As in the national Parliaments, various committees have been set up within the European Parliament to prepare the proceedings of the full House. The core legislative work of Parliament is done in these committees. The members of each committee are elected from among the Members of Parliament at the beginning of and half-way through each parliamentary term, according to their political affiliation and their expertise.
The European Parliament's Rules of Procedure specify that the Members of Parliament set the number of committees and determine their powers. For the sixth parliamentary term (2004-2009), it was decided to increase the number of specialised standing committees from 17 to 20, dealing with different areas of activity (internal market, agriculture, employment, industry, culture, constitutional and legal affairs etc.).
Parliament can also set up sub-committees, temporary committees and committees of inquiry if it considers it necessary. Committees of inquiry look into possible infringements of Community law or cases of maladministration in its implementation. For example, a committee of inquiry was set up in 1997 to investigate the delay in the European response to the "mad cow" crisis. Temporary committees are set up for a period of 12 months, but can be renewed indefinitely. Their remit need not be restricted to the implementation of Community law.
The main function of the standing committees is to debate proposals for new legislation put forward by the European Commission and to draw up own-initiative reports. For any proposal for legislation or other initiative, a rapporteur is nominated by agreement between the political groups that make up Parliament. His or her report is discussed, amended and voted on within the parliamentary committee and then placed before the plenary assembly, which meets once a month in Strasbourg, and which debates and votes on the basis of this report.
As preparation for Parliament's vote of approval of the European Commission, the parliamentary committees also conduct hearings of the Commissioners-designate in their specialised areas.