The European Parliament is the only supranational institution, whose members are democratically elected by direct universal suffrage. It represents the people of the Member States. The European Parliament is elected every five years and it is drafting numerous laws (directives, regulations etc.) that affect the daily life of every citizen. Presently the EP consists of 785 Members from 27 Member States,that represent the interests of 492 million citizens.
Each Member State decides upon the form of its election system, as it applies universal democratic rules : a voting age of 18, equality of the sexes and a secret ballot. The seats are, as a general rule, shared out proportionately to the population of each Member State.Thus each Member State has a set number of seats, the maximum being 99 and the minimum five. The number of women presented in the European Parliament is increasing steadily, as at the moment, about one third of the members are women.
The Members of the European Parliament are dividing their time between Brussels, Strasbourg and their constituencies. In Brussels they attend meetings of the parliamentary committees and political groups, and additional plenary sittings. In Strasbourg – in the twelve monthly plenary sittings. In parallel with these activities they must also, of course, devote time to their constituencies.
The Members of the European Parliament are grouped by political orientation and not by nationality, and they exercise their mandate in an independent fashion.At the moment, there are eight political groups in the European Parliament. They take care of their internal organisation by appointing a chair (or two co-chairs in the case of some groups), a bureau and a secretariat. The places assigned to Members in the Chamber are decided by their political affiliation. 20 Members are needed to form a political group, and at least one-fifth of the Member States must be represented within the group. To belong to more than one political group is not allowed. Some Members do not belong to any political group and are known as non-attached Members. Before every vote in plenary the political groups scrutinise the reports drawn up by the parliamentary committees and table amendments to them. The position adopted by the political group is arrived at by discussion within the group, but no Member can be forced to vote in a particular way.
In order to do the preparatory work for Parliament’s plenary sittings, the members of the EP are divided up among a number of standing committees, each specialised in certain field.The parliamentary committees are 20 in number. They consist of between 28 and 86 MEPs, and each has a chair, a bureau and a secretariat. They sit once or twice a month in Brussels and their debates are held in public.In a Parliamentary committee the members of the EP draw up, amend and adopt legislative proposals and own-initiative reports. They consider Commission and Council proposals and, where necessary, draw up reports to be presented to the plenary assembly. The European Parliament can also set up sub-committees and temporary committees to deal with specific issues, and committees of inquiry under its supervisory remit. The committee chairs coordinate the work of the committees in the frames of the Conference of Committee .
The European Parliament’s delegations interact with the parliaments of countries that are not members of the European Union. There are 34 delegations, each made up of about 15 MEPs. There are four types of delegation :
1. Interparliamentary delegations, whose task is to maintain relations with the parliaments of countries outside the European Union that have not applied for membership.
2. Joint parliamentary committees, which maintain contact with the parliaments of countries that are candidates for accession to the European Union and States that have association agreements with the Community.
3. The European Parliament’s delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly links MEPs and parliamentarians from African, Caribbean and Pacific States.
4. The European Parliament delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.
The political bodies of the European Parliament comprise: the Conference of Presidents, which is made up of the President of the European Parliament and the chairs of the political groups; a Bureau, made up of the President of the European Parliament, 14 Vice-Presidents and six Quaestors, with observer status, elected by the assembly for a renewable period of two and a half years.The Bureau guides Parliament’s internal functioning, including : the European Parliament’s budget estimates and the administrative and financial organisation of the secretariat and its sub-departments.The six Quaestors sit on the Bureau in an advisory capacity and are responsible, under the Bureau’s instructions, to ensure that Members have the infrastructure necessary to exercise their mandate.
The European Parliament is assisted by a Secretariat
Some 5,000 officials, recruited by open competition from all the countries of the Union and placed under the authority of a Secretary-General, work for the European Parliament. The political groups have their own staff and the Members have parliamentary assistants.The European Parliament is distinguished from other international organisations by its obligation to offer full multilingualism.
Parliament works in all the official languages of the European Union – 23 since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU and Irish was recognised as official language of the EU in 2007. All documents dealt with in plenary must be translated into 21 of these languages: a partial exception applies to Irish and Maltese and only some documents have to be translated into these two languages.The European Parliament also provides an interpretation service, so that every Member is able to speak in his/her mother tongue.
The Secretariat is located in Luxembourg and Brussels.