Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected by the citizens of the EU's Member States. Along with the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, the European Parliament it is one of three decision making bodies of the European Union.
Together with national parliaments, its function is to scrutinise the EU and its institutions. It has 754 members, coming from the twenty seven member states of the European Union. Here in the UK, the elections are conducted using a system of Proportional Representation. The North West Region has eight MEPs. The next elections are in June 2014.
Members of the European Parliament sit in pan-European political groupings rather than as national delegations. The Conservative Party is part of a new group called the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). The principles of the group are:
The co-decision procedure, introduced under the Maastricht Treaty, means that the European Parliament shares legislative power with the Council of Ministers (made up of representatives of national governments). Co-decision gives the European Parliament the power to amend or veto EU legislation and applies in a range of policy areas, including the single market, the environment and consumer protection.
In other areas, such as tax policy, where co-decision does not apply, the European Parliament only gives an opinion. The final decision is left to member governments.
A key task for MEPs is scrutinising the work of the European Commission and holding it to account. The European Parliament has the power to dismiss the European Commission. In 1999, for example, MEPs (led by British Conservatives) forced the Santer Commission to resign.
MEPs scrutinise and amend draft proposals from the European Commission in the European Parliament’s committees. They may also amend “Common Positions” agreed by national governments in the Council of Ministers.
In addition, the Parliament can set up committees of inquiry. Conservative MEPs used this system successfully to set up an independent inquiry into the Foot and Mouth epidemic. This was something the Labour Government refused to do.
MEPs may also table oral and written questions to the Council or the Commission. Oral questions are answered publicly during plenary session. Conservative MEPs have used both written and oral questions to raise important issues with the Commission, demand action and discover the truth behind EU-related controversies and news stories.
Other EU Institutions
The UK European Consumer Centre provides advice and information when shopping within the Internal Market of Europe. If you are in a dispute with a company based in another European country, the UK ECC will be able to provide you with practical advice on your next steps and may even be able to contact the company on your behalf.
The Council of Ministers is the main decision-making body in the EU and is made up of ministers from national governments. There are different Council meetings for different policy areas. The Council of Ministers has the power to conclude international agreements with other states or international organisations. The Presidency of the Council is rotated between member states on a six month basis. Towards the end of each six month presidency, the European Council (which is made up of the heads of national governments), meets in the country which holds the Presidency.
The European Commission is the executive and administrative body of the EU. It has the right to initiate draft EU legislation. Based in Brussels, it is also responsible for the implementation of EU legislation. The Commissioners and their President are nominated by national governments. There are currently twenty seven Commissioners who each serve for five years, but they may be dismissed mid-term by the Parliament.
The European Court of Justice often referred to as the ECJ, adjudicates on all legal issues and disputes concerning Community law, and must ensure that the law is uniformly interpreted and correctly applied. It is based in Luxembourg and has a judge from each member state. It may overturn laws adopted by Member States, if it deems them to be inconsistent with the EU treaties.
The Court of Auditors checks that EU revenue is spent correctly. It presents an annual report to Parliament and carries out investigations into certain spending areas. It has been very critical of waste and fraud within the European Commission.
The European Central Bank is the central bank for members of the single currency, based in Frankfurt. It sets interest rates and monetary policy for the euro-zone. Its statutory objective is price stability.
The European Investment Bank is the EU's long term lending institution and facilitates the financing of investment projects. Concerns have been expressed that the EIB is not properly supervised.
The European Ombudsman is appointed by the European Parliament to investigate complaints against the European institutions. All individuals, institutions and businesses in the EU are entitled to register complaints if they have suffered from "maladministration".