Member of the European Parliament
A Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is a person who has been elected to serve as a popular representative in the European Parliament.
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When the European Parliament (then known as the Common Assembly of the ECSC) first met in 1952, its members were directly appointed by the governments of member states from among those already sitting in their own national parliaments. Since 1979, however, MEPs have been elected by direct universal suffrage. Earlier European organizations that were a precursor to the European union did not have MEPs. Each member state establishes its own method for electing MEPs – and in some states this has changed over time – but the system chosen must be a form of proportional representation. Some member states elect their MEPs to represent a single national constituency; other states apportion seats to sub-national regions for election.
From 1 January 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, there were 785 MEPs, but their number was reduced to 736 at the elections in 2009. With effect from the elections held in May 2014 the number has risen again and now stands nominally at 751, with each member state having at least six and at most 96 MEPs.
Elections are held once every five years, on the basis of universal suffrage. There is no uniform voting system for the election of MEPs; rather, each member state is free to choose its own system, subject to three restrictions:
- The system must be a form of proportional representation, under either the party list or Single Transferable Vote system.
- The electoral area may be subdivided if this will not generally affect the proportional nature of the voting system.
- Any election threshold on the national level must not exceed five percent.
The allocation of seats to each member state is based on the principle of degressive proportionality, so that, while the size of the population of each nation is taken into account, smaller states elect more MEPs than would be strictly justified by their populations alone. As the number of MEPs granted to each member state has arisen from treaty negotiations, there is no precise formula for the apportionment of seats. No change in this configuration can occur without the unanimous consent of all national governments.
Length of service
The European Parliament has a high turnover of members compared to some national parliaments. For instance, after the 2004 elections, the majority of elected members had not been members in the prior parliamentary session, though that could largely be put down to the recent enlargement. Hans-Gert Pöttering served the longest continuous term from the first elections in 1979 until 2014.
MEPs within the Parliament
MEPs are organised into seven different cross-nationality political groups, except the 57 non-attached members known as Non-Inscrits. The two largest groups are the European People's Party (EPP) and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D). These two groups have dominated the Parliament for much of its life, continuously holding between 40 and 70 percent of the seats together. No single group has ever held a majority in Parliament. As a result of being broad alliances of national parties, European groups parties are very decentralised and hence have more in common with parties in federal states like Germany or the United States than unitary states like the majority of the EU states. Although, the European groups, between 2004 and 2009, were actually more cohesive than their US counterparts.
Aside from working through their groups, individual members are also guaranteed a number of individual powers and rights within the Parliament:
- the right to table a motion for resolution
- the right to put questions to the Council of the European Union, the Commission, and to the leaders of the Parliament
- the right to table an amendment to any text in committee
- the right to make explanations of vote
- the right to raise points of order
- the right to move the inadmissibility of a matter
The job of an MEP
Every month except August the Parliament meets in Strasbourg for a four-day plenary session, six times a year it meets for two days each in Brussels, where the Parliament's committees, political groups and other organs also mainly meet. The obligation to spend one week a month in Strasbourg was imposed on Parliament by the Member State governments at the Edinburgh summit in 1992.
In addition, an MEP may be part of an international delegation and have meetings with outside delegations coming to Brussels or Strasbourg or visiting committees or parliaments of external countries or regions. There are also a number of international parliaments that members participate in such as the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly and lately, the Euromed Parliamentary Assembly. This work entails full annual parliamentary meetings and more frequent multilateral committee meetings. Members also make up a portion of European Election Observation missions.
Also, there is the need to keep in touch with constituents in the home state. Most MEPs return to their constituencies on a Thursday evening to spend the Friday and often weekends dealing with individual constituents, local organisations, local and national politicians, businesses, trade unions, local councils and so on. Four weeks without parliamentary meetings set aside during the year and the parliamentary recess (four weeks in summer, two at Christmas/New Year) can also be used for constituency duties.
