The European Parliament (Europarl or EP) is one of the three key institutions of the 28-member European Union (EU), and the only EU institution whose members are directly elected. The current EP has 766 members. The most recent EP elections were held on June 4-7, 2009. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) serve five-year terms.
What the European Parliament does Edit
Initially limited to offering non-binding opinions and proposing amendments ("consultation procedure"), the EP gained more power to affect EU legislation in the "cooperation procedure" of the 1986 Single European Act. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 (which entered into force in 1993) substantially increased the EP's role, mostly in areas related to the EU's common internal market, with the introduction of the "co-decision procedure."
The EP performs important functions in the EU's legislative and budgeting processes, and exercises a degree of supervision over the two other main EU institutions, the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) and the European Commission. Although the EP does not formally initiate EU legislation, it shares "co-decision" power with the Council of Ministers in many policy areas, giving it the right to amend or reject proposed EU legislation.
The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on December 1, 2009, increased the EP's role further, giving it amendment and veto authority over the vast majority of EU legislation (with some exceptions, such as tax matters and foreign policy). Moreover, supporters argue, as the only directly elected EU institution, the EP increasingly plays an important checks-and-balances role on behalf of Europe’s citizens.
Members of the European Parliament caucus according to transnational groups based on political affiliation, rather than by nationality. No single group has ever held an absolute majority in the European Parliament, making compromise and coalition-building important elements of the legislative process. Following the June 2009 election, the center-right Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the re-named center-left Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in Europe (S&D) remain the two largest political groups. Every two-and-a-half years (twice per parliamentary term), MEPs vote to elect a President of the European Parliament to lead and oversee its work and to represent the EP externally. The EP has 20 standing committees that are key actors in the adoption of EU legislation and 36 delegations that maintain international parliament-to-parliament relations.
Although supporters point to the EP's growing institutional significance, the European Parliament faces several challenges of public perception. Some skeptics contend that the EP lacks the legitimacy of national parliaments and exercises little real power. Other analysts observe that the complexity of the EU legislative process contributes to limited public interest and understanding of the EP's role, leading in turn to a trend of declining turnout in European Parliament elections.
Another issue is whether MEPs reflect national or European interests — many MEPs tend to campaign on national rather than European issues and many voters view EP elections as a national mid-term election.
Criticism has also been directed at the costs incurred by what many consider duplicate facilities — while much of the work of the EP takes place in Brussels, monthly plenary meetings are held in Strasbourg, France, and administrative sections of the EP Secretariat are based in Luxembourg.
Recent activities Edit
Long-standing EP concerns about U.S. data privacy safeguards contributed to the EP's initial rejection in February 2010 of the U.S.-EU SWIFT Accord allowing U.S. authorities access to European financial data to help counter terrorism (a revised accord was eventually approved in July 2010).
EP worries about whether the United States could guarantee a sufficient level of protection for European citizens' personal data also necessitated a new round of U.S.-EU negotiations on another anti-terrorism measure that permits the sharing of airline Passenger Name Record (PNR) data.
Following the revelations of U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs and news reports alleging that U.S. intelligence agencies have monitored EU diplomatic offices, many analysts worry about whether future U.S.-EU information-sharing agreements will be able to secure the necessary EP approval.
- Kristin Archick, "The European Parliament" (CRS Report RS21998) (July 29, 2013) (full-text).