Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s) have the power to approve, amend or reject nearly all European Union legislation. Members of the European Parliament can hold the European Commission to account and can force members of the Commission to resign. MEP’s also decide on the European Union’s budget and can influence how EU money is spent.
MEP’s represent a much larger constituency within their respective country than a British MP would, for example. Each MEP is voted for by his/her constituents though turnout for these elections in some countries within the EU has been low. As with his British counterpart in the House of Commons, the primary function of a British MEP is to represent the views and concerns of his/her constituents in the European Parliament. However, when a vote is taken there is no guarantee that a MEP will vote as his/her constituents would have wished. While MEP’s might express the views and concerns of their constituents within the European Parliament, they have the right to vote as they see fit on an issue.
Currently there are 785 MEP’s. Germany has the largest individual representation of 99 MEP’s while the country with the smallest number is Malta with 5. Should Turkey fulfil the requirements set by the EU for membership, then the number of MEP’s will increase a great deal as a result of Turkey’s population – currently standing at 72.6 million.
A MEP is elected every five years. Elections for the European Parliament are based on proportional representation.
Though they might be ‘European’ in nature, a lot of the work done by a MEP is done within his/her own regional constituency. MEP’s meet together for one week every month in Strasbourg where they debate on issues and vote on legislation. MEP’s group themselves together within the European Parliament. They sit in multinational political groupings alongside other MEP’s who hold similar views to one another. MEP’s can also sit and work within any one of twenty specialist policy committees – though they can sit in more than one committee. These twenty committees are:
- Foreign Affairs
- International Trade
- Budgetary Control
- Economic and Monetary Affairs
- Employment and Social Affairs
- Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
- Industry, Research and Energy
- Internal Market and Consumer Protection
- Transport and Tourism
- Regional Development
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Culture and Education
- Legal Affairs
- Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
- Constitutional Affairs
- Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
A MEP represents a region within his/her country. In the United Kingdom there are twelve regions:
- London (9 MEP’s)
- South-East (10 MEP’s)
- South-West (7 MEP’s)*
- East England (7 MEP’s)
- West Midlands (7 MEP’s)
- East Midlands (6 MEP’s)
- Wales (4 MEP’s)
- North West (9 MEP’s)
- Yorkshire and the Humber (6 MEP’s)
- North East (3 MEP’s)
- Scotland (7 MEP’s)
- Northern Ireland (3 MEP’s)
* = including Gibraltar
The use of proportional representation allows more than just the traditional parties to get representation within the European Parliament. UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) has 10 MEP’s (in 2008) while the UK Green Party has 2 MEP’s. The ‘First-Past-The-Post’ electoral system for a British general election would almost certainly exclude these two parties from the House of Commons.
Only 4 of Britain’s 78 MEP’s are not on European Parliament committees while 14 serve on two or more.