The European Parliament is made up of 754 Members elected in the 27 Member States of the enlarged European Union. Since 1979 MEPs have been elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year period.
Each Member State decides on the form its election will take, but follows identical democratic groundrules: equality of the sexes and a secret ballot. In all Member States, the voting age is 18, with the exception of Austria, where it is 16. European elections are already governed by a number of common principles: direct universal suffrage, proportional representation and a five-year renewable term.
The seats are, as a general rule, shared out proportionately to the population of each Member State. Each Member State has a set number of seats, the maximum being 99 and the minimum 6.
Equality of men and women: the proportion of women in the European Parliament has risen steadily. At present slightly over one third of MEPs are women.
MEPs divide their time between Brussels, Strasbourg and their constituencies.
In Brussels they attend meetings of the parliamentary committees and political groups, and additional plenary sittings. In Strasbourg they attend 12 plenary sittings. In parallel with these activities they must also, of course, devote time to their constituencies.
The Members of the European Parliament are grouped by political affinity and not by nationality.
They exercise their mandate in an independent fashion.
Members of the European Parliament, whose powers have become more and more extensive, influence every area of the day to day life of the European public: the environment, consumer protection and transport, as well as education, culture, health etc.
The new Statute for Members of the European Parliament entered into force on 14 July 2009. The new Statute makes the terms and conditions of MEPs' work more transparent and introduces a common salary for all Members paid from the EU budget.
The Code of Conduct entered into force on 1 January 2012. It sets out as its guiding principles that Members shall act solely in the public interest and conduct their work with disinterest, integrity, openness, diligence, honesty, accountability and respect for the European Parliament's reputation.
The Code of Conduct defines conflicts of interest and how Members should address them and it includes rules on, for example, official gifts to Members and professional activities of former Members.
The Code of Conduct also puts an obligation on Members to submit a detailed declaration of their financial interests. This declaration is a reflection of the demanding rules and standards of transparency laid down in the Code of Conduct. The information supplied by Members in their declarations can be found on the Members' individual profile pages.
Any Member found to be in breach of the Code of Conduct can be given a penalty by the President. This penalty is announced by the President in Plenary and prominently published on Parliament's website for the remainder of the Parliamentary term.
The Advisory Committee on the Conduct of Members is the body responsible for giving Members guidance on the interpretation and implementation of the Code of Conduct. At the request of the President the Advisory Committee also assesses alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct and advises the President on possible action to be taken.
The Advisory Committee is composed of five Members. They are appointed by the President on the basis of their experience and of political balance between Parliament's political groups. Each of the five Members serves as chairperson for six months, on a rotating basis. The President also nominates one reserve Member for each political group not otherwise represented in the Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee publishes each year a report of its work.
MEPs , in general, receive the same salary under the single statute which came into effect in July 2009.
The monthly pre-tax salary of MEPs under the single statute is, in 2011, € 7.956,87. The salary is from Parliament's budget and is subject to an EU tax and accident insurance contribution, after which the salary is € 6.200,72. Member States can also subject the salary to national taxes. The basic salary is set at 38.5% of the basic salary of a judge at the European Court of Justice.
There are a few exceptions: MEPs who sat in Parliament before the 2009 elections could opt to keep the previous national system for salary, transitional allowance and pensions.
Under the statute, former Members will be entitled to an old-age pension from the age of 63. The pension will be 3.5% of the salary for each full year’s exercise of a mandate but not more than 70% in total. The cost of these pensions will be met from the European Parliament budget.
An additional pension scheme, introduced for MEPs in 1989, was closed to new members from July and is being phased out.
Like Members of national parliaments, Members of the European Parliament receive a number of allowances that are intended to cover the expenditure they incur in the performance of their parliamentary duties.
This allowance is intended to cover expenditure in the Member State of election, such as Members’ office management costs, telephone and postal charges, and the purchase, operation and maintenance of computer and telematics equipment. The allowance is halved in the case of Members who, without due justification, do not attend half the number of plenary sittings in one parliamentary year (September to August).
The amount of this allowance in 2011 is EUR 4 299 per month.
Most meetings of the European Parliament, such as plenary sessions, committee meetings and political group meetings, take place in Brussels or Strasbourg. MEPs are refunded the actual cost of their travel tickets for attending such meetings on presentation of receipts, up to a maximum of a business class air fare, a first class rail fare or €0.50 per km for car journey, plus fixed allowances based on the distance and duration of the journey to cover the other costs of travelling (such as motorway tolls, excess baggage charges or reservation fees, for example).
The previous system of a flat-rate travel allowance for journeys to Brussels and Strasbourg (and other EU destinations) has been abolished.
Members often have to travel outside their home Member State in the performance of their duties but for purposes other than official meetings (for example, to attend a conference in another Member State or to make a working visit to another country in his/her capacity as rapporteur).
To cover this eventuality, Members may receive reimbursement from a fixed yearly travel allowance for their travel, accommodation and associated expenses. Reimbursement is made on the basis of the actual air fare or rail fare on presentation of the relevant travel vouchers and the requisite supporting documents.
For 2010, the allowance is fixed at a maximum of EUR 4 243.
Parliament pays this flat-rate allowance of EUR 304 for each day of attendance at official meetings of the Parliament bodies on which the Member serves that are held within the European Community. It covers accommodation, meals and all other expenses involved in such attendance. Parliament pays the allowance only if the Member has signed an official attendance register.
During plenary sessions, Parliament reduces this amount by one half for Members who have not taken part in one half of the roll-call votes held on the Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays of part-sessions held in Strasbourg and on the second day of part-sessions held in Brussels.
Parliament pays a sum of EUR 152 per day, plus accommodation and breakfast expenses, for attendance at meetings held outside the European Community, again provided that the Member has signed the official attendance register for the meeting.
MEPs can choose their own staff within a budget set by Parliament. Accredited assistants, based in Brussels(or Luxembourg/Strasbourg) are administered directly by Parliament’s administration, under the conditions of employment for non-permanent EU staff. Assistants based in MEPs’ Member States are handled by qualified paying agents, guaranteeing the proper tax and social security arrangements.
In 2011, the maximum monthly amount available for all the costs involved is € 21 209 per MEP. None of these funds are paid to the MEP themselves.
Up to a quarter of this budget can be used for services from service providers chosen by the MEP, such as ordering an expert study on a particular subject.
In general, MEPs can no longer have close relatives among their staff, though there is a transitional period for those who were employed in the previous term.