- The European Parliament is one of two main lawmaking bodies in the EU (the other is the Council of the European Union). It has equal lawmaking powers with the Council and its powers have been greatly enhanced by the Treaty of Lisbon which took effect for the 2009-14 Parliament.
- It consists of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are elected directly by the citizens of EU member states. Currently there are 751 MEPs, elected by the second largest population in the world (behind the Parliament of India). There are 750 MEPs plus the President of the European Parliament who is elected by the MEPs and performs a similar role to that of the Speaker in the House of Commons in the UK.
- The number of MEPs per EU member state is weighted according to the population of that country; however there are other weighting factors to ensure that small EU member states don’t end up with only one or two MEPs to represent them.
- The UK has the third joint largest number of MEPs (73), behind Germany (96) and France (74) and equal with Italy. We have nearly 10% of the total number of MEPs.
- Elections to the European Parliament are held every five years; the next will be in mid 2019.
- Seats are allocated according to a proportional representation system to more fairly represent the wishes of the electorate, rather than the UK’s “first past the post” system which greatly disadvantages smaller parties and gives complete control to MPs who may have only won their seat by a narrow margin.
- MEPs sit in groups according to their political allegiance; the largest two groups are the European People’s Party (EPP, a centre right grouping historically akin to the UK Conservative Party; 214 MEPs in the 2014-19 Parliament) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D, a centre left grouping similar to the UK Labour Party; 189 MEPs in the 2014-19 Parliament). Under pressure from Eurosceptic MPs in his party, then UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron removed his MEPs from the EPP grouping into a smaller grouping of the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR; 74 MEPs in the 2014-19 Parliament). The UK lost influence as a result.
- The European Parliament cannot propose legislation itself. This is a job reserved exclusively for the European Commission and is done this way in order to ensure that all legislative proposals are truly pan-European in nature, rather than representing the narrower interests of only some member states or their MEPs.
- Because of the way MEPs vote, which is usually along the lines of political ideology rather than national identity, the number of times UK MEPs have been on the winning or losing side of votes in the European Parliament is irrelevant as a measure of UK influence. It’s akin to saying that Manchester MPs (who mostly belong to the Opposition Labour Party) are always outvoted when they again vote along lines of political affiliation rather than regional identity.
- There are no Party Whips in the European Parliament; effectively every vote there is a free vote along the lines of each MEP’s conscience.
- The European Parliament also convenes various Committees to examine and amend legislative proposals from the European Commission. Infamously, during his time as Chairman of the Fisheries Committee, Nigel Farage attended under 10% of this Committee’s meetings.
"The European Parliament has equal lawmaking powers with the Council of the European Union. It is directly elected by citizens of EU member states and the UK has the joint third largest number of MEPs. It convenes Committees to examine and amend legislative proposals from the Commission; infamously Nigel Farage attended less than 10% of the Fisheries Committee meetings during the time he was Chair of it."
- Both the directly elected MEPs and elected representatives of each member state (in the form of the Council of the European Union) are required to vote on, and agree with each other about, the legislative proposals from the European Commission before the proposals can become law. Since 2009, the European Parliament has had real legislative power and is far from being the “talking shop” that some dismiss it as. If the European Parliament votes down a legislative proposal (as it did in 2012 when the infamous ACTA treaty, which was extremely unpopular with the public in EU member states, came to a vote) then the proposal cannot become law. This is at the heart of European Union democracy: citizens of EU member states have direct representation and can lobby these representatives to block proposed laws they do not approve of.