The Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in the early 1950s [see section 2.1] stipulated that the extensive powers it was conferring on the High Authority would be subject to public control by a "Common Assembly" representing "the peoples of the States brought together in the Community". With the creation, in 1957, of the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community, the Common Assembly constituted, at its request, an enlarged Assembly, composed of 142 Members, for the three Communities. Holding its inaugural session in Strasbourg on 19 March 1958, the Assembly two days later gave itself the name of "European Parliamentary Assembly". Four years later, on 30 March 1962, it decided (without the blessing of the governments) to take the name "European Parliament", a name sanctioned by the 1987 Single European Act.
During the early years of European construction, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were appointed by the national parliaments and had to be members of them. Although it was provided for by the Treaties of Paris and Rome, election of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage only became a reality in June 1979 [Decision 76/787]. Common electoral principles, applicable from 2004, provide for elections to be held by direct universal suffrage, freely and in secret, and for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to be elected on the basis of proportional representation using the list system or the single transferable vote, their office being incompatible with that of member of a national parliament [Decision 2002/772].
The number of Members of the European Parliament has increased with the successive enlargements of the Community/Union. After the 2007 enlargement, the number of seats was increased to 785, which were allocated as follows:
99 to Germany;
78 each to: France, Italy and the United Kingdom;
54 each to: Spain and Poland;
35 to Romania;
27 to the Netherlands;
24 each to: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary and Portugal;
19 to Sweden;
18 to Austria and Bulgaria;
14 each to: Denmark, Slovakia and Finland;
13 each to: Ireland and Lithuania;
9 to Latvia;
7 to Slovenia;
6 each to: Cyprus, Estonia and Luxembourg; and
5 to Malta.
According to the Treaty of Lisbon (following the draft Constitutional Treaty), the European Parliament is composed of representatives of the Union’s citizens, who should not exceed 750 in number, plus the President. Representation of citizens must be degressively proportional, with a minimum threshold of 6 deputies per Member State, in order to make sure that, even in the least populous Member States, all the major shades of political opinion have a chance of being represented in the European Parliament. No Member State shall be allocated more than 96 seats. The European Council shall adopt by unanimity, on the initiative of the European Parliament and with its consent, a decision establishing the composition of the European Parliament, respecting the principles referred to above (Article 14 TEU = Article I-20, Constitution). It follows that, since the number of MEPs should never exceed the total of 750 and, since the smaller Member States should always be allocated at least 6 MEPs each, in case of new enlargements of the Union, the larger Member States should have to hand down a number of their seats to the acceding Member States.
Thanks to its direct election by the peoples of the Union, the European Parliament is the only real multinational legislative assembly in the world and plays an increasingly important role in the European integration process. Although under the original Treaties the Parliament's role was purely advisory, it has kept growing, particularly in the legislative and budgetary fields, with each amendment of the Treaties. It has to be said, moreover, that the national parliaments rarely exercise their legislative and budgetary powers to the full, subject as they are to the will of the parties which support the governments submitting legislative drafts to them. The European Parliament is not subjected to such constraints. At present the EP exercises four functions: legislative, political, supervisory and budgetary.
The European Parliament's first task under the Treaties establishing the original Communities, that of consultation, whereby Parliament gives its opinion on Commission proposals, was strengthened by the Single Act of 1987 which introduced a procedure of cooperation with the Council in many Community decisions. The legislative function of the Parliament was considerably increased with the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice, thanks to the codecision and cooperation procedures (Articles 251 and 252 TEC). The Treaty of Lisbon extends the codecision procedure, renamed "ordinary legislative procedure" (Articles 14 TEU and 294 TFEU), to a large number of fields, with the notable exception of the common foreign and security policy. The Parliament thus exercises the functions of a House of Representatives, representing the citizens of the Union, while the Council plays the role of a Senate, representing the governments of the Member States. The request for accession of new Member States shall be subject to the consent of the European Parliament, which may thus turn down a candidate, even despite the unanimous approval of the governments of the Member States.
