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A Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is the English name for a person who has been elected to the European Parliament,[1] one of the European Union's two legislative bodies. MEPs are the European Union's equivalents of a country's national legislators in either the lower house or unicameral parliaments, often known as MPs or Deputies. The name of MEPs differ in different languages, with terms such as euro-deputy being common in Romance language-speaking countries.

When the European Parliament was first established, MEPs were appointed by member states from members of their own national parliament. Since 1979, however, MEPs have been elected by direct universal suffrage. Each country establishes their own way of electing their MEPs and in some countries the electoral system has changed over time and across regions. All now use one or another form of proportional representation. For a list of the current members see Members of the European Parliament 2009–2014.

Contents

Election of MEPs

Since 1 January 2007 (when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU), there had been 785 MEPs, but their number fell back to 736 at the latest elections in 2009, though this will eventually rise to 751 if the Treaty of Lisbon comes into force, with each member state having at least six and at most 96. Elections occur once every five years, on the basis of universal adult suffrage. There is no uniform voting system for the election of MEPs; rather, each member state is free to choose its own system, subject to three restrictions:

The allocation of seats to each member state is based on the principle of degressive proportionality, so that, while the size of the population of each country is taken into account, smaller states elect more MEPs than would be strictly justified by their populations alone. As the number of MEPs granted to each country has arisen from treaty negotiations, there is no precise formula for the apportionment of seats among member states. No change in this configuration can occur without the unanimous consent of all governments.

The most recent elections to the European Parliament were the European elections of 2009, held in June of that year. They were the largest simultaneous transnational elections ever held anywhere in the world, since nearly 500 million citizens were eligible to vote.

Length of Service

The European Parliament has a high turnover of members compared to some national parliaments. For instance, after the 2004 elections, the majority of elected members had not been members in the prior parliamentary session, though that could largely be put down to the recent enlargement. Only one (Hans-Gert Pöttering) has served continuously since the first elections in 1979.

MEPs within the Parliament

All but 27 MEPs are members of cross-nationality political groups, organised according to political allegiance. For instance, the UK's Labour MEPs are members of the Party of European Socialists, and all Conservative MEPs were members of the European People's Party - European Democrats, until they left it to form a new group (the European Conservatives and Reformists Group) in July 2009.

Group discipline is laxer than most national parliaments, with national delegations and individual members sometimes voting against the Group 'line' on particular issues. Furthermore, the position taken by a Group on any given issue is determined by discussion within the Group, not handed down by the party leadership. Individual 'back-bench' MEPs do therefore have considerable influence over the development of policy within the Parliament.

Aside from working through their Groups, individual members are also guaranteed a number of individual powers and rights within the Parliament:

  • the right to table a motion for resolution;
  • the right to put questions to the Council of Ministers, the Commission, and to the leaders of the Parliament;
  • the right to table an amendment to any text in committee;
  • the right to make explanations of vote;
  • the right to raise points of order;
  • the right to move the inadmissibility of a matter.

The job of an MEP

One week in each month the Parliament's session is in Strasbourg, and the remaining three weeks are reserved for meeting by committee, Group, or Parliament sessions in Brussels. The obligation to spend one week a month in Strasbourg was imposed on Parliament by the Member State governments at the Edinburgh summit in 1992.

In addition an MEP may be part of an international delegation and have meetings with outside delegations coming to Brussels or Strasbourg or visiting committees or parliaments of external countries or regions. There are also a number of international parliaments that members participate in such as the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly and lately, the Euromed Parliamentary Assembly. This work entails full annual parliamentary meetings and more frequent multilateral committee meetings. Members also make up a portion of European Election Observation missions.

Also there is the need to keep in touch with constituents in the home country. Most MEPs return to their constituencies on a Thursday evening to spend the Friday and often weekends dealing with individual constituents, local organisations, local and national politicians, businesses, trade unions, local councils and so on. Four weeks without parliamentary meetings set aside during the year and the parliamentary recess (four weeks in summer, two at Christmas/New Year) can also be used for constituency duties.

MEPs may employ staff to help them, typically three or four split between their constituency office and office in Parliament.

Because MEPs sit in a parliament with powers over fewer subjects than national parliaments, their public profile in their home country is typically lower than that of national parliamentarians, at least those of the latter who are ministers or opposition spokesmen.

Some MEPs choose to make their family home in or near Brussels rather than in their home country to gain time for family (unlike the Commons it is usually possible in Brussels for Members to have a free evening), and mening that time in the constituency is not taken up with family commitments.

