- European Parliament – Official Website
- Legislative Observatory – provides information on the state of play of pending legislative procedures
- EuroparlTV – the EP’s video service, where plenary and committee meetings can be watched as webstreams
- Plenary debates and documents – includes a complete archive of all plenary debates (including on video), as well as of all texts adopted
- Vote Watch Europe – provides access to, and analysis of, the votes and other activities of the European Parliament (EP) and the EU Council of Ministers (Council).
- Europe Decides – a website dedicated to the elections to the European Parliament on 22-25 May 2014
The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the EU and is seated in Strasbourg and Brussels. Together with the Council of Ministers, the two institutions make up the legislative branch of the EU. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected by EU citizens. Elections are held every five years and all EU citizens over 18 years old (16 in Austria) — some 380 million — are entitled to vote. The Parliament has 766 MEPs from all 28 Member States. The official seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg (France), although the institution has three places of work: Strasbourg, Brussels (Belgium) and Luxembourg. The main meetings of the whole Parliament, known as ‘plenary sessions’, take place in Strasbourg 12 times per year. Additional plenary sessions are held in Brussels. Committee meetings are also held in Brussels.
The seats in the European Parliament are allocated among the Member States on the basis of their share of the EU population. On 1 July 2013 Croatia became the 28th Member State of the European Union and 12 Croatian Members joined the European Parliament for the rest of this parliamentary term. For the elections to the Parliament in 2014, the total number of MEPs will be adjusted to 751.
The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are arranged into political groupings within the Parliament. A political group is not a party, but a looser coalition of national and European political parties. While the political groups often have some key party platforms, there still remains a great diversity of views within each political group, sometimes making their ideological leanings difficult to identify. The current political groups in the European Parliament are: Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats, EPP); Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament; Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE); Greens/European Free Alliance; European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR); European United Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL); and, Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group (EFD).
The Parliament has three main roles.
1. It shares with the Council the power to legislate — to pass laws. The fact that it is a directly elected body helps guarantee the democratic legitimacy of European law.
2. It exercises supervision over all EU institutions, and in particular the Commission. It has the power to approve or reject the nomination of the President of the Commission and Commissioners, and the right to censure the Commission as a whole.
3. It shares authority with the Council over the EU budget and can therefore influence EU spending. At the end of the budget procedure, it adopts or rejects the budget in its entirety.
The Parliament also has indirect influence, for example, through passing non-binding resolutions and holding committee hearings. Perhaps because the European Parliament is called a parliament, the resolutions that it passes are often reported in the mainstream media as being “laws.” However, these resolutions do not have a binding effect on the EU, let alone the individual Member States. The Parliament also has de facto control over the budget and has the power of veto over the European Commission. The Parliament must approve nominations of EU Commissioners.
As well as the plenary sessions, the Parliament has various different committees (currently 22), including a committee on Human Rights, a committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and a committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. Issues discussed in committees can then brought to plenary sessions, where they can be voted on. The Human Rights Committee, also known as DROI, organizes hearings and discussions on various human rights issues and produces an Annual Human Rights report.
As well as Committees, Intergroups are also an integral part of the European Parliament. Intergroups are comprised of Members from any political group and any Parliament committee, and are platforms for informal dialogue on a range of different issues. Intergroups also reach out and connect with members of civil society and hold conferences and events at the Parliament. However, intergroups are not official Parliamentary bodies and cannot express the Parliament’s opinion. There are currently 28 intergroups, including a group on “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Rights” and a group on “Family and the Rights of the Child and Bioethics.”
There are also a number of Working Groups established within the Parliament that are created by like-minded MEPs and focus on specific issues. For example, there is a Working Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Formed in 2012, the working group promotes freedom of religion or belief in countries outside the EU. The Working Group also has a questionnaire procedure that allows citizens to report violations of freedom of religion or belief to the working group for further investigation and action. There is also a Working Group on Sexual Health HIV/AIDS and Development that promotes abortion policies and explicit sexuality education amongst other things.
NGOs and individuals can gain accreditation to the European Parliament. Once accreditation is achieved and the NGO is registered with the EU’s Transparency Register, NGOs gain access rights to the European Parliament, enabling them to enter the Parliament buildings and conduct advocacy with the members.