Powers of the European Parliament - briefing14 May 2009
by eub2 -- last modified 14 May 2009
In a wide range of policy areas, the European Parliament has equal decision-making power with the Council of Ministers from the 27 EU governments. Even in areas such as agriculture or foreign policy, where the Parliament is only consulted or informed, its debates and resolutions often lead the agenda at EU level and can influence the decisions of the Council. Parliament also has wide budgetary powers and exercises democratic control over all the European institutions.
1. Legislative powers
The European Parliament shares power equally with the Council of Ministers over about two-thirds of proposals for EU legislation. In the areas of environment policy, transport, consumer protection, illegal immigration and all matters regulating the internal market, the European Parliament has the power to accept, amend or reject proposals from the European Commission for European directives or regulations. During this legislature, the Parliament rejected outright proposed directives on liberalising port services and on computer patents. On major legislation such as the Services Directive and the REACH chemicals rules, on the other hand, EP amendments significantly changed the final text of the legislation.
On some questions (e.g. taxation, industrial policy, agricultural policy, new eurozone members) the European Parliament gives only an advisory opinion (the ‘consultation procedure’). However, even here, the Parliament's amendments often influence the final outcome of discussions in Council, for example on issues such as sheep-tagging or voluntary modulation for farmers.
Some agreements require the green light of Parliament, who cannot modify the text, but can reject it. This is called assent procedure and it applies to the accession of new Member States and the conclusion of association agreements with non-EU countries. Thus, enlargement of the Union can only happen if Parliament agrees.
2. Political influence
Outside the legislative arena, Parliament makes its voice heard in European decisions. For instance, although Member States take the ultimate decisions on foreign, security and defence issues, the Commission and Council must inform the European Parliament beforehand and MEPs push for action by taking part in political and public debate. In their reports, recommendations and questions addressed to the EU's various actors, they exert influence, for example by pressing the Commission and Council to take measures on human rights.
Parliament also adopts "own-initiative" reports which may call on the Commission to bring forward legislation in a specific area, or indicate, ahead of a concrete proposal, how legislation should be drafted.
3. Budgetary powers
The European Parliament is, together with Council, responsible for establishing the annual budget of the Union. It has the last word on more than half of the EU budget and decides on spending in the fields of social and regional funds, energy, research, transport, development aid, the environment, education and culture. In the case of agriculture expenditure, the Council has the last word.
The EU also aims to set out longer-term financial budgeting, which indicates the maximum levels of expenditure over a seven year period. No deal on these so-called financial perspectives can be reached without Parliament's approval.
4. Democratic control and supervisory powers
Parliament plays a key role in the investiture of the European Commission. Parliament must approve the appointment of the Commission President. Then the other 26 Member States' Commissioners-designate must face a hearing in front of MEPs before the EP's final vote on the whole Commission. Parliament also holds hearings of the President and members of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank and of nominations for the Court of Auditors.
Democratic accountability in monetary policy
The European Central Bank President presents its annual report to the European Parliament in plenary session and reports to the responsible committee in Parliament every three months.
Parliament is responsible for monitoring the Union’s expenditure on a permanent basis, and decides whether to grant discharge to (or clear the accounts of) all EU institutions for the implementation of the budget.
Committees of inquiry and temporary committees
Parliament has the power to set up a temporary committee either to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Community law (committee of inquiry) or to deal with a specific matter on a temporary basis.
Parliamentary questions, written or oral, are another form of supervising and checking the other EU institutions. The questions may be tabled in plenary for a debate with representatives of the Commission and Council who are required to reply.
Every European citizen has the right to petition Parliament to ask for problems to be remedied in areas within the sphere of activity of the European Union.
6. Looking ahead
With the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament would see its powers enhanced. Co-decision would be extended to include such areas as agriculture, fisheries, legal migration, space and sport. The Parliament's budgetary powers would be extended to all Union expenditure, thus including agriculture. Parliament would have more powers over the appointment of President of the Commission.
Source: European Parliament