Founded in 1952 as the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and renamed the European Parliamentary Assembly in 1958, it became the European Parliament in 1962. The first direct elections took place in 1979. The current MEPs were elected during the 2009 elections and will serve until 2014.
The evolution of the Parliament is closely linked to a succession of treaties culminating in the current Lisbon Treaty. These treaties define the rules and scope of the Union and have turned the ECSC of old into what is now known as the European Union.
Over the years, milestones like the introduction of the euro and European enlargement have left their mark on the European Parliament, its powers and its composition.
A key player and witness to EU history, the Parliament now houses central historical archives that provide unique perspectives on our common history, including early debates from the assembly and archives of former EP Presidents.
Organisation and work
The European Parliament is the only directly-elected EU body and one of the largest democratic assemblies in the world. Its 754 Members are there to represent the EU's 500 million citizens. They are elected once every five years by voters from across the 27 Member States.
Do you want to know how the Parliament is organised? Once elected, Members organise along political lines. They form political groups to better defend their positions. Currently there are seven groups.
Most of Parliament's in-depth work is done in specialised committees that prepare reports that will later be voted on in the plenary.
The Parliament's rules of procedure provide a detailed framework for the Parliament at work. Being a representative of all European citizens, the assembly's multilingualism has become one of its most important aspects. Parliamentary documents are published in all the official languages of the EU and every MEP has the right to speak in the official language of their choice.
Power and functions
The European Parliament has been steadily gaining power over recent decades and now acts as a co-legislator for nearly all EU law. Together with the Council, the Parliament adopts or amends proposals from the Commission. Parliament also supervises the work of the Commission and adopts the European Union's budget. See how it all works here.
Beyond these official powers the Parliament also works closely with national parliaments of EU countries. Regular joint parliamentary assemblies allow for a better inclusion of national perspectives into the Parliament's deliberations.
How does the legislative process work in practical terms?
A Member of the European Parliament, working in one of the parliamentary committees, draws up a report on a proposal for a ‘legislative text’ presented by the European Commission, the only institution empowered to initiate legislation. The parliamentary committee votes on this report and, possibly, amends it. When the text has been revised and adopted in plenary, Parliament has adopted its position. This process is repeated one or more times, depending on the type of procedure and whether or not agreement is reached with the Council.
In the adoption of legislative acts, a distinction is made between the ordinary legislative procedure (codecision), which puts Parliament on an equal footing with the Council, and the special legislative procedures, which apply only in specific cases where Parliament has only a consultative role.
On certain questions (e.g. taxation) the European Parliament gives only an advisory opinion (the ‘consultation procedure’). In some cases the Treaty provides that consultation is obligatory, being required by the legal base, and the proposal cannot acquire the force of law unless Parliament has delivered an opinion. In this case the Council is not empowered to take a decision alone.
Parliament has a power of political initiative.