The European Parliament is directly elected by the citizens of the EU's Member States.
|The European Parliament building in Strasbourg|
Together with national parliaments, its function is to scrutinise the EU and its institutions. It has 736 members, coming from the twenty five member states of the European Union.
The UK currently has 72 members. Elections are held every five years. The next election will be held in June 2014.
Ending The Strasbourg Jaunt
The European Parliament is based both in Brussels and Strasbourg, with administrative offices also located in Luxembourg. The Parliament meets in Strasbourg for one week each month, in plenary session, to amend and vote on draft legislation. Preparatory meetings of political groups and committee work take place largely in Brussels.
|Conservative MEPs demonstrate to say "Non" to the monthly|
move to Strasbourg
As well as being a waste of money, the monthly move to Strasbourg reduces the effectiveness of the Parliament in scrutinising the European Commission. Conservative MEPs have raised the issue several times in Parliament (as featured on the BBC and in the Daily Telegraph) and will continue to do so until the Strasbourg sessions come to an end.
Political Alliances In The European Parliament
Members of the European Parliament sit in pan-European political groupings rather than as national delegations. The Conservative Party use to be aligned with the group of the European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED). However due to the EPP-ED’s views on European Federalism the Conservatives Party broke away from the grouping after the 2009 elections to form a new party called the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR)
Labour Members are part of the Group of the Party of European Socialists (PSE) and the Liberal Democrats belong to the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).
The co-decision procedure, introduced under the Maastricht Treaty, means that the European Parliament shares legislative power with the Council of Ministers (made up of representatives of national governments). Co-decision gives the European Parliament the power to amend or veto EU legislation and applies in a range of policy areas, including the single market, the environment and consumer protection.
In other areas, such as tax policy, where co-decision does not apply, the European Parliament only gives an Opinion. The final decision is left to member governments.
|A committee at work in the European Parliament|
Conservative MEPs introduced a new procedure of putting specific parts of the budget into a reserve fund. This allows MEPs to impose conditions before these funds can be spent. This technique has been used very effectively to increase control over spending and help prevent waste and fraud.
As Conservative MEPs we take our responsibility for the EU budget very seriously. In 2000 we tabled over 400 amendments to the budget to clamp down on misuse of taxpayers money and reduce spending.
Supervision and Scrutiny
A key task for MEPs is scrutinising the work of the European Commission and holding it to account. The European Parliament has the power to dismiss the European Commission. In 1999, for example, MEPs (led by British Conservatives) forced the Santer Commission to resign.
MEPs scrutinise and amend draft proposals from the European Commission in the European Parliament’s committees. They may also amend “Common Positions” agreed by national governments in the Council of Ministers.
MEPs may also table oral and written questions to the Council or the Commission. Oral questions are answered publicly during plenary session. Conservative MEPs have used both written and oral questions to raise important issues with the Commission, demand action and discover the truth behind EU-related controversies and news stories.
The European Central Bank is also required to answer to the European Parliament. President Wim Duisenberg appears regularly before the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. Theresa Villiers MEP has questioned him on a number of topics, such as the damaging effects of a one-size-fits-all interest rate. These sessions in the European Parliament are, however, a poor substitute for genuine political accountability and democratic scrutiny, which can only take place at a national level.
Whilst the role of the European Parliament is important in providing an element of democratic oversight in the EU, Conservatives would like to see much greater involvement of national parliaments in scrutinising the actions of their ministers when they meet in Brussels, sitting as the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers, normally meets behind closed doors and emerges having taken very serious decisions that could have grave repercussions for people living in the EU.
Further information on the European Parliament.
Other EU Institutions
The Council of Ministers is the main decision-making body in the EU and is made up of ministers from national governments. There are different Council meetings for different policy areas. For example economic matters are discussed in the meeting of finance ministers (Gordon Brown and his counterparts from other countries) known as ECOFIN. The Council of Ministers has the power to conclude international agreements with other states or international organisations.
The Presidency of the Council is rotated between member states on a six month basis. Towards the end of each six month presidency, the European Council (which is made up of the heads of national governments), meets in the country which holds the Presidency.
Further information on the Council of Ministers
The European Commission is the executive and administrative body of the EU. It has the right to initiate draft EU legislation. Based in Brussels, it is also responsible for the implementation of EU legislation.
As the ‘guardian of the treaties’, the Commission is responsible for ensuring that Community law is applied properly. The Commission has been consistently criticised for failing to enforce EU legislation properly, leaving many states flouting their obligations under the EU treaties. For example, France had its illegal beef ban in place for 3 years but the European Commission proposes to let them get away with this without suffering any penalty whatsoever.
The Commissioners and their President are nominated by national governments. There are twenty Commissioners who each serve for five years, but they may be dismissed mid-term by the Parliament. The current President of the Commission is former Italian Premier, Romano Prodi.
In recent years, the Commission has been heavily criticised for failing to keep track of the taxpayer's money for which it is responsible. Millions of pounds have gone missing via fraud and waste. Conservatives are campaigning to clean up the Commission and are at the forefront of the debate, which led to the resignation of the previous Commission (headed by Jose Manuel Barroso)
Further information on the European Commission
The European Court of Justice often referred to as the ECJ, adjudicates on all legal issues and disputes concerning Community law, and must ensure that the law is uniformly interpreted and correctly applied. It is based in Luxembourg and has a judge from each member state. It may overturn laws adopted by Member States, if it deems them to be inconsistent with the EU treaties.
The ECJ has been criticised for the slow pace of enforcement. For example, farmers left out of pocket by the illegal French ban on British beef can expect to wait many years for compensation. The ECJ has also run into controversy for its overtly political and integrationist stance - in many cases stretching the words of the Treaties to cover areas never envisaged by the national governments who agreed them.
Further information on the European Court of Justice
The Court of Auditors checks that EU revenue is spent correctly. It presents an annual report to Parliament and carries out investigations into certain spending areas. It has been very critical of waste and fraud within the European Commission.
The European Central Bank is the central bank for members of the single currency, based in Frankfurt. It sets interest rates and monetary policy for the euro-zone. Its statutory objective is price stability.
The Economic and Social Committee is an advisory body of 222 representatives nominated by member states from industry, union and interest groups every four years. It must be consulted on matters of economic and social policy and may issue opinions on other important topics. Conservatives believe it should be abolished in order to save money for the taxpayer and reduce the amount the EU spends on bureaucracy.
The Committee of the Regions is a consultative body of 222 members, appointed by member states, from local and regional government. It must be consulted on regional policy, environment and educational matters. Many have advocated a review of the status and funding granted to this Committee, suggesting that it should either become self-financing, or be abolished.
The European Investment Bank is the EU's long term lending institution and facilitates the financing of investment projects. Concerns have been expressed that the EIB is not properly supervised. Conservatives would like to see it subject to the same prudential supervision as ordinary commercial banks as well as coming within the remit of the EU finance watchdog, the Court of Auditors.
The European Ombudsman is appointed by the European Parliament to investigate complaints against the European institutions. All individuals, institutions and businesses in the EU are entitled to register complaints if they have suffered from "maladministration". Similar work is done by the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee.
Conservative Members of the European Parliament
United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament