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The European Parliament

 

SUMMARY OF:

Article 14 of the Treaty on European Union

Articles 223-234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU — role, composition and functioning of the European Parliament

Act concerning the election of Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage

Decision (EU, Euratom) 2018/994 amending the act concerning the election of Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE ARTICLES OF THE EU TREATIES, THE ACT AND THE DECISION?

  • Article 14 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 223 to 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) set out the role, competences, composition, mandate and electoral procedure for the European Parliament (hereafter the Parliament).
  • The electoral act, which originally dates from 1976 and has been amended several times (in particular in line with revisions of the EU treaties and the accession of new EU Member States), sets out rules for the election of the Members of the Parliament (MEPs) by direct universal suffrage.
  • Decision (EU, Euratom) 2018/994 (not yet in force) updates the 1976 electoral act and seeks to:
    • encourage citizens’ participation;
    • strengthen the European dimension of elections;
    • adapt the electoral thresholds; and
    • improve the conduct of elections, in particular by allowing alternative voting methods and streamlining the cooperation between national authorities.

KEY POINTS

The Parliament is the sole institution of the European Union (EU) directly elected by EU citizens, for EU citizens. It therefore represents close to 450 million EU citizens and in this sense embodies democratic power. It has its seat in Strasbourg, France. MEPs are elected for a term of 5 years by direct election (since 1979) in a free and secret ballot, with a set number from each Member State. The Parliament, as it is known nowadays, is actually the result of the merger of the three former assemblies of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community (1965 Merger Treaty — see summary).

Powers

The Parliament’s powers have developed through successive revisions to the EU treaties. These include the following.

  • Decision-making power (power of deliberation):
  • Power of control over the EU executive institutions (Council and Commission) mainly by ensuring political control over the Commission (by a motion of censure) or by asking oral or written questions to the Council. The Parliament may also exercise its control over other EU institutions such as the European Central Bank (Article 284 TFEU).
  • Power of appointment by participating in the designation of the Commissioners, Members of the European Court of Auditors and Ombudsman.

Competences

Legislation

  • Under the ordinary legislative procedure (Article 294 TFEU), the Parliament has equal standing with the Council. This procedure is used in the majority of policy areas, including:
    • transport
    • environment
    • agriculture
    • energy security
    • immigration
    • justice
    • public health.
  • The Parliament also intervenes on acts adopted under special legislative procedures, by giving its opinion (consultation procedure) or its consent (approval procedure).
  • The Parliament’s approval is required for numerous types of agreements with non-EU countries or international organisations, such as association agreements or agreements in areas covered by ordinary legislative procedure (for example, trade agreements). The Parliament must also be consulted for all other types of international agreement (Article 218 TFEU).

Budget

The Parliament operates on an equal footing with the Council for the entire procedure of adopting the annual EU budget. The budgetary procedure consists of one reading each from the Parliament and the Council, or otherwise a conciliation committee is convened to reach an agreement on a joint text (Article 314 TFEU).

Executive oversight

The Parliament can exercise a number of controls over the Commission, the EU’s executive branch:

  • the Commission President is elected by the Parliament following a proposal from the European Council, and the results of the European Parliament elections must be taken into consideration;
  • the inauguration of the Commission is dependent on the approval from the Parliament — this approval also involves the appointment of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is concurrently a Vice-President of the Commission;
  • the Parliament can force the Commission to resign through a motion of censure.

Treaty revision

  • The Parliament’s right of initiative permits it to propose a revision of the treaties (Article 48 TEU).
  • It participates in the convention which examines the drafts submitted for a standard revision process of the treaties.
  • It must be consulted for the modification of treaties within the simplified revision procedure.

Electoral rules

The EU’s 1976 electoral act is based on common EU principles but also recognises the importance of national rules in the field of electoral procedures.

