The European Parliament: What is it for?
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Between 23rd and 26th May EU citizens will be asked to elect their representatives in the European Parliament. But what does the EU Parliament do? How is it composed? What is it meant for?
The European Parliament is one of the EU political institutions and is composed of 751 directly elected members, representing altogether more than 500 million people, living in 28 (soon 27?) different member states. If Brexit happens by the end of the month, its members will be reduced to 705.
The Parliament represents the voice of EU citizens. As such the seats are distributed among the member states in proportion to the population. Indeed, a degressive proportionality applies: no state has fewer than 6 or more than 96 representatives. This means that in Malta, for instance, one seat represents 70.000 individuals, while in Germany one seat represents 843.000.
When it comes to decision-making, a simple majority is the rule, unless the Treaties dictate otherwise. In fact, in most of the cases absolute (or higher) majority (i.e., the majority of members, including those absent or not voting) is required.
The Parliament is the EU’s law-making body. It passes EU laws together with the Council of the EU, on proposals initiated by the EU Commission. It is also vested with the budgetary power, deciding on EU expenditure and revenue. Again, this function is shared with the Council of EU and is based on the draft budget presented by the Commission. In fact, the EU law- and decision- making power is rooted in an institutional triangle: decisions are made with involvement of three political institutions (Parliament, Council of the EU and the Commission), none of which can decide without considering the position of the others.
Furthermore, the Parliament has oversight powers over the other institutions.
Among others, it appoints the President of the Commission (the EU Executive). Since 2014, the President is selected based on the results of the parliamentary elections. In view of the elections, each competing political party put forward its own candidate for the Commission presidency and therefore this will be the candidate of the ‘winning’ party. This makes the selection of the President of the Commission a more democratic process, as people know in advance each party’s choice in this respect.
The Parliament also approves the appointment and, eventually, the dismissal of the Commission as a whole. The other institutions have to keep the Parliament regularly informed of their activities and priorities, and at the same time the Parliament can set up inquiries and can questionboth the Commission and the Council of the EU. Finally, any EU citizen or resident in a member state can submit a petition, asking the Parliament to act on a certain issue.
| Alice Valdesalici is an award-winning senior researcher at the Institute for Comparative Federalism of Eurac Research. She got her PhD in Italian and Constitutional Law from the University of Verona in 2016. Her main research interests are Comparative Federalism, Italian Regionalism & the special autonomy of Trentino-South Tyrol and Institutional Innovation.|