The European Parliament
The European Parliament makes decisions on new European laws, jointly with the Council of the European Union. The Parliament is the only directly elected body of the European Union. It has 785 members (MEPs), including 78 from the UK, who represent the people in their part of the country.
The role of the European Parliament
The European Parliament meets in full session in Strasbourg for one week every month. The rest of the time, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) work in Brussels and meet in specialist committees.
The Parliament is consulted about major decisions, and shares substantial power with the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers). In areas of legislation its role varies between:
- co-decision, where a proposal requires the agreement (or compromise) of both the Council and the Parliament
- consultation, where the Parliament can influence draft legislation but the Council has the final decision
- co-operation and assent procedures, where the Parliament's influence is greater
The Parliament and the Council also share authority over the European Community budget. The Parliament also approves the appointment of the European Commission, and approves international agreements.
For more information about the Council of the European Union, see 'The European Union'.
- The European Union
Forms of legislation
Some EC legislation is issued jointly by the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, some by the Council and some by the Commission under delegated powers. It consists of regulations, directives and decisions:
- regulations are directly applicable in all member states and have the force of law without the need for implementing further measures
- directives are equally binding, but allow each member state to choose the form and method of implementation
- decisions are binding on those to whom they are addressed, and do not normally need national implementing legislation
Non-binding recommendations and opinions can also be made.
Elections for the Members of the European Parliament take place every five years, across all 27 member states of the European Union. The last elections were in June 2004. In the UK, these were held under a proportional representation system, bringing the country into line with the other member states.
- European elections
European Court of Justice
Each member state provides one of the judges to serve in the European Court of Justice, which is the final authority on all aspects of European Community law. Its rulings must be applied by member states and fines can be imposed on those failing to do so.
The Court of Justice is assisted by a Court of First Instance, which handles certain cases brought by individuals and companies.
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