Glossary

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Parliamentary assistant

The parliamentary assistant helps the MEP to carry out their functions. MEPs are free to choose their own staff including assistants, and they also define their role and the length of their contract.

The assistant plays a crucial role. He or she is the link between the parliamentary institution and the MEP who is often busy negotiating legislative dossiers and carrying out their political work. The assistant also connects the citizen with the MEP. All in all, he or she helps the parliamentary machine to keep working.

Parliamentary committee

Similar to national parliaments, different committees have been set up within the European Parliament to prepare the work of the plenary session. It is in these committees that the bulk of the Parliament’s legislative work takes place. At the beginning, and again in the middle of the legislature, MEPs are elected as member of each committee in accordance with their political grouping and personal expertise.

The Parliament’s rules of procedure stipulate that the MEPs decide on the number and interest areas of the parliamentary committees. There are currently 20 committees divided by sector (internal market, agriculture, employment, industry, culture, constitutional and legal affairs etc.).

If it is deemed necessary, the Parliament can also create sub-committees, temporary committees and committees of inquiry. The committees of inquiry are responsible for examining possible breaches or misapplication of community law. A committee of inquiry was established in 1997 to investigate delays in the European response to the BSE crisis. The temporary committees are established for a period of 12 months but can be extended indefinitely.

The main role of the permanent committees is to debate the proposals sent by the European Commission and to establish own-initiative reports. These are then sent to the plenary assembly, which meets once per month in Strasbourg, to debate and vote the issues on the basis of the reports.

Parliamentary delegations

Delegations maintain and develop the Parliament’s international contacts. There are two reasons for doing this: maintaining and improving relations with parliaments of the EU’s traditional partners, and also, in third countries, promoting the values on which the European Union is founded, namely the principles of freedom, democracy, respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

Where possible, the Parliament’s international contacts aim to develop the parliamentary dimension in international relations.

Parti politique européen

A European political party is a type of political organisation recognised by the European Union since 1992 (Maastricht Treaty) and eligible, since 2003, for community funds. It can be a single party or can bring together an alliance of parties. It must have legal personality in the Member State where its headquarters are, be represented in a least one quarter of Member States or have gained at least 3% of the votes cast in the previous European elections.

The parties’ financing must be transparent with a list of donors and mention of any donations of over €500. Anonymous donations, donations from the political groups’ budget and donations of over €12,000 from persons, physical or moral, are forbidden.

Petition

Any citizen of the European Union or any person residing in a Member State can, individually or collectively, present the European Parliament with a petition on an issue relevant to one of the European Union’s fields of competency.

Plenary session

The European Parliament’s plenary session is where the Parliament meets formally to vote in European Union legislation and to adopt its position on political issues. The plenary sessions take place twelve times per year in Strasbourg and there are also six ‘mini-sessions’ in Brussels every year.

Political group

The Parliament has seven transnational groups which were formed in accordance with the political ideologies of the members; the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ADLE), the Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA), the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), and lastly the European Freedom and Democracy Group (EFD). MEPs that do not belong to any of these groups are known as ‘non-attached’.

Each political group has a president (or two co-presidents in some groups), a bureau and a secretariat.

In order to form a political group, there needs to be at least 25 MEPs from at least one quarter of the European Union’s Member States. MEPs cannot become members of more than one political group.

The main work of the groups is examining reports from the parliamentary committees before each vote in the plenary session and submitting amendments.

MEPs discuss the texts within the group in order to reach a common position on them but each member is free to vote as they choose.

In the hemicycle, seats are allocated to MEPs with respect to their political allegiances from left to right as agreed by the group presidents.

President of the European Parliament

The president chairs the plenary session, the Conference of presidents of political groups (numbering seven) and the EP bureau (14 vice-presidents). He or she is responsible for applying the institution’s regulations. In this capacity, he or she manages all of the work of the European Parliament and its agencies. The president represents parliament in external relations. He or she is elected by MEPs through secret ballot and has a fixed mandate length of two and a half years, i.e. half the legislature, which can be renewed.

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