The European Parliament (EP) is the assembly of the representatives of the 500 million Union citizens. Since 1979 they have been elected by direct universal suffrage. The Lisbon Treaty set the total number of EP seats to 751. The number of MEPs per country is set by a European Council decision adopted unanimously on the EP proposal. No country may now have less than 6 or more than 96 MEPs.
The European Parliament's main functions are as follows:
- legislative power: in most cases Parliament shares the legislative power with the Council, in particular through the ordinary legislative procedure.
- budgetary power: Parliament shares budgetary powers with the Council in voting on the annual budget, rendering it enforceable through the President of Parliament's signature, and overseeing its implementation
- power of control over the Union's institutions, in particular the Commission. Parliament can give or withhold approval for the designation of Commissioners and has the power to dismiss the Commission as a body by passing a motion of censure. It also exercises a power of control over the Union's activities through the written and oral questions it can put to the Commission and the Council. And it can set up temporary committees and committees of inquiry whose remit is not necessarily confined to the activities of European institutions but can extend to action taken by the Member States in implementing European policies.
The Lisbon Treaty strengthens the role of the European Parliament by placing it on an equal footing with the Council of Ministers. Namely, the Lisbon Treaty:
- extends the ordinary legislative procedure (ordinary legislative procedure) to 40 new fields including agriculture, energy security, immigration, justice and home affairs, health and structural funds;
- reinforces the role of the Parliament in the adoption of the EU budget. The distinction between 'compulsory' and 'non compulsory' expenditure is abandoned. The European Parliament is now responsible for the adoption of the entire budget together with the Council;
- enable MEPs to give their consent on a wide range of international agreements negotiated by the European Union such as international trade agreements;
- introduces new rights to be informed on the activities of the European Council, the rotating Council presidency and the Union's external action;
- gives the European Parliament the right to propose changes to the Treaty;
- improves its power of scrutiny by giving it the responsibility to elect the President of the Commission, and approve the Commission members by a vote of consent.