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MEPs who are they and what do they do?

MEP is an abbreviation used to refer to a Member of the European Parliament. The European Parliament derives from the European Community Treaty of 1957 and became a directly elected body of members in 1979.

How are MEPs chosen?

The European Parliament is currently the only directly elected institution in the European Community. By directly elected, we mean that in other institutions such as the European Council and European Commission, members are selected from different member states, and although these individuals may have been voted into some form of public office, they have not been directly elected to their positions in the council or commission. MEP’s are, by contrast, directly elected by the citizens of each member state directly to their position in the European parliament.

Since the number of member states in the EU has risen over the past few decades, so has the number of European Ministers. There are currently 732 MEPs who are elected through a system of proportional representation. This is when in each region of the UK MEPs are elected by a regional list. The voter will turn up to the ballot box and vote for a party or individual of their choosing. The first seat will be allocated to the party or independent candidate with the most votes. The individual or party with the second most votes will be allocated the second most seats and so on. The number of votes given to a party to which a seat (or more) has already been allocated is divided by the number of seats allocated plus one. This system is designed to be fairer as it provided a more proportional outcome (unlike the first-past-the-post election system used in the UK for general elections).

An MEP is elected for five years and although may be elected due to his or her affiliation with a particular party, they will form part of a broader group of like-minded people once within the Parliament. The parliamentary sessions are held in Strasbourg, though there will often be committee meetings in Brussels.  

What is the role of the European Parliament?

The role of the European Parliament is to participate in the legislative process, pass resolutions, authorise the budget and supervise the Commission. There have been recent moves to increase the powers of the European Parliament on the grounds it is the only directly elected body and therefore is accountable to the general public. In times of euro scepticism it therefore makes sense to give the Parliament more power over other less accountable parts of the European Community.

A common criticism of the European Parliament is that the power of making the big decisions lies with the European Council and the European Commission. Generally, it is felt that the council, which is where the leaders of the member states come together, is where the real power lies in the EC. A recent move to increase Parliament powers is therefore to try to remove the image that the Parliament is merely there to make the EC look accountable.

An MEP will represent your region’s interest in the European Parliament and will look to promote ideas that are considered good for your area. It is therefore extremely important to vote in MEP elections and to see exactly what the MEP has been voting on.

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