  • EU Member States must use a proportional voting system but are free to use either a list system or a single transferable vote.
  • Elections must be by direct universal suffrage and be free and secret. People may only vote once in a given election to the Parliament.
  • Each EU Member State may set a ceiling for candidates’ campaign expenses.
  • Member States are free to establish constituencies or to decide on how to subdivide the electoral area, provided the proportional nature of the voting system is maintained. They are also free to set thresholds for allocating seats of no higher than 5%.
  • MEPs vote on an individual and personal basis. They must not be bound by any instructions nor receive a binding mandate.
  • Since the 2004 elections, MEPs are not allowed to be members of their national parliament at the same time (apart from temporary exceptions made for the United Kingdom and Ireland, which have now expired). The office of MEP is also deemed incompatible with that of a member of a Member State’s government, a member of the Commission, a judge at the Court of Justice of the EU, a member of the Board of the European Central Bank or the European Investment Bank, a member of the Court of Auditors, a member of the European Economic and Social Committee or of the European Committee of the Regions, or the Ombudsman.
  • Member States have their own procedures to fill a seat when it falls vacant as a result of resignation, death or withdrawal of the mandate.

Decision (EU, Euratom) 2018/994, once approved by each of the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements, is to introduce the following changes:

  • where the list system is used, the Member States in question would have to set a minimum threshold of between 2% and 5% of valid votes for allocating seats in constituencies with more than 35 seats;
  • there would be a minimum deadline to draw up electoral lists of at least 3 weeks before the date set by the relevant Member State for holding the Parliament elections;
  • Member States could allow for the display, on ballot papers, of the name or logo of the European political party to which the national political party or individual candidate is affiliated;
  • the possibility of introducing electronic voting and postal voting as well as for Member States to take the necessary measures to allow EU citizens residing in non-EU countries to vote in Parliament elections;
  • the penalties for double voting;
  • the designation of a contact authority in each Member State that would be responsible for exchanging data on voters and candidates with its counterparts in other Member States.

Composition

The allocation of seats between Member States takes into account a number of factors:

  • maintaining a satisfactory proportion between the seats allocated to the Member States and their populations;
  • allowing the Parliament to reflect upon important political issues, even for the less-populated Member States;
  • the total number of MEPs must not exceed a certain limit so that the efficiency of the Parliament’s work is not affected.

Upon the Parliament’s initiative and with its approval, the European Council unanimously adopts a decision establishing the Parliament’s composition (Article 14(2) TEU). The treaties set out the basic rules on its composition:

  • the Parliament is composed of representatives of the EU’s citizens;
  • the maximum number of MEPs is 750, plus the Parliament’s President;
  • the minimum number of seats per Member State is 6;
  • the maximum number of seats per Member State is 96;
  • the allocation of seats is based on the principle of ‘degressive proportionality’, which means that the greater the population of a Member State, the greater number of MEPs it will have — however, each MEP in a larger Member State then represents proportionately more citizens than would be the case in a smaller Member State.

SUMMARY TABLE

Treaty

Articles

Subject

Treaty on European Union (TEU)

14

Role and composition of the Parliament

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)

223, 224, 225, 226, 227, 228, 229, 230, 231, 232, 233, 234

Functioning of the Parliament

BACKGROUND

Since 31 January 2020, when the United Kingdom officially left the European Union (Brexit), there are 705 MEPs, a reduction of 46 on the previous number.

MAIN DOCUMENTS

Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union — Title III — Provisions on the institutions — Article 14 (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 22-23)

Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, pp. 1-388)

Act concerning the election of the representatives of the Assembly by direct universal suffrage (OJ L 278, 8.10.1976, pp. 5-11)

See consolidated version.

Council Decision (EU, Euratom) 2018/994 of 13 July 2018 amending the Act concerning the election of the members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage, annexed to Council Decision 76/787/ECSC, EEC, Euratom of 20 September 1976 (OJ L 178, 16.7.2018, pp. 1-3)

Decision 76/787/ECSC, EEC, Euratom of the representatives of the Member States meeting in the council relating to the Act concerning the election of the representatives of the Assembly by direct universal suffrage (OJ L 278, 8.10.1976, pp. 1-4)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union — Protocol (No 6) on the location of the seats of the institutions and of certain bodies, offices, agencies and departments of the European Union (OJ C 202, 7.6.2016, p. 265)

European Council Decision (EU) 2018/937 of 28 June 2018 establishing the composition of the European Parliament (OJ L 165I , 2.7.2018, pp. 1-3)

last update 13.01.2021

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