MEPs may employ staff to help them, typically three or four split between their constituency office and office in Parliament.
MEPs sit in a parliament with less powers over certain subjects than national parliaments (health and education, law & order or defence), but significant power over economic matters (e.g. environmental standards, consumer protection, trade, employment law). Yet their public profile in their home state is typically lower than that of national parliamentarians, especially because national media in many countries tend to report much less often about debates and votes in the European Parliament than in their national Parlament, a trend that is shifting since recently.
Some MEPs choose to make their family home in or near Brussels rather than in their home state.
Since the ratification and entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon the adoption of nearly all European Union laws requires the approval of both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Under co-decision procedure, they each have up to three readings of legislative proposals put forward by the European Commission in which they can each amend the proposal, but must ultimately approve a text in identical terms for it to be passed. This amounts to bicameralism.
MEPs also elect the President of the Commission, on the basis of a proposal by the European Council and, following public hearings of the candidates, approve the appointment of the Commission as a whole. The Parliament may also dismiss the Commission in a vote of no-confidence (for instance, in 1999, the Commission presided by Jacques Santer resigned when faced with the certain adoption of such a vote of no confidence). MEPs may table parliamentary questions for Question time or for a written answer.
International agreements entered into by the European Union (e.g. WTO, trade agreements, etc.) must be approved by the European Parliament, as must the accession of new Member States to the Union.
The EU's annual budget is adopted jointly by Parliament and the Council of the European Union, within overall limit on EU spending decided on by unanimous agreement of all Member States and a multilateral Financial Framework laid down by Council with Parliament's consent.
The Parliament may also block certain Commission decisions where there has been a delegation of powers to the Commission and may repeal such delegation of powers.
The Parliament also elects the European Ombudsman and holds hearings with candidates for the President and Board members of European Central Bank, the Court of Auditors and various EU agencies.
Payment and privileges
The total cost of the European Parliament is approximately €1.756 billion euros per year according to its 2014 budget, about €2.3 million per member of parliament. As this cost is shared by over 500 million citizens of 28 countries, the cost per taxpayer is considerably smaller than that of national parliaments.
Until 2009, MEPs were paid (by their own Member State) exactly the same salary as a member of the lower House of their own national parliament. As a result, there was a wide range of salaries in the European Parliament. In 2002, Italian MEPs earned €130,000, while Spanish MEPs earned less than a quarter of that at €32,000.
However, in July 2005, the Council agreed to a single statute for all MEPs, following a proposal by the Parliament. Thus, since the 2009 elections, all MEPs receive a basic yearly salary of 38.5% of a European Court judge's salary – being around €84,000. This represents a pay-cut for MEPs from some member states (e.g. Italy, Germany, and Austria), a rise for others (particularly the low-paid eastern European Members) and status quo for those from the United Kingdom (depending on the euro-pound exchange rate). The much-criticised expenses arrangements were also partially reformed.
Under the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Union, MEPs in their home state receive the same immunities as their own national parliamentarians. In other member states, MEPs are immune from detention and from legal proceedings, except when caught in the act of committing an offence. This immunity may be waived by application to the European Parliament by the authorities of the member state in question.
Around a third of MEPs have previously held national parliamentary mandates, and over 10% have ministerial experience at a national level. There are usually a number of former prime ministers and former members of the European Commission. Many other MEPs have held office at a regional or local level in their home states.
Current MEPs also include former judges, trade union leaders, media personalities, actors, soldiers, singers, athletes, and political activists.
Many outgoing MEPs move into other political office. Several presidents, prime ministers or deputy prime ministers of member states are former MEPs, including former President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, former Deputy PM of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg, former Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi, and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Belgian PM Elio Di Rupo.
