The European Parliament Chamber in Brussels
The European Parliament Chamber in Brussels

The European Parliament is the part of the European Union which is directly elected by the citizens at elections. The Parliament votes on law proposals from the European Commission, and will agree with the European Council whether such proposals will become European Union law through the co-decision procedure.

Since the creation of the European Parliament, it has gained new powers when new treaties have been agreed between the member states. The role of the parliament in the passing of new laws is detailed on this page.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected by EU citizens every five years, the last election taking place in 2014. The elections have to use a form of proportional representation, though this may differ from country to country. Each country is assigned a certain number of MEPs based on its population, on the condition that no country can have more than 96 members, and no fewer than six. This results in smaller countries having proportionally more influence in the Parliament than the larger ones, though also avoids the somewhat awkward situation where we would need to give Malta 0.006 MEPs. 

This results in the UK having 73 MEPs; three for Northern Ireland, six for Scotland, and four for Wales, whilst the remaining 60 divided up between the regions of England based on population — giving three to the North West and ten to the South East. You can find out more about your MEPs at http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/your-meps.html

As well as being members of their UK political parties, most MEPs sit with their likeminded colleagues in the European Parliament — The Labour Party, for example, sits with the Socialist and Democrats Group made up of other European parties with similar aims and objectives. The sole exception to this as far as UK MEPs go is Diane Dodds (DUP MEP for Northern Ireland, 2009–), who sits as what is officially called a “Non-Inscrit” or non-aligned. Groups receive EU Parliament funding, and have speaking rights not normally granted to non-aligned MEPs — but not all parties are able to make groups, as you need to have a minimum of 25 MEPs from at least seven countries.

The table below outlines the groups with which the UK MEPs sit, and their relative numbers:

UK Party

Seats/73

European Parliament Group

Seats/751

 

No UK Representation

 

 

European People’s Party

215

 

Labour Party

20

 

Socialists and Democrats

190

 

Conservative Party

20

 

European Conservatives and Reformists

76

 

Ulster Unionist Party

1

 

Liberal Democrats

1

 

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

70

 

Sinn Féin

1

 

European United Left – Nordic Green Left

52

 

Green Party of England and Wales

3

 

The Greens – European Free Alliance

50

 

Scottish National Party

2

 

Plaid Cymru

1

 

UK Independence Party

22

 

Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy

45

 

Janice Atkinson (Independent, formerly Ukip)

1

 

Europe of Nations and Freedom

38

 

Democratic Unionist Party

1

 

Non-Aligned

15

 

Since David Cameron took over the Conservative Party and removed them from the European People’s Party, the UK has been unable to vote for the largest group in the European Parliament — this has also arguably cost the UK influence by not only having no voice in one of the three largest groups, but no voice in the group which won the elections and provided the President of the Commission.

Every two and half years, the Parliament elects a President — who is effectively what we call the Speaker of the House in Westminster. The President chairs debates and represents the Parliament externally, in the Council of Ministers, for example. The President is usually from the European People’s Party or the Socialists & Democrats, as the two largest groups in the Parliament they often come to an agreement where they will back each others’ candidates for President at alternate elections. The current President is Martin Schulz (Social Democratic Party MEP for Germany, 1994–) who was elected to his first term in 2012, and then his second in mid-2014.

One somewhat ridiculous quirk to the European Parliament is that it meets in Brussels and Strasbourg, the second being a sign of cooperation between France and Germany. This means that once a month, MEPs and their staff pack up and move from Belgium to France for a few days. This travelling circus costs over €100m and releases over 20,000 tons of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere — kind of undermining any of the EU’s green stances. The abolition of the Strasbourg seat would require a treaty change, something which France has made clear would be vetoed — so it looks like the travelling circus is here to stay, despite MEPs consistently voting to get rid of it once and for all.

If you would like to know more about what it is like to be an MEP and what they do, the six Scottish members have contributed to a document published by the European Parliament’s office in Edinburgh which outlines their work in the European Parliament: http://www.europarl.org.uk/resource/static/files/publications_ressources/final-proof-iii---09.09.2015.pdf