The European Parliament is the institution that represents the citizens of the Member States. About 503 million European citizens in 28 countries are currently represented by 766 representatives at the European Parliament. The Parliament meets and deliberates in public at the Parliament buildings in Strasbourg in France.
The first direct elections to the European Parliament were held in June 1979 and are held every 5 years in the month of June.
There are a broad range of political groups at the European Parliament. Usually, MEPs join a political group at the Parliament and sit and vote with that group. MEPs of the European Parliment are not obliged to vote with their political groups. The European Parliament has an elected president who oversees all the activities of the Parliament and its various parts.
The Parliament has three main powers:
- The power to legislate. This power is shared with the Council of the European Union. In most situations, European laws are made by a co-decision procedure. This means that the Council and the Parliament jointly adopt law. The Parliament can make amendments to legislation under this procedure. However, there are certain important areas, for example, tax legislation, where the Parliament may only give an opinion as to whether a proposed piece of legislation can become law.
- The power of the purse. This power is also shared with the Council. The Parliament supervises spending by the EU and it also adopts the annual budget for the EU. It has the last word on spending on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, cultural and educational programmes, humanitarian aid and refugee programmes. However, when it comes to spending on agriculture and spending arising from international agreements, the Parliament can propose modifications but the Council has the final say.
- The power of democratic supervision. The Parliament supervises all Community activities. It sets up committees of inquiry to investigate certain matters. It also plays a crucial role in supervising the European Commission. The Commission must submit reports to the Parliament on its activities and must answer written or oral questions during Question Time. If two-thirds of the Parliament vote in favour of a motion of censure against the Commission, the entire Commission is forced to resign.
The European Parliment also has powers where enlargement of the European Union is concerned. The European Parliment monitors the negotiations between the EU and countries that wish to join the EU, such as, Turkey. At the end of the negotiating process the European Parliment has to agree to their membership of the EU. If the European Parliment says no, there is no appeal mechanism.
Visiting the European Parliament
The Parliament receives groups of visitors in its three places of work, Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, not only during part-sessions but also outside part-sessions. Visits last approximately one to three hours and include a talk, given by a European Parliament official, on what the Parliament is and how it works, followed by a question and answer session. Some visits include a video presentation or an exchange of views with an MEP. Find out more information about visiting the European Parliament here.
Access to official European Parliamentary documents
The European Parliament's official documents include documents of the parliamentary committees and the interparliamentary delegations, plenary sittings and parliamentary questions. You can also consult a public register of documents of the European Parliament. Further information can be found in the booklet Access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents - A user's guide (pdf). Europe Direct provides help with using EU websites.
Your voice in Europe
European citizenship gives EU citizens the right of free movement and residence in the territory of the Member States, the right to vote and stand for election in European and local elections, the right to diplomatic protection in third countries, as well as:
- The right to petition the European Parliament
- The right to bring complaints before the European Ombudsman;
- The right to address any of the Union's institutions or bodies in one of the official languages, including Irish, and to receive an answer in the same language.
How to apply
Anyone residing in an EU member state has the right to submit a petition to the European Parliament, individually or as part of a group, on matters concerning them directly which fall within the European Union's remit. Contact information for petitions is set out below.
Where to apply
European Parliament Petitions Committee
Chairman of the Petitions Committee
Allée du Printemps
B.P. 1024/F F-67070 Strasbourg Cedex
Tel:0033 0 388 174 001
Fax:0033 0 388 256 501