The European Parliament is the assembly of the representatives of the 500 million EU citizens. Since 1979, they have been elected by direct universal suffrage and today total 736, distributed between Member States by reference to their population. The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) represent all of the major political parties across the EU and are grouped together in broad umbrella political organisations. The MEPs sit in political groups – they are not organised by nationality, but by political affiliation. There are currently 7 political groups in the European Parliament: European People's Party (EPP), Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D), Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), European Conservatist and Reformist Group (ECR), Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) and Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD).The Parliament has three main functions: legislative, financial/budgetary and supervisory (Articles 223-234 TFEU).
As regards Parliament’s legislative role, there are different legislative procedures depending on the subject being proposed. Originally, the Parliament had only a consultative role. However, under the ‘consultation procedure’, failure to consult the Parliament made the proposed legislation void (Roquette Freres v. Council, Case C-138/79 ). Following the coming into force of the Single European Act 1986, the Parliament was given the power to reject proposals. Where it did so, under the ‘cooperation procedure’, the Council could thereafter only approve the previously rejected proposal by a unanimous vote rather than by a qualified majority.
In addition, the Parliament received the right to veto on the accession of new Member States and assent to international agreements alongside the Council. Under the Treaty of Maastricht, Parliament’s legislative powers were extended under the co-decision procedure. The Parliament now has the right to veto legislation by absolute majority. Such power prevents the Council from enacting legislation without the Parliament’s consent. The Treaty of Amsterdam reduced the scope of application of the cooperation procedure and extended the co-decision procedure, which was further extended by the Treaty of Nice. However, the Parliament still does not have the power to enact legislation by itself.
The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, again strengthened the rights of the European Parliament. In legislation the 'co-decision procedure' (now 'ordinary legislative procedure') was extended to new fields. This implies that Parliament now has similar legislative powers as the Council in some areas where it used to be merely consulted or not involved at all. These areas include legal immigration, penal judicial cooperation (Eurojust, crime prevention, alignment of prison standards, offences and penalties), police cooperation (Europol) and some aspects of trade policy and agriculture. With regard to its budgetary powers the Lisbon Treaty confirmed the established practice of working with a multiannual financial framework, which Parliament must approve. It also abolished the former distinction between 'compulsory' expenditure (like direct income support to farmers) and 'non-compulsory' expenditure, with the result that Parliament and the Council determine all expenditure together. With regard to international agreements the European Parliament's assent is required for all international agreements in fields governed by the ordinary legislative procedure.The social dialogue process introduced under the Agreement on Social Policy, currently in Articles 154-155 TFEU, initially provided for the adoption of legislation on social policy without the formal involvement of the Parliament. The Lisbon Treaty introduced the novelty that the European Parliament shall be informed (Article 155(2) TFEU) of the outcomes of the European social dialogue, a procedure which was already followed in practice in recent years.
The Parliament’s supervisory role should be seen in the context of the doctrine of separation of powers within the EU. The Treaty seeks to establish a system of checks and balances by way of supervision. Parliament has the right, by two-thirds majority, to pass a motion of censure against the Commission. It can question both the Commission and the Council, through question time with Commissioners and officials. It can establish committees of inquiry, normally through its Ombudsman, to investigate cases of poor administration. The Treaty of Nice granted Parliament the right to institute proceedings before the European Court seeking to review acts of the institutions (Article 263 TFEU).
Much of the Parliament’s work is done through committees. While the Parliament meets one week each month for plenary sessions in Strasbourg, its committee sessions take place two weeks in every month in Brussels. A number of Parliament’s committees are concerned with matters relating to employment and industrial relations. However, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) of the European Parliament is the committee that normally considers initiatives that include legislative proposals in the field of employment and industrial relations. This Committee produces detailed reports on such initiatives, including proposals for amendments, and has played an important role in the legislative process.