The European Parliament has its basis in Articles 189-201 EC.
The European Parliament consists of 626 directly elected members (Art. 190 EC). The distribution of the number of members per country is laid down in Art. 190 EC. Elections for Parliament take place every five years, according to the national procedures of the Member States.
In contrast with the members of the Council, the members of Parliament do not represent their country of origin. Therefore, they have not been grouped according to nationality, but according to political affiliation. The great number of national political parties has generated some eight political groups: PPE (European People´s Party); PSE (Party of European Socialists); ELDR (European Liberal, Democratic and Reformist Party);Verts/ALE (The Greens/European Free Alliance); GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left); UEN (Union for a Europe of Nations Group); TDI (Technical Group of Independent Members); and EDD (Group for a Europe of Democracies and Diversities). In addition, there are the "Non-Attached Members"; this small group does not belong to any of the political groups.
Parliament is led by a president and a ´Bureau´. This regulatory body consists of the President of the European Parliament, fourteen vice-presidents, and five quaestors with an advisory voice.
In addition, there is a Conference of Presidents. This is the political administrative body of Parliament. It consists of the President of Parliament and the chairmen of the various political groups. They fix the timetable for the work of the parliamentary bodies and draw up the agenda for the plenary sessions.
17 standing committees prepare the plenary sessions of Parliament. In addition, Parliament can also establish temporary committees and sub-committees.
The European Parliament also has a General Secretariat, which takes care of the organisation of all the activities. A secretary-general with a permanent staff of about 3,600 heads the Secretariat.
The Parliament has a seat in Strasbourg for its monthly plenary sessions and one in Brussels for the Commission meetings and extraordinary meetings.
The European Parliament exercises the powers invested in the institution by the Treaty (Art. 189 EC). It has co-legislative powers in the various decision-making procedures and exerts control over the European Commission. In addition, the Parliament has budgetary powers. It is involved in the drawing up of the budget and it grants, or does not grant, permission to the Commission to implement the budget.
The preparation of the decisions takes place in the parliamentary committees. Depending on the subject of the proposal by the Commission, the parliamentary committee responsible for the policy field the subject is related to prepare a common position for the European Parliament. The relevant rapporteur draws up a draft report that, after consultation, is put to the vote in the parliamentary committee. If the proposal is passed, it is sent on to the plenary session of the European Parliament.
Subsequently, the Parliament can suggest amendments before it takes a vote. The decisions made by the Parliament are made by the absolute majority of the votes cast, unless it is otherwise stipulated in the Treaty (Art. 198 EC).
Anticipating the enlargement of the Union, the Treaty of Nice decided that the maximum number of European delegates is 732. In addition, the division of the seats among the Member States and the candidate countries (from the next elections onward, see the table below) was decided on. Of course, the delegates of the candidate Member States will only have seats in the European Parliament from the date of entry of the country in question.
Division of seats in the European Parliament per Member State and per candidate country
A great deal of information concerning the activities of the European Parliament can be found on the web site Europarl. The Public Register of European Parliament contains references and documents that have been in the public domain since 3 December 2001. Documents classified as directly accessible can be retrieved from this database. Since 1994, the minutes of the plenary sessions can be found under "activities" on the web site, along with the Proceedings of the European Parliament (the literal reports of the debates) which have been on it since 1996. To find older minutes or proceedings, the Official Journal will have to be searched. The minutes are published in the Official Journal Series C, while the Proceedings are published in the Annex to the Official Journal.
Session documents (starting with session period 1994-1999) can be found via the subsection "activities" on this web site. The session documents are subdivided into three categories.
Reports by rapporteurs (category A) have appeared on microfiche or can be retrieved from the European Parliament via Correspondence with citizens.
The B and C categories are not public documents. A document from category C can, however, be retrieved through the institution it derives from. The contents of category B documents can be inferred from the minutes and proceedings of Parliament.
The Bulletin of the European Parliament is published by the Directorate for the Planning of Parliamentary Business. It contains a survey of ongoing activities, texts of declarations related to the Common foreign and security policy, lists of official documents, and appointments of rapporteurs. The Bulletin was not available to the public before 1990.
The European Parliament also gives direct access to the OEIL or Legislative Observatory database. Through OEIL, the state of affairs in decision procedures can be checked. The database contains the procedures that are currently pending (irrespective of the date on which the procedure started) and completed procedures as of July 1994. The database has links to relevant documents of the Commission and Parliament. It also indicates what will be the next decision in a procedure and when it is expected.