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Ian Hudghton
Scottish National Party
Member of the European Parliament

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An overview of the European Parliament

The European Parliament

The European Parliament represents, in the words of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, 'the peoples of the States brought together in the European Community'. Some 457 million European citizens in 25 Member States are now represented by 732 members in the European Parliament.

The first direct elections to the European Parliament were held in June 1979 when, 34 years after the end of Second World War, for the first time in history, the peoples of the nations of Europe, once torn apart by war, went to the polls to elect the members of a single parliament. Europeans could have devised no more powerful symbol of reconciliation.

The European Parliament, which is elected every five years, has steadily acquired greater influence and power through a series of treaties. These treaties, particularly the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, have transformed the European Parliament from a purely consultative assembly into a legislative parliament, its power of co-decision making it an equal partner with the Council of Ministers in most EU policy areas. Co-decision power does not apply in Agriculture or

Fisheries policy though, meaning that all final decisions in these areas are made by the Council of Ministers.

Members of the European Parliament

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected at five-year intervals, under a variety of systems of proportional representation. Elections are held either on a regional basis, as for example in the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium, on a national basis, as in Spain and Denmark, or under a mixed system as in Germany. The UK currently has 78 Members, with Scotland being one electoral area electing 7 MEPs.

In Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg voting is compulsory. A common core of democratic rules applies everywhere: these include the right to vote at 18, equality of men and women, and the principle of the secret ballot.

Since the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993 every citizen of an EU member state who lives in another country of the Union may vote or stand for election in their country of residence.

In 1979 16.5% of MEPs were women, and this figure has risen steadily over successive parliamentary terms, reaching 27.5% on 1 January 1996 and 30.3% after the 2004 elections.

Members of the European Parliament receive the same salary as members of their respective Member State parliaments, so MEPs from Scotland are paid the same amount as a Westminster MP. It is paid by their member state of election, and subject to state taxation.

Composition of the European Parliament

The European Parliament has 732 Members. The number of Members per state is laid down in the Treaties, currently as follows;

Germany - 99; France, Italy, UK - 78; Poland, Spain - 54; Netherlands - 27; Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal - 24; Sweden - 19; Austria - 18; Denmark, Finland, Slovakia - 14; Ireland, Lithuania - 13; Slovenia - 7; Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg - 6; Malta - 5.

Organisation of the European Parliament

The European Parliament is the only Community institution that meets and debates in public. Its decisions, positions and proceedings are published in the Official Journal of the European Communities.

Members sit in political groups in the Chamber, not in national delegations. Parliament currently has seven political groups, as well as 'non-attached' Members. These political groups include members from over 150 political parties. The two SNP Members are part of the European Free Alliance, which currently consists of MEPs from devolved or autonomous areas, including Scotland, Wales and Catalonia plus a member from Latvia. The EFA has an arrangement with various Green Parties to form the Greens/European Free Alliance Group.

Members also sit on parliamentary committees and delegations, as either full or substitute members.
MEPs are obliged by Treaty to spend one week each month at a plenary session in Strasbourg, when Parliament meets in full session. Additional two-day sittings are held in Brussels. Two weeks in every month are set aside for meetings of Parliament's committees in Brussels. The remaining week is devoted to meetings of the political groups, also in Brussels.

With the assistance of translators and interpreters, Parliament works in the twenty official languages of the Union: Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.

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The Greens | European Free Alliance in the European Parliament

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