Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009
Guide to the European Parliament

Introduction to the European Parliament

A parliament with three locations, members from 27 different countries speaking 23 languages and rapporteurs and quaestors: the European Parliament is a Parliament completly different to people brought up on the Westminster system.

It is one of the two European Union institutions - along with the Council of Ministers - that has the power to pass laws handed down from the European Commission (the EU's executive branch) made up of one representative from each member state.

MEPs in all countries are elected by some form of proportional representation. In all parts of the UK except Northern Ireland, MEPs are elected on regional lists, with the proportion of MEPs theoretically representing the number of votes that each party receives.

In Northern Ireland, three MEPs are elected under the single transferable vote system, where MEPs are listed in order of preference.

Affecting lives

With 754 MEPs, the Parliament represents the 497 million citizens of the EU.

MEPs range from elder statesmen from across Europe (including some former prime ministers), to politicians dipping their toe in the political water before trying their luck in national politics.

The European Parliament has powers to pass laws on a range of issues that affect our daily lives, including areas as diverse as working hours, air quality and agriculture.

As well as voting to approve, reject or amend laws, the European Parliament also has the "nuclear option" power to pass a vote of no confidence or "censure" the European Commission.

Anyone thinking of working with the Parliament must enjoy travelling. The primary debating chamber for its main monthly sittings is in Strasbourg in France but most of the day-to-day parliamentary work is done in Brussels.

As if being in two countries was not enough, much of the Parliament's administrative work is based in a third location, in Luxembourg.

  • There are 754 MEPs, 73 from the UK, elected by proportional representation
  • The European Parliament is headed by a President, elected by MEPs
  • 20 permanent committees, such as civil liberties and foreign affairs, undertake most of the detailed work of the Parliament

  • An MEP may not also be a member of a national Parliament
  • MEPs usually speak in a pre-arranged order and interventions are a rarity

  • The European Parliament has the power to reject the proposed annual budget for the European Union

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