The Union's institutions
The reforms introduced by the Constitution concerning the European Parliament focus on two subjects:
- the extension of the Parliament's powers in the Union's decision-making procedures;
- the creation of a new system of distributing seats between the Member States.
Just as in the case of the other institutions, the Constitution consolidates the most important rules concerning Parliament in a single article in the first part of the Constitutional Treaty, so as to enhance visibility (Article I-20).
To prevent overly long negotiations on the distribution of seats at the Parliament between the Member States, the Constitution establishes basic rules for this distribution and confers on Parliament the task of preparing a proposal on the subject, which the European Council will have to adopt by unanimity.
With each reform of the treaties, the European Parliament's role in the Union's decision-making procedure has been enhanced. The Constitution extends the codecision procedure, rebaptised as the " ordinary legislative procedure ", to a large number of articles. The Parliament therefore becomes co-legislator in almost all cases, with the exception of a dozen acts, where it will only be consulted. The details concerning this progression towards the "ordinary legislative procedure" are the subject of a specific fact sheet concerning the legislative procedure .
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Article I-20 of the Constitutional Treaty sets out the general rules concerning the Parliament. The Constitution jointly vests the Parliament and the Council of Ministers with the legislative and budgetary functions. Hence the Parliament is put on an equal footing with the Council of Ministers as regards these two functions. Besides, the Parliament has functions of political control and consultation as laid down by the Constitution (control of the Commission or execution of the budget , for example).
The Constitution lays down that in future the President of the Commission will be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its members, acting on a proposal from the European Council . This proposal will have to take into account the results of the European elections. Note that the term 'election' was preferred to that of 'approval', used up to now in the Treaty establishing the European Community. The purpose of this amendment is to enhance the importance of the European elections and of the Parliament and clearly highlights the responsibility of the President of the Commission vis-à-vis the Parliament.
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The Constitutional Treaty does not envisage any change in the procedure for the European elections. These elections must of course be based on direct universal suffrage in free and secret ballot and allow the European citizens to elect their representatives for a term of five years (Article I-20). In Article III-330 the Constitution maintains the legal basis, stipulating that the European elections must be organised in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States, which is not yet the case. This article specifies that a law or framework law must establish the necessary measures for compliance with this requirement.
The Constitutional Treaty lays down that the maximum number of seats is 750, thus increasing the current number laid down in the Treaty of Nice . The minimum number of seats per Member State is to be six, in order to make sure that, even in the least populous Member States, all the major shades of political opinion will have a chance of being represented in the European Parliament. The maximum number of seats, which is 96, is also laid down in the Constitutional Treaty for the first time.
The Constitution breaks with the tradition of enshrining in the treaties the detailed breakdown of seats between the Member States. Instead, the Constitutional Treaty establishes an allocation rule which states that representation of citizens is degressively proportional (Article I-20).
Sufficiently in advance of the European Parliamentary elections in 2009, the European Council should adopt by unanimity, on the basis of a proposal from the Parliament, and with its consent, a decision establishing the composition of the Parliament. The new composition rules will thus have to be based on a proposal from the Parliament, which gives it greater influence on its own composition. If, following a subsequent enlargement, it turns out to be necessary to alter once again the distribution of seats, an identical procedure will apply, so that it will not be necessary to modify the Constitution.
For the 2004-2009 legislature, the distribution of seats established in line with the rules approved at Nice and set down in the Treaty of Accession concluded with the ten new Member States has been kept in the Protocol on the transitional provisions relating to the institutions and bodies of the Union.
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The Constitution considerably simplifies the Union's legislative procedures . The introduction of the "ordinary legislative procedure" (Articles I-34 and III-396), modelled on the existing "codecision" procedure, will give the Parliament equal legislative powers with the Council of Ministers. The European laws and framework laws will be adopted by the Parliament and the Council of Ministers in accordance with the procedure described in Article III-396. The Constitution extends the application of this legislative procedure to a large number of articles and thus gives more decision-making powers to the Parliament. For certain laws and framework laws which are adopted in accordance with a special procedure, the Constitutional Treaty provides that the Parliament must be consulted or must approve the act in question.
In the budgetary procedure (Articles III-403 to III-409), the Parliament has enhanced its powers, since the budgetary procedure now belongs to the ordinary legislative procedure, with a single reading and conciliation between Parliament and Council. Besides, the old distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure is eliminated, which means that Parliament's influence has been extended to the entire budget. Previously, only non-compulsory expenditure had to be finally approved by the Parliament. The details of the budgetary procedure are dealt with in the fact sheet on the Union's finances .
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In Articles III-330 to III-340 the Constitutional Treaty addresses more specific rules (the European elections, working methods, the annual session, temporary committees of inquiry, the citizens' right of petition, the role of the European Ombudsman, the adoption of rules of procedure, the motion of censure against the Commission, etc.) without however changing the basic rules set out in the existing treaties.
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|I-20||The European Parliament||Major changes|
|I-34||The legislative acts||Major changes|
|III-330 to III-340||The European Parliament - specific rules||-|
|III-396||The ordinary legislative procedure||Major changes|
|III-403 to III-409||The Union's annual budget||Major changes|
|Protocol on the transitional provisions relating to the institutions and bodies of the Union||Seats in the European Parliament 2004-2009||Transitional rules|
These fact sheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Constitution.