Page last updated at 12:28 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009
Guide to the European Parliament

Although it may seem like a case of "out of sight, out of mind" to some of the UK electorate, the role of an MEP in Brussels and Strasbourg is varied and complex.

The key role of an MEP is, of course, to assist in the scrutiny of legislation. Each MEP can carry out this function in a number of ways.

One voice among many...the Strasbourg chamber

In the monthly plenary (full) sessions, MEPs can speak in debates either as an "official" spokesperson for their political group or under the "catch the eye" procedure where the floor is open to any MEP who wants to get their views on the record.

However, the real place of work in the European Parliament is the committee rooms and MEPs are keen to secure a role on an influential committee, such as the Environment or Foreign Affairs Committee.

Fulfilling role

The key jobs are the committee chair and the rapporteur. The rapporteur is the person who draws up a report that sets the Parliament's position on a particular piece of legislation or the Parliament's viewpoint on an issue of topical concern.

Any MEP lucky enough to be appointed as a chair of a committee is likely to be either a senior and experienced member or someone who is expected to enjoy a rapid rise up the political ladder.

But beyond the confines of Brussels and Strasbourg, MEPs have many other roles to fulfil.

They usually spend about one week a month based in their constituency, which - due to the system of proportional representation - covers wide regional areas.

However as MEPs are elected on a regional list system, there will be more than one MEP who covers a particular region.

Passport needed

MEPs will also try to join some of the extra-Parliamentary delegations or assemblies, which provide links with other parliaments.

Some of these focus on candidate countries, such as Croatia or Turkey; whilst others provide the chance of travel to more exotic climes, such as the ACP (African-Caribbean-Pacific) Joint Parliamentary Assembly.

Although these may seem like a chance to escape the grey skies of Belgium and France, supporters say they provide valuable support and advice to emerging democracies.

Salaries and expenses

Following a long campaign, MEPs from all countries now receive the same salary - approximately £79,200 a year depending on exchange rates between the pound and the euro.

As for allowances, MEPs receive a daily allowance of €298 (approx £256) which is intended to cover costs of meals and accommodation, as well as receiving reimbursements for travel to and from Brussels and Strasbourg.

Finally, there's a flat rate allowance of €4,200 (£3,600) a month to cover the cost of running a constituency office.

Receipts are needed to claim travel expenses; however no such paperwork is needed for the office costs allowance.

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