What kind of a parliament is the European one?
What makes it similar to or different from the national parliaments?
What kind of association do you make when you hear about the European Parliament (EP) on the news? Maybe you think of a large glass building, which ladies and gentlemen, adorned in suits, visit daily. And just maybe, you are right. But what is the EU Parliament in its essence, how and why does it function, how do we actually influence the processes within it?
Under the Rules of Procedure of the European parliament:
(title I, Chapter 1, Rule 1) article 1 “The European Parliament is the assembly elected pursuant to the Treaties, the Act of 20 September 1976 concerning the election of the members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage and national legislation deriving from the Treaties.”
the European parliament is the largest and multinational parliament in the world.
The EU citizens, who are of age and have the right to vote, choose Members of Parliament every 5 years to sit in the assembly and defend their interests. This is the sole directly elected EU institution. On March 19, 1958, the first session of the European Parliamentary Assembly was held. It included 142 members elected from the national parliament of the member-states, and four different languages were spoken within the Assembly. In June 1979 for the first time the EU citizens elect directly the members of the EU parliament. Under the Lisbon treaty, the number of MEPs today should be 751.
Another interesting fact, which discerns the EU from the national parliaments, is that it does not have an official capital. It’s activity is conducted in Strasbourg (France), Brussels (Belgium) and Luxembourg (Luxembourg).
- The Secretariat, the administration of the European Parliament, is located in Luxembourg. The head offices of the European Investment Bank and the Court of Justice of the European Communities are also in Luxembourg.
- The headquarters of the parliament are in Strasbourg. Once a month the plenary sessions are held there. This is why sometimes the EP is unofficially called “The Strasbourg Parliament”. All MEPs are obliged to attend these sittings.
- The Parliamentary Committees and the Council of the European Union sit in Brussels. Once a month the so called 2-day mini session of the EP is held here. Sometimes even the plenary sessions are in Brussels.
The European parliament, similarly to the national ones, has a Chairman. There’s a special parliamentary procedure and voting for his election.
Alongside the chairperson of the European parliament, 14 Vice-chairmen are elected for a renewable mandate of 2 and a half years. The chairperson’s functions include representing the parliament in its relations with institutions both internal and external to the Union. He has the right the chair the parliamentary sessions but does not have the right to participate in discussions on particular matters. The current chairman is Martin Schultz (2012 – 2014)
Seeking similarities with the national parliaments, we can note that just like the national ones, the European parliament has committees. Their aim is to aid the activity of the Parliament during plenary sessions.
- The concrete projects are discussed in standing committees. There are 20 standing parliamentary committees within the EU parliament. A committee consists of between 24 and 76 MEPs, and has a chair, a bureau and a secretariat. Their discussions are public and are held once or twice a month.
- There are also special committees. They can be established at any point in time and have a competence over a particular problem. Their mandate is up to 12 months but the term could be prolonged. Committees of inquiry are summoned whenever there’s a breach of the Community law.
The efficient communication between the EP and the member-states is accomplished through procedural legislative norms, economic and political factors. It’s interesting that the Parliament has pathways for communication with the parliaments of non-member-states. These are the so called delegations. There are 41 of them. Each consists of 12 to more than 70 MEPs. There are 4 types of delegations.
- Interparliamentary delegations – they maintain relations with non member-states’ parliaments
- Joint parliamentary committees which deliver the communication with the parliaments of countries applying for accession to the EU
- European Parliament Delegation in the Parity Parliamentary Assembly ACP-EU, which includes members of the EP and parliaments from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries
- European Parliament Delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.
So far we have examined how the EP is formed, what it consists of and where it is located as it is one of the most important entities of the European Union, burdened with many obligations.
But how does it work?
Let’s take a look at it’s principal functions:
- Legislative, shared with the Council – it adopts normative acts of the EU. Its participation in the legislative process helps guaranteeing the democratic legitimacy of the adopted texts;
- Budgetary, also shared with the Council, influencing the expenses of the Union. At the end of the budgetary procedure the Parliament adopts the budget as a whole. The parliament requires and oversees the annual report of the European Central Bank.
- Supervising/Control: the Parliament approves the applications for members of the Commission and has the right to demand their resignations. The EP exercises political supervision over the work of the rest EU institutions.
- The Parliament elects the European ombudsman
It ratifies the important international trade and associative agreements between the EU and third parties, including the accession of new member states.
In conclusion, we can say that the European parliament resembles the national ones both in essence and structure, as it is entrusted with many responsibilities and procedures. Still it has the status of a supranational institution and has the prerogatives of a such.
As we now know more about this large glass building from the news, it is time for us to find out more about the people working on its premises… coming soon 😉
Do you know that…
Every year the European parliament bestows the prize “Sharov” on people or organizations who have contributed for the protection of human rights in the world. The award is in corroboration of the freedom of thought and was constituted in 1988 in the honour of the Russian nuclear physicist and human rights activist Andrey Saharov. It is a gesture of recognition and moral support for the laureates’ struggle in the name of their causes. A famous award-winner is Nelson Mandela.
Autor: Stanislava Simeonova,
Design: Tsvetelina Kalcheva
Vladimir Vasilev (senior designer)
Translation: Silviya Naydenova