Europe

The role of an MEP

A summary of how members seek to maximise their influence within the Parliament.

When the newly elected European Parliament holds its first meeting on 1 July, a total of 751 members will represent the citizens of the EU. The role and remit of an MEP varies considerably, depending on their constituency and their parliamentary commitments.

Most MEPs (448) will represent countries as opposed to regions (303). An individual MEP receives a salary of €95,500 which converts into £78,300. By comparison, an MP’s salary is £66,396 and an MLA receives £48,000.

An MEP’s individual vote is rarely the deciding factor when the Parliament votes. The results mainly depend on how the main groups will vote but members sometimes dissent in order to protect national interests e.g. Irish corporation tax.

The member’s influence largely depends on the number of his or her committee positions. Jim Nicholson and Diane Dodds are particularly proud of their membership of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. Martina Anderson regularly uses her seat on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee to campaign on those issues.

MEPs can also join ‘delegations’ which build up links with non-EU countries and ‘inter-groups’ which are effectively all-party groups.

The Parliament as a whole has a significant and growing influence on EU law. It can debate virtually any subject and most EU laws are now jointly approved by the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. This process is known as co-decision (see table).

The importance of a European Parliament committee depends on the level of influence that the EU actually has in a particular policy area. This influence is strongest in competition law, customs, international trade and offshore fisheries. In these exclusive competences, policy is set at an EU-wide level and then applied by member states.

In shared competence areas, a member state can make laws if the EU has not already done so. These include agriculture, energy, the environment, the internal market and transport. Elsewhere, member states are free to make their own laws but can seek support (including funding) from the EU.

MEPs cannot propose laws on their own but the Parliament can ask the Commission to draft a law.

Potential European commissioners are nominated by their governments and then go through a committee hearing at the European Parliament before being appointed. The committee’s vote on the nominee’s suitability is not binding but does influence the ultimate decision.

The final Commission is presented to Parliament for a vote where it can be accepted or rejected. This year, for the first time, the Parliament will have the power to decide the next Commission President.

Any citizen can submit a petition to the European Parliament about EU law, and the Parliament can set up a committee of inquiry to look into alleged breaches of the law by national governments.

Co-decision powers

Before 2009

New since 2009

  • Annual EU budget
  • Consumer protection
  • Customs
  • Education and culture
  • Environment
  • Equal opportunities
  • Freedom of information
  • International development
  • Migrant workers
  • Services and industries
  • Transport
  • Agriculture
  • Civil protection
  • Energy
  • Fisheries
  • General economic policy
  • Immigration policy
  • Public health policy
  • Intellectual property
  • Judicial co-operation
  • Sport
  • Tourism
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