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 who elect them directly every 5 years.
The European Parliament counts 783 seats filled by representatives of 27 countries and distributed as follows:
288 European People's Party / European Democrats (EPP-ED) - Includes moderate humanists from Christian Democrats, Conservatives and People's Parties
216 Socialist Group (PES) - Moderates from Socialist Parties
99 Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) - Free-market liberal group from moderate liberal parties
44 Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN) - Radical conservatives mostly from Polish and Italian parties
43 Greens & European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA) - Environmentalist, social justice and "stateless nations" parties
41 European United Group / Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) - Communists, eco-socialists and radical socialist parties
22 Independence-Democracy (IND-DEM) - Euro skeptic parties mostly from UK and Poland
30 Non-inscrits or Independent (NI) - Parliamentarians not belonging to any group, including some anarchists and fascists
Classifications above have an identification goal to visualize political tendencies. However, the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) do not identify themselves along strict national party lines and they are not required to vote with the group. They simply gather in groups of like-minded parliamentarians belonging to national political parties sharing common interests from all over the European Union. However, they do not work quite like coherent parties and do not necessarily respond to national coalitions.
The European Parliament has three main roles:
- debating and passing European laws, with the Council
- scrutinising other EU institutions, particularly the Commission, to make sure they are working democratically
- debating and adopting the EU's budget, with the Council.
Passing European laws
In many areas, such as consumer protection and the environment, Parliament works together with the Council (representing national governments) to decide on the content of EU laws and officially adopt them. This process is called "Ordinary legislative procedure" (ex "co-decision").
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the range of policies covered by the new ordinary legislative procedure has increased, giving Parliament more power to influence the content of laws in areas including agriculture, energy policy, immigration and EU funds.
Parliament must also give its permission for other important decisions, such as allowing new countries to join the EU.
Parliament exercises influence over other European institutions in several ways.
When a new Commission is appointed, its 27 members – one from each EU country – cannot take up office until Parliament has approved them. If the Members of the European Parliament disapprove of a nominee, they can reject the entire slate.
Parliament can also call on the Commission to resign during its period in office. This is called a 'motion of censure'.
Parliament keeps check on the Commission by examining reports it produces and by questioning Commissioners. Its committees play an important part here.
MEPs look at petitions from citizens and sets up committees of inquiry.
When national leaders meet for European Council summits, Parliament gives its opinion on the topics on the agenda.
Supervising the budget
Parliament adopts the EU’s annual budget with the Council of the European Union.
Parliament has a committee that monitors how the budget is spent, and every year passes judgement on the Commission's handling of the previous year's budget.