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The European Parliament (formerly European Parliamentary Assembly or Common Assembly) is the parliament of the European Union (EU). EU citizens elect its members once every five years. Together with the Council of Ministers, it is the law-making branch of the institutions of the Union. It meets in two locations: Strasbourg and Brussels.
The Parliament is made up of its 785 members, called "MEPs". Each member speaks for an area of Europe, for example London, Denmark or Scotland. Anyone can be elected, they are elected by all the EU citizens, the people who are citizens of a country in the EU. People have been elected to Parliament since 1979, before that they came from the Parliaments of each country. Because MEPs come from lots of countries, they all speak different languages (23 in 2007). This means that the Parliament has to have lots of interpreters.
Unlike other international groups of politicians, MEPs do not sit in groups of countries, but they sit next to people who they share ideas with. The two largest groups are the "European People's Party-European Democrats" and the "Party of European Socialists". But these groups work together to agree, so they do not fight and try to make a law if the other does not like it.
The European Parliament's power depends on which area of the EU it is working in. The EU has three areas, the "Community", its representation to other countries, and things to do with police and courts. In the last two areas, it can not do much as the Council takes care of those issues, but in the Community (which is the largest area) it can change or stop any law. But the Council also has to agree, and sometimes they disagree and cannot make a law.
While Parliament can change a law, it cannot start a new one, it has to ask the European Commission to do that. The European Commission works on everyday work and the Parliament has to make sure it does its job properly, if it does not Parliament can make them all leave their jobs or not allow them to spend the EU budget.
When the Parliament wants to make something a law, they all vote at the same time. But before then they make lots of small changes while talking about with people who know lots about what it will change. They do this in small meetings known as "Committees" which have between 28 to 86 MEPs in it.
The Parliament has a President. The President is elected by the MEPs, two times every two and a half years, to organise the meetings and speak for the Parliament when meeting other leaders. The president right now (2012) is a German called Martin Schulz
The Parliament was made in 1952 and was then called the "Common Assembly". At this time, it did not have any power, it was only asked to comment on laws made by the "European Coal and Steel Community". In 1957, it was renamed the "European Parliamentary Assembly" and got to comment on the laws of the "European Economic Community" and the "European Atomic Energy Community". Over the following years, it was given a few powers over laws and money and it called itself the "European Parliament" in the 1960s. It wanted to be elected so it could do more, as if people voted for the people in Parliament, the Council and Commission would have to pay more attention to it (this is known as "Democratic Legitimacy", the idea that your voice is worth more if you have lots of people supporting from an election).
In 1979 it held its first election, and it gained more powers and also members because more countries joined the Communities and they elected people as well. In 1993 it was given even more, and power over the Commission, when the European Union took the place of the Communities. It is now known as one of the most powerful Parliaments in the world.
- Official web site
- Overview on the votes of MEPs
- European Parliament Office in Ireland
- UK Office of the European Parliament
- BBC News: European Parliament guide
- Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament