The European Parliament has three main roles:
- debating and passing European laws, with the Council
- scrutinising other EU institutions, particularly the Commission, to make sure they are working democratically
- debating and adopting the EU's budget, with the Council.
Passing European laws
In many areas, such as consumer protection and the environment, Parliament works together with the Council (representing national governments) to decide on the content of EU laws and officially adopt them. This process is called "Ordinary legislative procedure" (ex "co-decision").
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the range of policies covered by the new ordinary legislative procedure has increased, giving Parliament more power to influence the content of laws in areas including agriculture, energy policy, immigration and EU funds.
Parliament must also give its permission for other important decisions, such as allowing new countries to join the EU.
Parliament exercises influence over other European institutions in several ways.
When a new Commission is appointed, its 28 members – one from each EU country – cannot take up office until Parliament has approved them. If the Members of the European Parliament disapprove of a nominee, they can reject the entire slate.
Parliament can also call on the Commission to resign during its period in office. This is called a 'motion of censure'.
Parliament keeps check on the Commission by examining reports it produces and by questioning Commissioners. Its committees play an important part here.
MEPs look at petitions from citizens and sets up committees of inquiry.
When national leaders meet for European Council summits, Parliament gives its opinion on the topics on the agenda.
Supervising the budget
Parliament adopts the EU’s annual budget with the Council of the European Union.
Parliament has a committee that monitors how the budget is spent, and every year passes judgement on the Commission's handling of the previous year's budget.
The number of MEPs for each country is roughly in proportion to its population. Under the Lisbon Treaty no country can have fewer than 6 or more than 96 MEPs.
The current numbers in the Parliament were set, however, before the coming into force of the treaty. The numbers will be adjusted for the next mandate of the European Parliament. For example, the number of MEPs for Germany will thus be reduced from 99 to 96, whilst for Malta this number will increase from 5 to 6.
MEPs are grouped by political affiliation, not by nationality.
The European Parliament has three places of work – Brussels (Belgium), Luxembourg and Strasbourg (France).
Luxembourg is home to the administrative offices (the ‘General Secretariat’).
Meetings of the whole Parliament (‘plenary sessions’) take place in Strasbourg and in Brussels. Committee meetings are also held in Brussels.