A bit of history…
On May 9th, 1950, Robert Schuman, the French minister of Foreign Affairs, proposed to the European countries to pool their productions of coal and steel in order to establish a continent governed by peace. From that moment, Europe began to move towards integration. After the creation of the EEC in 1957, the European institutions shared their power into : the Commission (supranational element), the Council of Ministers who represented the members of the European Union, and the Parliamentary Assembly who only had an advisory role. But, with the single European Act in 1986 and lately, with the treaty of Lisbon in 2007, the power of the European Parliament increased. The goal was to make the mechanisms of the European Union more efficient and transparent.
What’s the role of the Parliament ?
Let’s sum up shortly what the role of the European Parliament is, and why it is such an important institution. The European Parliament represents the citizens of the different countries of European Union. The 766 deputies are elected by the citizens through direct universal suffrage. Once they are elected, they are in charge of the adoption of laws and budget for five years with the 27 ministers of the Council of Union. But, in case of non-agreement for the no compulsory expenditures, the European Parliament has the last word.
In the Parliament, there are different groups. All of them have different ideas and they try to establish laws which correspond to their views of the European Union. The majority of the deputies come from Germany, France, Italy and the United-Kingdom. Moreover, the deputies approve of the president and of the composition of the Commission. It can force the latter to resign with the motion of censure. It was the case with the « Santer Commission » in March 1999. But, the European Parliament has limits : it is not in charge of the economic and tax policies in the Euro area and of the European security and defence policy. The European Parliament lies in Strasbourg. That’s where the monthly plenary sessions takes place. Commissions and the other sessions take place in Bruxelles.
What were the main projects directed by the European Parliament ?
Through its veto, the European Parliament could reject the « Patentability of biotechnological » inventions in 1995 and the « Directive on port services » in 2003 and 2005. There were a lot of actions like these directed by the European Parliament.
To put it in a nutshell, we can say that the European Parliament is important because it is the representation of the citizens of the European Union and each citizen ought to vote in order to support a European Union with a budget and laws which correspond to his expectations. Unfortunately, we can notice that the elections of the European deputies seem to be less and less important to the electors because the abstention rate keeps on increasing year after year.
Today, the European Parliament is composed of 766 eurodeputies elected by direct universal suffrage for five year in the 28 Member States of European Union. But after the next election, which will take place the 25th of may, thye will be only 751 to be elected.
How are allocated the seats in the European Parliament ?
The number of seats allocated by country depend of its number of inhabitants.. The countries with the most important population elect more deputies than the others. So, Germany, the most populous country of European Union will send 96 deputies to the European Parlement after the elections of 2014, the France will send 74 deputies, UK and Italia 73 each one. Conversely, the less populous countries, like Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg and Malta, will send only 6 deputies to the parliament.
The importance of political groups :
In the hemicycle, deputies don’t sit randomly. They are, in the most of cases, attached to multinational organizations called : Political groups. It’s through the membership of a political groupe, that is organized the work of a deputy. Even if a little part of them, in the most of cases from extreme right, sit as non-registered because they did’nt form a group.
But the membership to a political group don’t prevent the deputies to vote individually and to express his own opinion.
The main role of the deputy :
His goal is to vote the law propositions of the European commision, and, if it necessary, to propose some amendments. According to his political groups, his personal convictions, his country membership, each eurodeputy approves or rejects the amendments or the whole law proposition. The deputies can also propose an initiative report (they suggest to the European commission to legislate one subject), or ask for a consultation (the Parliament give its opinion about the legislative propositions that it can’t vote before that the council adopt it).
But the most qualified and experimented deputies can access to most important functions in the parliament like group president, president of parliamentary committee, coordinator… Martin Schulz was the president of the group of socialist democrats before being president of the European Parliament.
To complete his mission, the eurodeputy has to both be present in his district, sit in commission at Bruxelles and to go to Strabourg, one or two times a month, for plenary sessions. All the deputies are at least member of one commission. There is 20 commissions in European Parliament which gather from 24 to 76 deputies and got its own office and secretariat, each one is specialized in a particular domain.
The system can work in spite of the big diversity of opinions and nationalities which characterizes it, members of parliament always got organized in ” political transnational groups “, each of them consisting of members of parliament stemming from various countries, but having similar political convictions. To cooperate closely with members of parliament of the other countries sharing almost the same political beliefs as them is, for the European Members, the best way to reach their goals at the European level.
The European Parliament counts nowadays seven political groups, have to consist of at least 25 members of parliament elected in at least a quarter of Member states, covering all the political trends and representing more than 160 national parties.
The groups take on a crucial importance for the activities of the Parliament. Their role is essential when it is a question of releasing majorities of vote concerning the legislation, the budget and the other questions. They establish the agenda of the Parliament and play a decisive role in the election of the President of the Parliament and the other holders of mandate.
It never happened, in the history of the Parliament, that a single group holds the absolute majority. That is why, to adopt the legislation of the Union and to approve the budget, the groups have to try hard to obtain the necessary majority by negotiation and compromise. The mutual concessions between the groups are essential, knowing obviously that the weight of a group depends on its size. It is the day of the European elections that the voters will decide on the balance of power between the groups, essentially by the 8 big European countries.
The Composition of the European parliament until May 2014:
– EPP-ED : Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, 265 seats
– PES : Group of the Party of European Socialists, 184 seats
– ALDE : Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, 84 seats
– GREENS/EFA : Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, 55 seats
– ECR : European Conservatives and Reformists Group, 54 seats
– GUE/NGL : Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left, 35 seats
– EFD : Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group, 32 seats
– NI : Non-attached, 27 seats
More explanations about some parties :
The European People’s Party (EPP) is the largest and most influential group in the European parliament with 265 deputies. They want to continue to build the achievement of the European Union and make a continue effort to foster good relations with European’s voices is heard throughout the world. Their priorities are:
– Protecting the euro: push for more financial governance in Europe, obliging member states to either keep strict budget discipline, or else to be sanctioned. And advocate more pooling of financial resources among the member states.
– A free but responsible financial market which operate within a clear legal framework.
– A learning Europe to challenge competitors: educating and training are crucial, and Europe’s education system must be state of the art, from primary education right up to universities and beyond.
– Cheaper flights : transparent prices, introduce rules obliging carriers to take the shortest available route, while making air traffic control and air navigation systems more efficient to short travel time and decrease fuel consumption
– A travelling healthcare scheme
– New rights for online consumers
– A fast and secure internet connection with a right to privacy guaranted
The Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) is the third largest political group in the European Parliament, with 76 deputies. They seek to create a strong and secure European Union with high standards of public health, consumer protection and human rights. Their aim is to build and safeguard a free, fair and open society. Their ambition lies in a political Europe that people can understand and which responds to their needs, a Europe that does not follow others, but takes the lead. Their priorities for the next 5 years are : fighting discrimination, promoting equality; taking responsibility about currency, defending democracy, leading in the world; greening our economy; preserving our planet; tackling recession, generating new jobs.
The European United Left and the Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) is a green group, with 35 deputies. It fights to ensure European Union decisions will make real difference in stopping global warming and climate change. Their priorities are:
– Ending the crisis : calls for policies that protect our social services ans help to create new jobs
– Job creation : works for a new direction in EU jobs policy and fight policies that attack workers’ rights, pay and working conditions
– Equal opportunities for everyone
– Nuclear disarmament, both inside and outside Europe
– Data protection and freedom : fight shady and unfair data collection attempts by governments for “law enforcement” purposes
– Free health care