The Parliament of the European Union, its development and structure
The Convention and its proposal – a new option for the institutional reform of the European Parliament?
A proposal of the European Commission – what are the interests of the leading resp. “governing” Institution within the European Union?
The European Parliament in the recent discussion
The Parliament of the European Union, its development and structure
Since 1979 the European Community resp. nowadays the European Union is provided with a parliament. From this time on there have been a lot of vehement and controversial discussions mainly concerning the role of this European Parliament (EP) and its legitimacy. Keeping this in mind, before lighting up the details of the institutional reform process - mainly focussing the recent Convention (-Debate) -, I will present the basic principles of constitution, tasks and functioning of the European Parliament.
As said in the Treaty of Rome from 1957 the European Parliament represents the people of the Member States of the European Community. Thus “375 million European citizens in 15 countries are now involved in the process of European Integration through their 626 representatives in the European Parliament ” (http://www.europarl.eu.int/presentation/default_en.htm, 30.04.03). In its constituting session on March 21, 1958 the general assembly was named “European Parliament”. Until 1979, every five years the European Parliament is build by direct universal elections. The main tasks of the EP are consultation and supervision; it is also featured with the right to sue to the Court of Justice. The seat of the plenum of the EP is in Strasbourg – supplementary the Committees hold their meetings in Brussels, the General Secretariat remained in Luxembourg.
The tasks of the EP are composed of the general legislative power, the constitutional right to decide on the budget, the right of control and interaction. To explain this aspects more detailed:
- The general legislative power: The Parliament grew from a kind of forum to a shaping actor (cp. Schmuck 1994: p.22). By dint of the so called isoglucose case the European Parliament was given a “very useful delaying power” (Nugent 2001:p.207).
- Right to decide on the budget: In this regard one could notice an incremental granting of budget rights (in 1970 and 1975). Exclusively the EP is incumbent on the exoneration from the (household-running) Commission – the Commission has duty to report. In the range of non-compulsory expenses, the European Parliament holds the last decision-making powers (3,6% in 1970 à 40% in 1995).
- The right of control: Motion of no confidence is possible with two-thirds-majority. Furthermore it is necessary that the European Parliament agrees with the Commission-President and the Members of the Commission. There is an enquiry commission – the EP can also institute legal proceedings at the European Court of Justice because of effortlessness as well as because of inanity.
- Interaction with the citizens: Similar to National Parliaments the EU citizens have the right to petition. Furthermore the European Ombudsman tries to stand up for the citizens, however there is so far little acceptance. One of the main problems consists of the huge number of citizen each Member of Parliament. With regard to this aspects there is asked the question, in which institution the will resp. intention of the citizen becomes manifest.
A very important fact which will be discussed more detailed later in this paper concerning the function and work of the European Parliament is the electoral procedure and the elections. There are fifteen different election procedures because of restrictive clauses, with regard to the clearing system, the organization of the constituencies etc. Nevertheless one “rule” of the election procedure exists in all Member States of the Union: the system of proportional representation. The election takes place in every Member State - but, there is no proportional distribution: e.g. the Federal Republic of Germany is represented weaker than Luxemburg.
Every citizen of the European Union has the right to vote. Especially with respect to the last election in 1999 the turnout was quite small – unfortunately the behaviour and decisions of the voter to the EP are still determined by national politics and the respective mood of the voters towards the national parties and politicians.
As far as the parties on the European Level are concerned, currently there are seven supranational parliamentary groups clasping the whole range of political leanings. The most important ones are the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (PPE-DE), the Group of the Party of European Socialists (PSE) and the Group of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) (cp. http://wwwdb.europarl.eu.int/ep5/owa/p_meps2.repartition?ilg=EN&orig=home, 10.05.2003). All the unions of political parties on the European level have been developed in the 1970s with the objective to be much more successful via better coordination. However, these groups of parties are not directly comparable to national parliamentary groups for several reasons: On the European level parliamentary groups do not have the competences national parties and groups have; the parliamentary groups are, of course, very heterogeneous; mostly there are less common political objectives within this groups; as far as the Members of Parliament are concerned one can observe a quite high fluctuation; there is the need of securing a majority towards the Council, and finally - to be emphasized particularly – on the European level there is no government which is and must be based on the majority of the EP (cp. Dauses / Fugmann 1995).
The essential work of the European Parliament takes place in twenty committees that are held together by a communication network. As well towards the internal administration and management as towards the other European Institutions the President represents the European Parliament – he or she owns the only directly authorized function in the European Union. The current president of the European Parliament is Patrick Cox (cp. http://www.europarl.eu.int/orgpresi/composition_fr.pdf, 10.05.2003). Fourteen Vice-Presidents assist Mr Cox as well as five Quaestors. They all are elected for half a legislative period. Additionally the Conference of Presidents meet regularly composed of the President of the EP and all leaders of the parliamentary groups.
This background is necessary to follow and judge the discussion about an institutional reform with regard to the European Parliament. During the next two passages of this paper I will present the preliminary proposal of the Convention and the Commission’s Paper of December 2002.
 Germany: 99; Great Britain, France and Italy: 87 each; Spain: 64; the Netherlands: 31; Belgium, Greece, Portugal: 25 each; Sweden: 22; Austria: 21; Denmark and Finland: 16 each; Ireland: 15; Luxembourg: 5 (Art. 190 ECT).