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)

EP delegations, actors with a global reach

Cover for the video on How the EP delegations work
To watch the video, click on the link below

Understanding the European Parliament's delegations

The European Parliament's delegations are official groups of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) that maintain and deepen relations with the parliaments of non-EU countries, with regions and with organisations.

In this way, delegations serve as Parliament's primary link to other legislatures, at home and abroad.

Working in cooperation with Parliament's committees and with MEPs supporting democracy and human rights beyond the EU's borders, delegations lend force to the positions the European Parliament adopts.

By exercising parliamentary diplomacy through regular discussions, delegations also promote the EU in general and encourage their partners to uphold the EU's values and interests.

Interparliamentary meetings

Delegations organise interparliamentary meetings with elected representatives from outside the EU. This gives our partners the chance to discuss issues face to face.

These meetings are generally held once or twice a year and last for a few hours or days.

They take place in alternating venues: for one meeting, MEPs will travel to another parliament outside the EU; and for the next, the EU delegation will host its guests in the European Parliament.

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

Discussions in Brussels and Strasbourg

Delegations also hold meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg, alone or with other delegations or committees.

These brief meetings allow delegations to plan their interparliamentary encounters and to discuss the situation in their partners' countries.

Delegations often invite outside guests to make presentations and exchange views with MEPs. Many speakers work for other EU institutions - most often the Commission or the European External Action Service - or for embassies or universities.

The delegations also sometimes invite guests whose voices might otherwise not be heard: members of the political opposition in a given country or representatives of civil society, for example.

The 48 standing delegations

The European Parliament currently has 48 'standing' - in other words, permanent - delegations.

This number was established by a decision 'on the number of interparliamentary delegations, delegations to joint parliamentary committees and delegations to parliamentary cooperation committees and to multilateral parliamentary assemblies'.

This decision, adopted in April 2019, listed the delegations that would operate during the ninth parliamentary term (2019-2024) and grouped them together by region.

From one parliamentary term to another, the distribution of delegations may differ significantly. For example, in the seventh parliamentary term (2009-2014), a single delegation worked with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Since mid-2014, four separate delegations have covered these countries.

At any time, Parliament may also decide to send official groups of MEPs to non-EU countries in response to political developments, or to take part in conferences or other events.


All the delegations have the same structure: they have one chair and two vice-chairs, who are elected by the delegation's members.

All delegation members are nominated by Parliament's political groups, with the composition of each delegation reflecting Parliament's overall political balance.

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

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

For example, there are 78 MEPs 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 States.

Such a large delegation is unusual, however. Most of Parliament's delegations comprise 20 members or fewer. The smallest have just 8 members.


The delegations must follow strict rules that are laid out in a number of documents and decisions.

Two rules in Parliament's official Rules of Procedure focus on delegations. In addition, many of the rules for committees also apply to delegations.

The European Parliament's most recent decision on the number of delegations also spelled out some procedures. The ways in which committees and delegations should coordinate their work, including when travelling, are set out in detail.

The most extensive rules for delegations are contained 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 Parliament's 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 Parliament's delegations should uphold Parliament's positions and standards.

Other articles explain which MEPs can join a delegation's activities outside the EU. In order to keep costs down, the number of participants is strictly controlled, with all travel requiring prior authorisation.

Relations with committees

The European Parliament has three full committees and two subcommittees focusing on activities outside the EU ('external action'). These committees maintain close relations with the delegations.

Committees and delegations keep one another informed of their meetings and discussions, and invite each other's members to join their proceedings and assignments, including when they travel outside the EU.

Of the committees, the Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) plays the most critical role for the delegations. This committee coordinates and provides political oversight for the work of the delegations - not only for standing delegations, but also for all MEPs travelling on official Parliament business to countries outside the EU.

The Committee for International Trade (INTA) liaises with all delegations when the agenda touches on international economic and trade issues. The delegation focusing on the CARIFORUM Economic Partnership Agreement has particularly close links with INTA.

Finally, the Committee on Development (DEVE) coordinates delegations that address development issues. The delegation to the ACP Group of States is one of many delegations that work with DEVE.

Before a delegation meets with elected representatives from outside the EU, committees suggest political topics that the delegation could or should address. After the meeting, the chair of the delegation reports back to AFET.

Focusing on democracy and human rights

Many delegations also involve the European Parliament's Democracy and Elections Coordination Group (DEG) in their work. This body, headed by the chairs of the AFET and DEVE committees, oversees Parliament's efforts to strengthen democracy and human rights outside the EU.

One of the group's principal activities is organising election observation missions.

Between 10 and 12 times a year, MEPs travel to non-EU countries to observe voting processes. Their experience as elected representatives lends political credibility to their assessments.

Other projects overseen by the DEG aim to help parliaments in non-EU countries grow stronger and achieve their full potential.

'Friendship' and other unofficial groups

MEPs occasionally form unofficial groups to discuss relations with non-EU countries.

These 'friendship groups', sometimes sponsored by lobbyists or foreign governments, are not official European Parliament organisations.

If these groups travel abroad, they have no official status, and the local EU offices therefore do not provide them with the assistance they offer to standing delegations. These groups do not coordinate with the committees and cannot speak on behalf of Parliament.

MEPs who participate in these groups must be transparent about their status and avoid interfering with the work of Parliament's official bodies.
Data Protection in Delegations