The political function of the Parliament is also essential. As it represents more than 500 million citizens (EU-27) and is the European forum par excellence, the Parliament is the virtual contractor for European construction. It often calls upon the other protagonists, the Commission and the Council, to develop or alter existing common policies or to initiate new ones. Indeed, the Treaty gives it the right to request that the Commission submit any appropriate proposals on matters on which it considers a Union act is required (Article 225 TFEU). According to the treaty of Lisbon, the President of the Commission will be elected (not approved) by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members, acting on a proposal from the European Council (Articles 14 and 17 TEU). If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure. The President, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the other members of the Commission shall be subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament (Article 17 TEU). These provisions clearly establish the responsibility of the Commission vis-à-vis the Parliament. The Commission and the Council have to report to the Parliament for their acts. The Commission must submit to the Parliament each year a "General Report on the Activities of the European Union". The European Council itself reports to the European Parliament on each of its meetings and annually on the progress achieved by the Union.
The monitoring function of the Parliament is exercised in particular vis-à-vis the Commission. The Commission is responsible to the Parliament alone, so as to obviate its bowing before the will of the national governments or of some of their number (Article 17 TEU). The Commission has to account to the European Parliament, defend its position before parliamentary commissions and in plenary sessions. The Parliament may, at the request of a quarter of its members, set up a temporary Committee of Inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration in the implementation of Union law (Article 226 TFEU). In case of a serious maladministration, the Parliament may pass a motion of censure against the Commission by a two-thirds majority of its members and thus compel it to resign (Article 234 TFEU), as it has threatened to do in March 1999.
The European Parliament appoints an Ombudsman empowered to receive complaints from any citizen of the Union or any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State and concerning instances of maladministration in the activities of the European institutions or bodies, with the exception of the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance acting in their judicial role (Article 228 TFEU), Decision 94/114 and Decision 94/262]. In cases where the Ombudsman establishes that mismanagement has occurred, he refers the matter to the institution concerned, which has three months in which to inform him of its views. The Ombudsman must then forward a report to the European Parliament and the institution concerned and inform the person lodging the complaint of the outcome of such inquiries. These procedures may help bring the European construction closer to the citizen [see section 9.3].
As regards the budgetary functions of the EP, the Treaty of Lisbon abolishes the distinction between ''compulsory'' expenditure and ''non-compulsory'' expenditure and therefore the Parliament exercises the same budgetary functions as the Council (Article 14 TEU) [see section 3.4]. The Union's annual budget is established by the European Parliament and the Council on the basis of a Commission proposal (Article 314 TFEU). The European Parliament, acting on a recommendation from the Council and on the basis of the annual report by the Court of Auditors, gives a discharge to the Commission in respect of the implementation of the Union budget (Article 319 TFEU). Thus, it exercises a democratic control on the own resources of the Union. In fact, the budgetary powers of the European Parliament match those of national parliaments.
The activity of the European Parliament Committees, which monitor Union policies in detail on a continuous basis, has contributed a great deal to developing the European Parliament's influence. These committees produce reports on any subject, which they feel deserves the attention of the European institutions, and invite the relevant Members of the European Commission to come and state their views or give explanations before them and/or before the plenary session of the European Parliament at the time of the vote. The Opinions, Reports and Resolutions of the Parliament, prepared by the specialist committees, often influence Commission proposals and hence common policies, as they show not only a political desire to make the European integration process progress, but also extensive knowledge of the complicated issues involved in that process.
Every Member of the Parliament may raise any point relating to the activity of the Commission and call it to account by means of Written or Oral Questions. Each year the Parliament puts some 3,000 questions, nine-tenths to the Commission and the others to the Council. These questions enable the Parliament not only to keep closely abreast of any new development in EU's policy, but also in many instances to initiate such developments. But the EP also monitors the activities (or the inactivity) of the Council and even of the European Council, which gives it an account of its actions, positions and decisions after each of its sessions.