The European Parliament

If you’ve arrived on this page, it must mean you’ve clicked on a link in one of our articles! Good for you! You took the courage to see what we’re actually talking about every time we mention the European Parliament. And luckily our dear contributor August Coenders has tried to make it a bit more understandable for you.

In short

President: David Sassoli
Location: Mostly Brussels, once a month in Strasbourg
Members of Parliament: 705
Political Groups: 7

‘So what is the European parliament?’

Well, the European Parliament, just like any other parliament, is the body that represents us, the people. Its main function is to hold to account, or to scrutinise in political speak, the European Commission, which is often seen as the European ‘government’. The Parliament does this together with the Council of Ministers, which – you guessed it – is the institution where national ministers meet their counterparts from other Member States.

‘Okay, but what is it they actually do?’

Well, they help making laws. The process of lawmaking between the Parliament, Council and Commission usually goes as follows. First, the Commission proposes a new piece of legislation, say on food standards or privacy measures, and the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers can then amend it (amend basically means change things). These two institutions will then decide whether the proposed legislation (law), including any possible amendments (changes), is approved or not. Unlike any other parliament, however, the European Parliament does not have the so-called ‘right of initiative’. This means that it can’t propose legislation the way national parliaments can. On the EU level, only the European Commission can do this.

‘And how are they elected?’

The Parliament is directly elected by us, all eligible voters from the Member States. Every five years, we go to the polls to elect the Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs for short. Yet, the in EU, being what it is, this is not as straightforward as it sounds. Yes, we do directly elect our MEPs, but we can only choose from national lists. This means that we can only vote for people from our own Member State. For instance, Belgian voters can vote for Belgian candidates, but not for German or French ones.

‘And how about parties? Does the EP have those as well?’

Yes, it does actually. But maybe not in the way you’d imagine. In the Parliament, MEPs are organised into ‘parliamentary groups’. These can be seen as political parties in that they represent broad political ideologies. There are, for instance, parliamentary groups for the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Liberals, as well as for the Eurosceptics.. They are formed of national parties that broadly share the same views. For example, the German Christlich Demokratische Union (Christian Democratic Union) and the French Républicains (Republicans) are part of the ‘European People’s Party’, the parliamentary group of the Christian Democrats. Another example is the ‘Identity and Democracy’ group, formed of nationalist and Eurosceptic parties, such as the French Rassemblement national (National Rally) and the German Alternative für Deutschland (Alternatives for Germany).

‘So the dutch parliament has 150 seats, what about the ep?’

Each Member State is given a number of seats in the Parliament, depending on the size of their population. However, that would mean that the bigger Member States would have a disproportionately high number of MEP’s compared to the smaller Member States. For this reason, the smaller Member States were given more seats and the maximum number of seats was capped at 96. Hence, the biggest Member State, Germany, has 96 seats and the smallest Member State, Malta, has 6. Ever since the UK decided to leave the EU, the EP has a total of 705 seats.