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The European Parliament

INTRODUCTION

The distribution of seats between Member States and the Parliament’s power in the legislative process have often been at the centre of debate during previous revisions of the Treaties.

With the successive enlargements of the European Union (EU), the number of MEPs in the Parliament has increased continuously and has given rise to long negotiations between Member States. In addition, the powers of MEPs have expanded considerably due to the generalisation of the codecision procedure.

The Treaty of Lisbon proposes a new procedure for the allocation of seats in the European Parliament and greatly increases its legislative and budgetary powers by making changes to the EU’s decision-making procedures.

COMPOSITION

The distribution of seats between Member States in the Parliament is a complex subject. Above all, the distribution must maintain a satisfactory proportionality between the seats allocated to Member States and the population of the latter. In addition, the total number of MEPs must not exceed a certain threshold, to avoid impairing the effectiveness of the work of the Parliament.

The number of seats in the Parliament has therefore been the subject of long debate and a detailed distribution of seats by Member State was traditionally laid down in the various amending Treaties. With the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the distribution of seats is no longer included in the Treaties. From now on, it is to be the subject of a proposal from the Parliament requiring unanimous adoption by the European Council.

The Treaty of Lisbon therefore leaves it to the European Parliament to propose its own distribution of seats, but lays down the basic rules under which that distribution is to take place:

  • the maximum number of MEPs is set at 751, including the President of the Parliament;
  • the minimum threshold of seats per Member State is set at six MEPs, to ensure that all major political movements have a chance to be represented, even for the least populous Member States;
  • the maximum threshold of seats per Member State is set at 96;
  • the distribution of seats is to be based on the principle of “degressive proportionality”. In other words, the more populous a State, the more MEPs it has and the larger the number of inhabitants represented by an MEP.

TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS

The European Parliament elected in June 2009 is composed of 736 MEPs, as provided for in the Treaty of Nice. The European Council has, however, anticipated the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon by providing for transitional measures relating to the composition of the Parliament. In its conclusions (FR ) of 11 and 12 December 2008, it states that the number of MEPs will be raised to 754 at the end of the 2009-2014 legislative term. This change is to be ratified by all Member States. Until the final adoption of this increase in the number of MEPs, the 18 additional MEPs will have observer status only.

RESPONSIBILITIES

The Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the democratic nature of the EU by extending the powers of the European Parliament. The codecision procedure, in which the Parliament is on an equal footing with the Council, is renamed the “ordinary legislative procedure”. This procedure is extended to new political fields, such as agriculture, justice and immigration (see “legislative procedures”). The Parliament also retains a right of approval in relation to acts adopted under the consultation and assent procedures, now referred to as “special legislative procedures”.

At international level, the Parliament has to approve a whole series of agreements such as association agreements or agreements in fields covered by the ordinary or special legislative procedure where it requires the Parliament’s approval. In addition, it is to be informed and consulted in relation to all other types of international agreement.

The Parliament’s budgetary powers are also being strengthened. It is now placed on the same footing as the Council in the procedure for the adoption of the EU’s annual budget. Specifically, the distinction between “non-compulsory expenditure”, where the Parliament had the final word, and “compulsory expenditure”, where it could only propose changes, has been abolished. The procedure has therefore been simplified and is now subject to a single reading by the Parliament and the Council, then to a conciliation committee if necessary (Article 314 of the Treaty on European Union).

The Parliament also retains strong political control over the European Commission. It has to elect the President of the latter, and then give its consent to the confirmation of the Commission as a whole. In accordance with Article 234 of the Treaty on European Union, it may also overturn the Commission by passing a censure motion against it.

Finally, the Parliament acquires greater responsibilities in relation to the revision of the EU founding Treaties. It has a right of initiative and may therefore propose a revision of the Treaties to the Council. It is a member of the Convention which examines drafts submitted in the ordinary treaty revision procedure. In the simplified revision procedure, where the intervention of a Convention is not required, consultation of the Parliament remains necessary in order to make changes to the Treaties.

SUMMARY TABLE

ArticlesSubject

Treaty on European Union

14

Role and composition of the Parliament

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

223 to 234

Functioning and responsibilities of the Parliament
Last updated: 07.01.2010
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