Powers

Since the ratification and entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty the adoption of nearly all EU legislation requires the approval of both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. Under the co-decision procedure, they each have up to three readings of legislative proposals put forward by the European Commission in which they can each amend the proposal, but must ultimately approve a text in identical terms for it to be passed. This amounts to bicameralism.

MEPs also elect the President of the Commission, on the basis of a proposal by the European Council and, following public hearings of the candidates, approve the appointment of the Commission as a whole. The Parliament may also dismiss the Commission in a vote of no-confidence (for instance, in 1999, the Commission presided by Jacques Santer resigned when faced with the certain adoption of such a vote of no confidence). MEPs may table parliamentary questions for Question time or for a written answer.

International agreements entered into by the European Union (e.g. WTO, some trade agreements, etc) must be approved by the European Parliament, as must the accession of new Member States to the Union.

The EU's annual budget is adopted by Parliament, within ceilings for expenditure of different categories laid down jointly by Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and respecting the overall limit on EU spending decided on by unanimous agreement of all Member States.

The Parliament also elects the European Ombudsman and holds hearings with candidates for the President and Board members of European Central Bank,the Court of Auditors and various EU agencies.

Payment and Privileges

Salary

Until 2009, MEPs were paid (by their own Member State) exactly the same salary as a member of the lower House of their own national parliament. As a result, there was a wide range of salaries in the European Parliament. In 2002, Italian MEPs earned €130,000, while Spanish MEPs earned barely a quarter of that at €32,000.[2]

However, in July 2005 the Council agreed to a single statute for all MEPs, following a proposal by the Parliament. Thus, from the first day of the parliamentary term starting in 2009, all MEPs receive a basic monthly salary of 38.5% of a European Court judge's salary - being around €84,000. This represents a pay-cut for MEPs from some countries (e.g. Italy, Germany, and Austria), a rise for others (particularly the low-paid Eastern European Members) and status quo for those from the United Kingdom (depending on the euro-pound exchange rate). The much-criticised expenses arrangements will also be reformed.[3]

Expenses and recent reforms

Before the 2009 reforms, commentators in several member states (most notably Denmark, Sweden and the UK) accused MEPs of taking advantage of generous expense allowances for personal profit. These criticisms typically centred on two areas:

  • the amount paid to MEPs as expenses; and
  • the manner in which it is paid.

With regard to the amount paid, these are roughly equivalent to those paid to British MPs. As of 2002:

  • British MPs received an allowance for travel around their constituencies, but MEPs did not, despite the fact that their constituencies were much larger.
  • British MPs were paid a lump sum of just under £19,500 for accommodation at seat of Parliament, regardless of the time they actually spent there. MEPs received £150 per day attended and were required to sign in to prove attendance.
  • Both British MPs and MEPs were paid travel expenses for journeys from constituencies to Parliament. Contrary to widespread rumours, MEPs received 'YY economy class' air fares paid, not first class, plus an allowance per kilometre for the trip from their home to the airport. Only one journey was allowed per week.
  • British MPs were given first class rail tickets for spouse and children to Westminster up to thirty times per year. MEPs had no such allowance.
  • British MPs were given two return tickets per year to any EU parliament or the European Parliament itself. MEPs had no such allowance.
  • British MPs received unlimited travel expenses around the UK on parliamentary business. MEPs were given a similar allowance, but this was limited to £2,170 per year, plus an extra allowance if they needed to return home midweek.
  • British MPs and MEPs both received an office allowance. MEPs were paid 44% more than MPs, but this had to include postage and all equipment, whereas MPs also received unlimited free postage and free computers.
  • British MPs and MEPs both had a staff allowance. MEPs received 30% more than MPs, but their staffs are typically larger, and this amount had to cover staff pensions, temporary replacements for illness, redundancy costs at end of mandate, staff travel, insurance, administration, and employer's liability. MPs had those provided for free on top of their allowance.
  • At the end of their mandates, British MPs received four months of office allowances, while MEPs received three.
  • At the end of their mandates, MEPs get a silver medal, and during their mandate their train travels (TGV and Eurostar excluded) in Belgium are free.

With regard to the manner in which it is paid, complaints are often raised about the fact that MEPs' flights to and from Brussels were paid at a flat rate, regardless of the expenditure actually incurred. The price paid is for economy travel, not first-class, but nevertheless this value could amount to more than the actual price of travel, even if there are no "budget" airlines serving Brussels. This too changed with the new Parliament elected in 2009, with only the cost actually incurred and documented reimbursed.

