European Organisation


Legislative Bodies

The Commission
Working in close collaboration with the European Parliament, the Commission, is the European Union’s main legislative arm.

The Commission presents its legislative proposals to the European Parliament’s committees, and makes any changes they or the EP calls for.

One of the Commission’s duties is to answer members of the European Parliament (MEPs’) written and oral questions and it is represented at all EP plenary sittings. It must give an account of its policies when called upon to do so by an MEP.

Council of the European Union
The EU’s other legislative body, the Council of the European Union, is made up of ministers from the Member States. Under a rotating presidency, each member state is represented in turn for a six month period.

At the beginning of each presidency the President of the Council of the European Union presents his/her programme to Parliament in plenary, and initiates a debate with the Members. At the end of the six-month presidency the President gives a final report to the European Parliament.

The European Council holds a summit up to four times a year. This is a meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the Member States, also attended by the Commission President. It establishes the general political guidelines for the European Union. After each European Summit the President of the European Council presents the European Parliament with a report on its discussions.

The Council of the European Union can contribute to any of the European Parliament’s plenary debates.

The European Parliament

Democratically elected, the European parliament sits for a term of five years. It is the only directly elected EU institution.

The official seat of the European Parliament is Strasbourg but committee meetings take place in Brussels and its secretariat is based in Luxembourg and Brussels.

The European Parliament is primarily a consultative body and its legislative powers are limited. Under the co-decision procedure introduced by the Maastricht Treaty the European Parliament has the power to veto the Commission’s legislation in certain cases and while it has the power to withhold assent to a legislative proposal it does not have the power to amend it.

The EU’s 27 member states are represented by 785 members of the European Parliament or MEPs. Elections are mainly fought on national issues and are often regarded as a vote of confidence in the MEPs’ respective national governments.

The European Parliament has the right to be consulted during the legislative process and to make amendments and since the Maastricht Treaty it has the power of veto in exceptional circumstances.

Members of the European Parliament
MEPs are organised into large groupings that reflect political leaning rather than nationality. They divide their time between Brussels, Strasbourg and their constituencies. In Brussels MEPs attend meetings of the parliamentary committees and political groups, and additional plenary sittings. In Strasbourg they attend 12 plenary sittings.

In parallel with these activities MEPs must also devote time to their constituencies. MEPs currently receive the same salary as the Members of Parliament in their country of origin. From 2009, new rules following from a statute adopted in September 2005, will equalise salary differences and make for transparency of MEPs’ pay. At present about one third of MEPs are women.

Each member state decides on its own procedures for electing MEPs. All elections are based on the principles of universal suffrage, a voting age of 18, equality of the sexes, proportional representation and a secret ballot.

Seats in parliament are allocated in proportion to a country’s population. The maximum number of seats any member states can hold is 96 and the minimum is six.

Elected for a term of two-and-a-half years, the president of the European Union represents the European Parliament on the world stage.

The president is responsible for overseeing the work of the Parliament as well as the Bureau and Conference of Presidents and plenary debates. Each year Strasbourg hosts twelve plenaries while a further six are held in Brussels.

The president is responsible for ensuring that the activities of the institution and its committees run smoothly and efficiently. He has the final word on parliamentary rules and procedures. An important part of the President’s role is to sign the EU budget after a second reading in Parliament thus giving it legal power.

The President is assisted by 14 vice-presidents, both he and the president of the council jointly sign any legislation that has been co-sponsored.

The Work of the European Parliament

Political groups
The Members of the European Parliament sit in political groups – they are not organised by nationality, but by political affiliation. There are currently 7 political groups in the European Parliament.

Each takes care of its own 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 political affiliation, from left to right, by agreement with the group chairmen.
25 Members are needed to form a political group, and at least one-quarter of the Member States must be represented within the group. Members may not belong to more than one political group.

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. No Member can be forced to vote in a particular way.

The EP political groups are:

European People’s Party (Christian Democrats)
Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament,
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
Greens/European Free Alliance
European Conservatives and Reformists Group
European United Left/ Nordic Green Left
Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group

Delegations play an important role in developing Europe’s influence abroad.

Joint parliamentary committees work closely with countries that are candidates for accession to the European Union or States that have association agreements with the Community.

Interparliamentary delegations, on the other hand, build links with parliaments of non EU countries. The European Parliament for example sends a delegation to the African, Caribbean and Pacific States which is called the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

Delegation chairmen coordinate their work through the Conference of Delegation Chairmen.

Parliamentary committees
There are 20 specialised cross-party parliamentary committees each consisting of between 28 and 86 MEPs as well as a secretariat.

Parliamentary committees meet once or twice a month in Brussels and their debates are held in public. Committees can create proposals for legislation as well as report on matters of policy concern. Sometimes they will present their reports to the plenary assembly.

Parliament can also set up temporary committees to deal with specific issues.

Checks and Balances
The Bureau is made up of the President of the European Parliament, the 14 Vice-Presidents and the six quaestors, elected by the assembly for a renewable period of two and a half years.

This body directs the EP’s internal administration and supervises its budget estimates, as well as its secretariat and departments.

The title quaestor is derived from ancient Rome. Quaestors were elected officials of the Republic of Rome who supervised the financial affairs of state. The European Parliament has six quaestors to look after the administrative and financial needs of its members. They ensure that Members have the infrastructure necessary to exercise their mandate.

Conference of Presidents
The Conference of Presidents is made up of the chairs of the political groups and the President of the European Parliament. It decides on matters such as the timetable and agenda for plenary sittings, legislative programming, and the composition of committees and their terms of reference.

Located in Luxembourg and Brussels, the Secretariat is the administrative arm of parliament. It employs around 5,000 officials, recruited from all the countries of the European Union.

Under the leadership of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat provides administrative or support staff for MEPs. Political groups have their own staff.

The European Parliament facilitates the work of MEPs from the 27 member states by offering full multilingual translation. All documents must be translated into 21 languages. A partial exception applies to Gaelic (Irish) and Maltese where only the most important documents are translated.

The Secretariat provides interpreters to enable MEPs to address the chamber in their mother tongue. Interpreters and translators account for one third of its staff.