Page last updated at 15:00 GMT, Tuesday, 31 May 2011 16:00 UK
Guide to the European Parliament

In the European Parliament, MEPs sit in political groups that cross national boundaries.

Groups can and do change their formation or name from time to time, but following the 2009 European Parliament elections, there are currently seven groups.

And there are rules to adhere to: each group must have at least 25 MEPs from a minimum of seven member states.

Watch more about the groups in action

There are also a number of MEPs who do not belong to any group, known as non-attached members (or the non inscrits in EU jargon).

European People's Party (EPP) - 270 MEPs

The biggest group in the European Parliament, yet one from which British MEPs are absent. This used to be the home of the British Conservatives before they left to find allies in a new Eurosceptic group.

Along with the Socialist group, the EPP has always been one of the two powerhouses of the Parliament, providing most of the Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Committee chairs.

It is broadly centre-right and enthusiastic about deeper EU integration.

The chair of the EPP is France's Joseph Daul.

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) - 190 MEPs

Formerly known as the Socialist group, the group is the home of Labour party MEPs from the UK.

It is the main centre-left group in the Parliament, and for many years was the biggest group in Brussels, although that crown has now been taken the by the EPP.

Along with the EPP it tends to provide the lion's share of top jobs in the Parliament.

It is chaired by Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) - 85 MEPs

As its name suggests, this is the group where British Liberal Democrats can be found. It is the main centrist group in the Parliament, although in reality it spans the spectrum from social liberals to economic liberals.

Traditionally, though, it is the most fervently pro-integration of all the political groups.

Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is the group's leader.

Greens/European Free Alliance (GRN/EFA) - 59 MEPs

As its name suggests, this group is an alliance of two parties - the European greens, and the European Free Alliance, which primarily represents parties focused on regional interests such as the SNP, Plaid, and regional parties from Flanders, Catalonia and Corsica.

The Swedish Pirate Party have also signed up to this group, which generally takes a left of centre position on most issues. Naturally this is the home of the UK's two Green Party MEPs.

It is co-chaired by Daniel Cohn-Bendit from France and Rebecca Harms from Germany.

European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) - 53 MEPs

The origin of this group can be found in David Cameron's desire for the Conservatives to leave the federalist European People's Party and set up a new right of centre and Eurosceptic group.

After a trawl, the Conservatives found a sufficient number of potential allies - MEPs from seven different member states - to form a new group.

Aside from the Conservatives - and the associated Ulster Unionist Party - most of the other members in the group are from major parties in Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as a number of smaller parties.

British Conservative MEP Martin Callanan is the group's leader.

Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) - 36 MEPs

Traditionally the most Eurosceptic group, the EFD contains MEPs who attack the idea of European integration from a broadly - but not exclusively - right wing perspective.

The UK provides the largest number of MEPs in this group, containing as it does the UK Independence Party, as well as a number of other nationalist and Eurosceptic groups from across Europe.

Often a thorn in the side of the "Brussels establishment", the EFD group has two co-presidents, UKIP's Nigel Farage, and Francesco Speroni from Italy's Lega Nord.

European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE) - 34 MEPs

This is the group that can be found on the far left of the political spectrum, containing as it does members from a number of Communist and traditional Socialist parties.

Sinn Fein provides the sole UK representative in this group. Broadly Eurosceptic, the group takes a strong position on areas such as workers' rights and employment law.

It is chaired by a former member of the East German Communist party, Gabriele Zimmer.

Non-Inscrits (NI) - 27 MEPs

And so to those MEPs who have not been able to find enough friends or allies to form a group of their own, or who have been rejected by other groups.

Some non-attached members come from far right groups such as the BNP or France's National Front.

However it also contains MEPs who feel they do not fit into any of the other groups, such as the Democratic Unionst Party's sole MEP. Being unattached means that members have much less access to speaking time in the chamber, as well as fewer administrative and secretarial resources.

Numbers correct as of 21 January 2012. Source: European Parliament

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