Another area of concern is the fact that MEPs' accounts are currently audited on a spot-check basis, not a universal one. Feeling this to be insufficient, some members voluntarily submit their accounts for a full independent audit annually. All UK Labour MEPs have done so since 2000, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats since 2008.

Financial interests

Members declare their financial interests, which are published annually in a register and available on the Internet.

Immunities

Under the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Union, MEPs in their home country receive the same immunities as their own national parliamentarians. In other member states, MEPs are immune from detention and from legal proceedings, except when caught in the act of committing an offence. This immunity may be waived by application to the European Parliament by the authorities of the country in question.

Individual members

Members' experience

Around a third of MEPs have previously held national parliamentary mandates, and over 10% have ministerial experience at a national level. Among the 177 MEPs with such experience elected in 1999 were six prime ministers and three former members of the European Commission. Many other MEPs have held office at a regional or local level in their home countries.

Current MEPs also include former judges, trade union leaders, media personalities, actors, soldiers, singers, athletes, and political activists.

Many outgoing MEPs move into other political office. A remarkably high proportion of European countries' recent heads of government have previously served in the Parliament.

Dual mandates

The so-called "dual mandate"—in which an individual is a member of both his or her national parliament and the European Parliament, was officially discouraged by a growing number of political parties and Member States, and is prohibited as of 2009. In the 2004-2009 Parliament, a small number of members still held a dual mandate, such as MEPs Baroness Ludford and Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (both UK Liberal Democrats who also sat in the House of Lords). Notably, Ian Paisley and John Hume once held "triple mandates" as MEP, MP in the House of Commons, and MLA in the Northern Ireland Assembly simultaneously.

Diversity

The proportion of MEPs elected in 2004 who were female was 30.2 percent (in 1979 it was just 16.5 percent), a higher percentage than most national parliaments. This figure varies considerably among the various national delegations, however. Of UK members, for instance, approaching half of the Labour MEPs are female, compared to only one Conservative member. The figure for the Parliament elected in 2009 is 35 percent.

The oldest member is Giovanni Berlinguer, born in 1924; the former communist was present at the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. The youngest is Dimitar Stoyanov, born in 1983, who joined the parliament in 2007.

There are invariably numerous figures in the Parliament who are already well known for a wide variety of other reasons. For example, in the 2004-2009 Parliament:

Notable former members:

Election of non-nationals

European citizens are eligible for election in the member state where they reside (subject to the residence requirements of that country); they do not have to be a national of that state. The following citizens have been elected in a state other than their native country;[4]

Name Year (first
election)
Nationality State of
election
Party
Christine Crawley 1984 Irish UK Socialists
Anita Pollack 1989 Australian UK Socialist
Maurice Duverger 1989 French Italy GUE
Wilmya Zimmermann 1994 Dutch Germany Socialist
Oliver Dupuis 1994 Belgian Italy Radical
Daniel Cohn-Bendit 1999 German France Green
Monica Frassoni 1999 Italian Belgium Green
Frédérique Ries 2001 French Spain Liberal
Bairbre de Brún 2004 Irish UK GUE
Willem Schuth 2004 Dutch Germany Liberal
Daniel Stroz 2004 German Czech Republic GUE
Ari Vatanen 2004 Finnish France EPP
2009 figures missing

Observers

It is conventional for countries acceding to the European Union to send a number of observers to Parliament in advance. The number of observers and their method of appointment (usually by national parliaments) is laid down in the joining countries' Treaties of Accession.

Observers may attend debates and take part by invitation, but they may not vote or exercise other official duties. When the countries then become full member states, these observers become full MEPs for the interim period between accession and the next European elections. From 26 September 2005 to 31 December 2006, Bulgaria had 18 observers in Parliament and Romania 35. These were selected from government and opposition parties as agreed by the countries' national parliaments. Following accession on 1 January 2007, the observers became MEPs (with some personnel changes).

See also

References

  1. ^ Rule 1 in Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament
  2. ^ "Germany blocks MEP pay rises". BBC News. 26 January 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3430517.stm. Retrieved 5 January 2010.  
  3. ^ "EP adopts a single statute for MEPs.". http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/file.jsp?id=5254742.  
  4. ^ 1984 to 2004 from: Corbett, R. et al (2007) The European Parliament (7th ed) London, John Harper Publushing. p.21

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