologies, so when legislative proposals related to these areas emerge, they’re referred to ITRE. The committee members review and propose amendments based on their expertise and the interests of the regions they represent.

    Committees meet once or twice a month in Brussels, and meetings are typically live-streamed to aid transparency. Recommendations approved in committee meetings are forwarded to Plenary sessions for final voting.

    However, the specific functions of committee types such as joint parliamentary committees and inquiry committees can vary based on the situations they're established to address.

    The breadth of these committees and their specific roles underlines the complexity of the European Parliament's operation and the wide range of areas the EU is involved with.

    Grasping the Significance of the European Parliament in the EU

    The European Parliament holds a prominent position in the fabric of the European Union. Recognised as the only directly elected body of the EU, the Parliament’s authority extends into several key areas such as legislation, supervision, and budgetary decisions. The significance of the European Parliament lies in its ability to express the democratic will of the EU's hundreds of millions of citizens.

    Detailed Examination of the Role of the European Parliament

    The European Parliament plays a number of essential roles within the framework of the European Union. It shares legislative power with the Council of the European Union, directly representing the citizens' political will and forming one-half of the EU’s bicameral legislature.

    Legislative Power: This is used by the Parliament to make decisions on most of the EU laws, in conjunction with the Council of the EU, based on proposals from the Commission.

    Supplementary to its legislative responsibilities, the Parliament exercises an important supervisory role. It holds the other EU institutions, particularly the Commission, accountable for their actions, ensuring they are acting in the best interests of the EU and its citizens. This supervisory role extends to the EU’s budget, where the Parliament plays a decisive role in determining spending priorities.

    Supervisory Power: The capacity of the European Parliament to hold the Commission and other EU bodies to account, including the ability to approve the appointment of the Commission and to potentially force it to resign.

    • Approving Commission: The Parliament has the authority to approve or reject the appointment of the Commission, the EU’s executive body.
    • Planning budget: Together with the Council, the Parliament determines the long-term budget of the EU, and scrutinises how funds are spent.
    • Veto: The Parliament has the power to veto decisions that it thinks would not be in the public interest.

    Deep Dive: The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 significantly expanded the powers of the European Parliament. Today, it has a say on almost all fields of EU action. Such wide-ranging influence empowers it to affect the lives of EU citizens significantly and directly.

    The Influence of the European Parliament in Shaping European Policies

    As a central legislative body within the EU, the European Parliament exercises significant influence over the formulation and shaping of European policies. The institution uses its power to make decisions on an array of influential legislative acts, including directives and regulations that have vast implications for EU Member States and their citizens.

    Directives and Regulations: These are two types of legal acts at the EU level. A directive requires Member States to achieve a certain result but leaves them discretion as to how, while a regulation is a binding legislative act that must be applied in its entirety across the EU.

    Policies shaped by the European Parliament cover wide-ranging areas, including environmental regulation, internal market rules, consumer protection standards, data privacy rights, and freedom, security and justice matters.

    Policymaking in the European Parliament pass through a series of stages, starting from a proposal from the Commission, into debates and amendments in the relevant parliamentary committees, and ending with a vote in the Parliament's Plenary session. A proposal becomes a law only after it is approved both by the Parliament and the Council of the EU.

    For instance, in the area of data protection, the European Parliament was instrumental in shaping the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which harmonises data privacy laws across Europe and provides citizens with more control over their personal data. Such measures, effectuated by the Parliament, directly influence the operational practices of industries and the lives of EU citizens.

    In essence, the influence of the European Parliament extends to all corners of the policy spectrum, playing a critical role in developing a harmonized and cohesive policy framework for the European Union.

    European Parliament - Key takeaways

    • The European Parliament is steered by key figures including the President of the European Parliament who represents the Parliament in all legal affairs, presides over its internal discussions, and co-signs all adopted legislative acts.
    • Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are democratically elected representatives who play a key role in shaping EU legislation. There are 705 MEPs each serving a five-year term.
    • The European Parliament Voting Procedure involves each MEP casting their votes on legislative proposals, budget issues, etc. Each member has one vote, and decisions are generally taken by an absolute majority.
    • The European Parliament Legislative Powers are shared with the Council of the European Union. The Parliament's legislative powers can either be Ordinary legislative procedures or Special legislative procedures and it impacts EU directives and regulations that must be implemented by Member States.
    • The European Parliament Committees are smaller subsets of MEPs tasked with oversight of specific policy areas where they examine legislative proposals and suggest amendments. These committees play a crucial role in the legislative process in the parliament.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about European Parliament
    What role does the European Parliament play in creating European Union law?
    The European Parliament plays a crucial role in creating European Union law. It works alongside the Council of the European Union and the European Commission to legislate, scrutinise, and budget. It participates directly in drafting laws and deciding on international agreements.
    How are members of the European Parliament elected and what is the duration of their term?
    Members of the European Parliament are elected by citizens of the European Union through direct universal suffrage. The term of office is five years.
    What powers does the European Parliament hold in relation to the other institutions of the European Union?
    The European Parliament shares the legislative and budgetary authority of the European Union with the Council of the EU. It has the power to approve or reject European laws, amend them, and decide on the EU budget. It also oversees the other EU institutions, particularly the European Commission.
    What is the structure of the European Parliament and how is it organised?
    The European Parliament is organised into a presidency, 20 standing committees, two subcommittees, and eight political groups. It also has delegations and interparliamentary delegations. Members are democratically elected for 5-year terms and represent EU's member states. The operational management is handled by a Secretary-General.
    What are the primary responsibilities of a Member of the European Parliament?
    Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) primarily legislate on EU matters, supervise EU institutions, and make decisions on the EU budget. They represent the interests of EU citizens while working within political groups and committees.

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