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European Union - Main EU Institutions

The European Parliament

Meeting places Strasbourg for monthly plenary sessions, Brussels for committee meetings and additional sessions. The General Secretariat is based in Luxembourg

The Parliament sees itself as the guardian of the European interest and the defender of the citizens' rights. Individually, or as a group, European citizens have the right to petition the Parliament and can seek redress of their grievances on matters that fall within the European Union's sphere of responsibility. The Parliament has also appointed an ombudsman, Mr Jacob Magnus Söderman, to investigate allegations of maladministration brought by citizens.

The European Parliament attaches a high priority to maintaining links with national parliaments through regular meetings between speakers and chairmen and between parliamentary committees. These contacts are further enlivened by discussions of Union policies in major conclaves known as 'parliamentary assizes'.

The most important powers of the European Parliament fall into three categories:

Legislative power

Originally, the Treaty of Rome (1957) gave the Parliament only a consultative role, allowing the Commission to propose and the Council of Ministers to decide legislation. Subsequent Treaties have extended Parliament's influence to amending and even adopting legislation so that the Parliament and Council now share the power of decision in a large number of areas.

The consultation procedure requires an opinion from the Parliament before a legislative proposal from the Commission can be adopted by the Council. This applies, for example, to the agricultural price review.

The co-operation procedure allows Parliament to improve proposed legislation by amendment. It involves two readings in Parliament, giving members ample opportunity to review and amend the Commission's proposal and the Council's preliminary position on it.

This procedure applies to a large number of areas including the European Regional Development Fund, research, the environment and overseas co-operation and development.

The co-decision procedure shares decision-making power equally between the Parliament and the Council. A conciliation committee - made up of equal numbers of Members of Parliament and of the Council, with the Commission present - seeks a compromise on a text that the Council and Parliament can both subsequently endorse. If there is no agreement, Parliament can reject the proposal outright.

The co-decision procedure applies to a wide range of issues such as the free movement of workers, consumer protection, education, culture, health and trans-European networks.

Parliament's assent is required for important international agreements such as the accession of new Member States, association agreements with third countries, the organisation and objectives of the Structural and Cohesion Funds and the tasks and powers of the European Central Bank.

Members: 626 elected every 5 years

Germany

99

Netherlands

31

Austria

21

France

87

Belgium

25

Denmark

16

Italy

87

Greece

25

Finland

16

UK

87

Portugal

25

Ireland

15

Spain

64

Sweden

22

Luxembourg

6

Budgetary powers

The European Parliament approves the Union's budget each year. The budgetary procedure allows Parliament to propose modifications and amendments to the Commission's initial proposals and to the position taken by the Member States in Council. On agricultural spending and costs arising from international agreements the Council has the last word, but on other expenditure--for example, education, social programmes, regional funds, environmental and cultural projects--Parliament decides in close co-operation with the Council.

In exceptional circumstances, the European Parliament has even voted to reject the budget when its wishes have not been adequately respected. Indeed, it is the President of the Parliament who signs the budget into law.

Monitoring of expenditure is the continuous work of the Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control which seeks to make sure that money is spent for the purposes agreed and to improve the prevention and detection of fraud. Parliament makes an annual assessment of the Commission's management of the budget before approving the accounts and granting it a 'discharge' on the basis of the Annual Report of the Court of Auditors.

Supervision

The Parliament exercises overall political supervision of the way the Union's policies are conducted. Executive power in the Union is shared between the Commission and the Council of Ministers and their representatives appear regularly before Parliament.

Parliament and Commission

Parliament has an important role every five years in appointing the President and members of the Commission. It exercises detailed scrutiny through a close examination of the many monthly and annual reports which the Commission is obliged to submit to the Parliament. Members may also put written and oral questions to the Commission and they regularly interrogate Commissioners at Question Time during plenary sessions and at meetings of parliamentary committees.

If the worst comes to the worst (which has never yet occurred), Parliament can pass a motion of censure on the Commission and force it to resign.

Parliament and Council

The President in office of the Council presents his or her programme at the beginning of a presidency and gives an account of it to Parliament at the end of that period. He or she also reports on the results of each European Council and on progress in the development of foreign and security policy.

Ministers attend plenary sessions and take part in Question Time and in important debates. They must also respond to written questions.

At the beginning of each meeting of the European Council, the President of Parliament presents the institution's main positions on the topics to be discussed by the Heads of State or Government. His speech often sets the tone for the important discussions of the day.

Organisation

All of the EU's major political currents are represented in the Parliament, ranging from far left to far right, and numbering close to 100 political parties. These are organised in a limited number of political groups (presently eight).

Overall management of the Parliament's activities is the responsibility of the Bureau which consists of the President and 14 Vice-Presidents. All of its Members are elected for terms of two and a half years.

The chairmen of the political groups participate with the President of Parliament in the Conference of Presidents which is responsible for organising the Parliament's work and drawing up the agenda for plenary sessions.

Much of the effective work of Parliament is conducted in its 20 committees covering all areas of the Union's activities, ranging from Agriculture to Common Foreign and Security Policy, from Legal Affairs and Citizens' Rights to Overseas Co-operation and Development.

Parliament maintains friendly relations with elected assemblies all over the world and European Parliamentarians meet regularly with representatives from other Parliaments in interparliamentary committees and delegations.

Public access/information

Sessions of the European Parliament are open to press and public. Daily reports are issued when Parliament is in session and periodic summaries of Parliament's activities are also available. Information is distributed by Parliament's Directorate-General for Information and Public Relations and from Parliament's offices in the capitals of Member States and Euro-Info Points.

Taken from www.europa.eu.int

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