The so-called "dual mandate", in which an individual is a member of both his or her national parliament and the European Parliament, was officially discouraged by a growing number of political parties and Member States, and is prohibited as of 2009. In the 2004–2009 Parliament, a small number of members still held a dual mandate. Notably, Ian Paisley and John Hume once held "triple mandates" as MEP, MP in the House of Commons, and MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly simultaneously.
Women are generally under-represented in politics and public life in the EU, as well as in national parliaments, governments and local assemblies. The percentage of women in the EU parliament has increased from 15.2 percent after the first European Parliament election in 1979 to 41 percent after 2019 European Parliament election. To reach gender parity, women should hold 50% of seats and positions of power. However, according to the goal set by the European Institute for Gender Equality, a ratio between 40 and 60 percent is considered acceptable.
After the 2014 European Parliament election 11 countries of 28 reached this goal in their own quota of elected candidates. While in nine EU countries there were mechanisms in place to facilitate female representation, only in four of these countries did women exceeded 40% of elected candidates. On the other hand, in eight countries this goal was reached despite the absence of such systems. The FEMM Committee requested a study exploring the results of the election in terms of gender balance. EU institutions have focused on how to achieve a better gender balance (at least 40 percent) or gender parity (50 percent) in the next Parliament, and for other high-level posts in other institutions.
In the 2019 elections 308 female MEPs were elected (41%). Sweden elected the highest percentage of female MEPs: 55 percent. Overall, thirteen countries elected 45 to 55 percent female MEPs, with seven countries reaching exactly 50 percent. On the other hand, Cyprus has elected zero women, and Slovakia elected only 15 percent. Other Eastern European countries, namely Romania, Greece, Lithuania and Bulgaria, all elected fewer than 30 percent female MEPs. Eight member states elected a lower number of women in 2019 than in 2014. Malta, Cyprus and Estonia lost the most female representation in the EU parliament, dropping by 17 percentage points, while Slovakia dropped by 16. However, despite the drop, Malta still elected 50 percent women in 2019. Cyprus dropped from 17 percent in 2014 to zero women this year, while Estonia dropped from 50 percent to 33 percent. Hungary, Lithuania and Luxembourg made the greatest gains (19, 18 and 17 percentage points respectively) when we compare 2019 with 2014, followed by Slovenia and Latvia, both increasing their percentage of women MEPs by 13 points. Luxembourg, Slovenia and Latvia all elected 50 percent female MEPs.
Election of non-nationals
European citizens are eligible for election in the member state where they reside (subject to the residence requirements of that state); they do not have to be a national of that state. The following citizens have been elected in a state other than their native country;
|Bárbara Dührkop Dührkop||1987||German||Spain||Socialist|
|Miquel Mayol i Raynal||2001||French||Spain||Green|
|Bairbre de Brún||2004||Irish||UK||GUE/NGL|
|Daniel Strož||2004||German||Czech Republic||GUE|
|Derk Jan Eppink||2009||Dutch||Belgium||ECR|
|Anna Maria Corazza Bildt||2009||Italian||Sweden||EPP|
- 2009 figures incomplete
It is conventional for countries acceding to the European Union to send a number of observers to Parliament in advance. The number of observers and their method of appointment (usually by national parliaments) is laid down in the joining countries' Treaties of Accession.
Observers may attend debates and take part by invitation, but they may not vote or exercise other official duties. When the countries then become full member states, these observers become full MEPs for the interim period between accession and the next European elections. From 26 September 2005 to 31 December 2006, Bulgaria had 18 observers in Parliament and Romania 35. These were selected from government and opposition parties as agreed by the countries' national parliaments. Following accession on 1 January 2007, the observers became MEPs (with some personnel changes).
- Apportionment in the European Parliament
- Category:Members of the European Parliament
- List of current Members of the European Parliament
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- In addition, Australian and other Commonwealth citizens residing in the United Kingdom are eligible to vote and stand for election there.
- The European Parliament (eighth edition, 2011, John Harper publishing), by Richard Corbett, Francis Jacobs and Michael Shackleton.