THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
This module is intended to show the role and composition of the only elected body of the European Union. Through the study of the European Parliament’s history and its role today, our aim is to understand and explain the importance of this institution and how it interacts with European citizens.
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HISTORY OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
The origin of the European Parliament dates back to the 10th of September 1952, when the
Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) held its first
meeting. It was merely a consultative body and it had no legislative power. After the signing
of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, the Assembly took the name of European Parliamentary
Assembly and it had its first meeting in 1958. On that occasion, Robert Schumann was
elected as its President. The members of the Assembly were appointed by the national
Parliaments of each Member State. They were grouped by political affinity rather than
nationality, a provision that applies still today.
The body changed its name into “European Parliament” in 1962, although it was officially
sanctioned only in 1987 with the Single European Act.
The sphere of competence of the European Parliament has broadened in the last fifty years.
In 1971 the Treaty of Luxembourg was enforced with the amendment of the EU’s budget
provisions, replacing Member States’ financial contributions with a system of own resources,
and gave budgetary powers to the European Parliament, which, from then on, had an active
role in the allocation of European funds. In 1975 a second budgetary treaty gave the
Parliament the right to reject the Community’s budget and the power to force the resignation
of the European Commission for its management of the budget.
In 1979 the first direct elections for the European Parliament were held. The citizens of the
nine Member States elected a total of 420 members.
In 1993 the Maastricht Treaty made the European Parliament co-legislator with the Council
of the European Union by introducing the co-decision procedure and gave the Parliament
the power to approve the European Commission. The Parliament’s role was further
strengthened by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999 – it gave the Assembly the right to
approve the President of the Commission – the Treaty of Nice and the Treaty of Lisbon.
THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT TODAY
ITS ROLE AND COMPOSITION
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The European Parliament is one of the seven institutions of the European Union and it has
its offices in Strasbourg (the main seat), Brussels and Luxembourg. The current President of
the European Parliament is David Maria Sassoli, who succeeded Antonio Tajani in 2019.
The members of the Assembly are directly elected by the citizens of the 27 Member States
every five years. Seats are allocated to each State in relation to its population. After the
withdrawal of the UK from the EU, the number of representatives decreased from 751 to
705. Of the 73 seats vacated by the UK, 27 were redistributed among France, Spain, Italy,
the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia,
Poland, and Romania.
Representatives are likely to join a political group, which gathers members on the basis of
political affinity rather than nationality. The two main groups in the European Parliament are
the European People’s Party and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in
the European Parliament.
The Parliament has legislative, budgetary, and supervisory powers.
The European Commission is the only EU body with the power of proposing legislation.
However, the Assembly has the right to urge the Commission to submit a proposal on a
given issue. When the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision) is applied, proposals must
be presented both to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and
both institutions have to pass the act. However, there are specific cases in which the
Parliament acts only as a consultative body (special legislative procedure), e.g. in matters of
competition law. The Parliament is consulted also when international agreements are being
adopted under the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
Jointly with the Council of the European Union, the Parliament takes part in the budgetary
procedure. Before the 1 st of July of each year, every EU institution is obliged to draw their
estimates for the draft budget, which is then submitted by the Commission to the Parliament
and the Council before the 1 st of September. The budget may still be adopted by the
Parliament even if the Council has rejected it. As it acts as a direct representative of EU
citizens and taxpayers, the Parliament carefully supervises the management of the funds
and has the power to send recommendations to the Commission.
The Assembly also acts as a guarantor of fundamental rights within and outside the EU’s
borders and it supports democracy, as it observes elections in countries outside of the EU,
mediates when conflicts arise and supports other Parliaments.