Introduction

Understanding the Delegations

The European Parliament's delegations are official groups of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) who develop relations with the parliaments of non-EU countries, regions or organisations.

At regular meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg, members of the delegations discuss the situation in their partners' countries and the links between the partners and the EU. The delegations invite experts who work outside the European Parliament - in embassies or universities, for example, or in the EU's diplomatic service - to give talks and exchange views with MEPs.

The delegations often invite guests whose voices might otherwise not be heard: members of the political opposition or members of civil society. Their presentations expand the MEPs' understanding during brief - often just one-hour - meetings.

The delegations also organise "inter-parliamentary meetings" where they have a chance to discuss issues directly with elected representatives from the countries they focus on.

These meetings are held at most twice a year and last for a few hours or days. They take place in alternating venues: for one meeting, MEPs will travel outside the EU, to the other parliament; and for the next, the MEPs will welcome their guests in the European Parliament.

When MEPs travel outside the EU for these meetings, they also try to meet with people outside the parliament and visit EU-funded projects.

The standing delegations

The European Parliament currently has 44 "standing" - in other words, permanent - delegations. This may change for the next legislative term, which begins in 2019. The Parliament could also decide to create ad hoc delegations to focus on a particular area in the meantime.

Just after the last election, Parliament passed a resolution "on the numerical strength of the interparliamentary delegations". This resolution lists the delegations operating during this term, and the number of MEPs each one includes.

From one term to another, the distribution and size of delegations may differ significantly. For example, in the previous legislative term (2009-2014), one delegation worked with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Since mid-2009, four separate delegations cover these countries.

Composition
The largest delegations are usually those that participate in "parliamentary assemblies", where several parliaments convene.

For example, there are 78 MEP in the European Parliament's delegation to the semi-annual forum that brings together all the parliaments of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries. When these MEPs travel to the assembly, they meet 78 parliamentarians - one from each of the 78 countries in the ACP group.

But such a large delegation is unusual, since most of the Parliament's delegations count 15 or fewer members. The smallest ones have just 8 members.
Whatever their size, all the delegations have the same structure: they have a Chair and two Vice-Chairs, who are elected by the delegation. All the members of the delegation are nominated by the Parliament's political groups, with the total composition of the delegation reflecting Parliament's overall political balance.

Every single MEP is a member of a delegation. Some belong to more than one.

Rules

The delegations must follow strict rules defined in an official document called the "Implementing provisions governing the work of delegations and missions outside the European Union".

This text lays out the general aim of the delegations: "maintaining and enhancing contacts with parliaments of States that are traditionally partners of the European Union and [...] promoting [...] the values on which the European Union is founded."

The provisions also describe how the Parliament's delegations should work with the Parliament's committees, and how their operations should respect Parliament's positions and standards.

In order to keep costs down, the number of members travelling outside the EU is also strictly controlled, with all trips requiring prior authorisation.

Presentation and responsibilities 

Delegations shall maintain and develop Parliament's international contacts and contribute to enhancing the role and visibility of the European Union in the world.

Accordingly, delegation activities shall, on the one hand, be aimed at maintaining and enhancing contacts with parliaments of States that are traditionally partners of the European Union and, on the other hand, contribute to promoting in third countries the values on which the European Union is founded, namely the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law (Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union).

Parliament's international contacts shall be governed by the principles of public international law.

Parliament's international contacts shall be aimed at fostering, wherever possible and appropriate, the parliamentary dimension of international relations.

(Article 3, principles governing delegation activities adopted by the Conference of Presidents on 29 October 2015)