Graham Watson MEP
Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar
A local champion with an international reputation
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Published on Friday 2nd December 2011
The European Parliament and the EU
The European Parliament is the directly elected parliamentary body of the European Union. It is composed of 751 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) representing the 28 Member States and serving the second largest democratic electorate in the world (after India) and the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world (500 million).
Together with the Council of Ministers (made up of government ministers from member states), the European Parliament forms the bicameral legislative branch of the Union's institutions and has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world. The Parliament and Council form the highest legislative body within the Union. However their powers as such are limited to the competencies conferred upon the European Community by member states. Hence the EU has little say in many policy areas which are still governed by member states.
Although the European Parliament has existed since the creation of the European Community soon after the Second World War, the first direct elections by universal suffrage took place only in 1979. Since then, the European Parliament has been directly elected every five years by universal suffrage.
The European Parliament has two meeting places: the EP buildings in Strasbourg, France, which serve for plenary sessions; and in Brussels, Belgium, the smaller of the two, which serves for preparatory meetings and complementary, mainly non-plenary sessions.
The Role of the European Parliament
Parliament today plays an active role in drafting and, through the procedure of codecision, amending legislation which has an impact on the daily lives of citizens - in environmental protection, consumer rights, equal opportunities, transport, and the free movement of workers, capital, services and goods. Parliament also has joint power with the Council over the annual budget of the European Union. It also has a veto of the appointment on the European Commission.
Legislation is tackled in the 20 specialised policy committees, which frequently question Commissioners as well as representatives of the Council. European Parliamentary committees combine the powers of the select and standing committees of the House of Commons.
Where there is disagreement between the Parliament, representing the peoples of Europe, and the Council, representing the states, a formal process of conciliation takes place. This procedure of co-decision becomes the 'normal legislative procedure' with the Treaty of Lisbon.
The European Parliament's Political Groups
The European Parliament organises itself within multi-national political groups. There are currently eight political groups: the European People's Party (Mainstream Conservatives); the Socialist Group; the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; the European Conservative and Reformists Group (UK Conservatives); the Greens/European Free Alliance; the Confederal Group of the European United Left; and European Freedom and Democracy Group. Graham led the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Group, the third largest Group in the European Parliament, for 7 1/2 years until he stood down in June 2009.
The Treaty of Lisbon and the EU
The Treaty of Lisbon will come into force on 1 December 2009. It amends the current EU and EC treaties, without replacing them, and will provide the Union with the legal framework and tools necessary to meet future challenges and to respond to citizens' demands.
A more democratic and transparent Europe
- The European Parliament gains an increased role in legislation by the extension of the co-decision procedure, putting it on the same footing as the European Council. Parliament gets an increased say over the budget and international agreements.
- National Parliaments get a formalised say over European legislation, and can force the European Parliament, Council and Commission to rethink proposals.
- Thanks to "Citizens Initiatives", one million citizens from any EU member state will be able to call upon the Commission to bring forward new policy.
- The Treaty of Lisbon formally sets out how a member state could leave the EU.
A more efficient EU
- Qualified majority voting is extended in the European Council, making decision making easier. From 2014, a 'double majority' will be required, meaning 55% of member states representing 65% of the Union's population will be needed.
- The President of the European Council, elected by national governments every 2 1/2 years, will provide consistency and stability. The Commission and Parliament will become more streamlined and accountable to one another.
- The Treaty of Lisbon improves the EU's ability to act in several policy areas of major priority for today's Union and its citizens. This is the case in particular for the policy areas of freedom, security and justice, such as combating terrorism or tackling crime. It also concerns to some extent other areas including energy policy, public health, civil protection, climate change, services of general interest, research, space, territorial cohesion, commercial policy, humanitarian aid, sport, tourism and administrative cooperation.
A Europe of rights and values, freedom, solidarity and security
- Citizen's rights and freedoms are re-asserted, and solidarity between member states means support in the face of man-made and natural disasters, and energy security.
Europe on the global stage
- A new High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will increase the impact, the coherence and the visibility of the EU's external action.
- A single legal personality for the Union will strengthen the Union's negotiating power, making it more effective on the world stage and in its dealings with powers like China, Russia and the US.