Frequently Asked Questions put to the Parliament's Spokesperson’s Unit
How do MEPs do their jobs? What is the Parliament's role in overseeing the EU budget? How are political groups put together? Answers to all these and other frequently-asked questions on the Parliament are set out in this FAQ.
The following sections contain a wide range of information on the day-to-day running of the Parliament, European elections, the daily work of MEPs and much more. The selection of questions and answers is regularly updated to include items of topical interest to the media. Each section contains links to additional information available on the European Parliament’s website.
For media inquiries on European Parliament committee proceedings, please contact the Press Service.
Contact details for the Spokesperson’s Unit and the Press Service.
Since the first direct elections in 1979, European elections are held every five years. In 2019, they took place from 23 to 26 May.
Each member state returns a fixed number of members of the European Parliament (MEPs); from six, for smaller member states like Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus to ninety-six for Germany, the largest.
751 MEPs were elected in May 2019 but that number was reduced to 705 following a post-Brexit reshuffle in February 2020. This decrease leaves room for Members joining thanks to possible future EU enlargement, while other seats the UK vacated were reallocated to countries that were hitherto underrepresented.
Seat allocation is laid down in EU treaties. Countries with larger populations are assigned more seats than smaller ones, however, thanks to the principle of “degressive proportionality” less populous member states are allocated more seats per capita than bigger ones.
Elections to the European Parliament are largely governed by national electoral laws and traditions, but there are some common EU rules laid down in the Electoral Act of 1976.
After elections, MEPs will most often join a political group or create new ones. These groups bring together MEPs from different Member States (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/home) on the basis of their political affinities. Groups can also be formed at a later point in the parliamentary mandate. Currently there are seven political groups in the European Parliament.
A formally recognised political group must consist of at least 23 MEPs coming from at least one-quarter of the member states (i.e. seven, at least). MEPs may only belong to one political group while some do not belong to any political groups at all and are referred to as “non-attached” Members.
To set up a group, the President of the Parliament must be notified in a statement that specifies the group’s name, its members and its leadership.
In forming a group, MEPs accept political affinity by default and the Parliament does not usually assess political cohesion between group members. Only when it is refuted by MEPs concerned themselves, the Parliament will step in to evaluate whether a group has in fact been constituted in accordance with the rules.
Political groups can employ staff and are given offices funded through the Parliament's budget. The Parliament’s Bureau sets rules on how these funds and facilities are managed and audited. The funds made available to groups are intended to cover group staff administrative and operational costs, as well as expenses incurred due to EU-related political and information campaigns.
The budget may not be used to finance any form of European, national, regional or local electoral campaign or to finance political parties at national and European level or their dependent bodies.
Not all MEPs sit in groups. Those who do not, are called “non-attached" members. They also are entitled to staff and have rights under the rules set out by the Bureau.
The decision as to how seats in the chamber are allocated among political groups, non- attached MEPs and representatives of EU institutions is taken by the Conference of Presidents (the leaders of the political groups and the President of Parliament) at the start of each legislative term.
Over the past few terms, political groups have been put together like wedges in a pie chart, with the group leaders all in the first row, except when a new political group is formed half-way through the mandate.
Political parties at the European level
A European political party is an organisation that follows a political programme. It is composed of national parties and/or individual members, represented in several Member States and registered with the Authority for European political parties and European political foundations (‘Authority’). As mentioned in the Treaties, "political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the will of citizens of the Union”.
Among the conditions for recognition are that member parties must be represented in at least one quarter of the Member States, by members of the European Parliament, of national parliaments, of regional parliaments or of regional assemblies.
Since July 2004, European political parties have access to annual funding from the European Parliament through an operational grant. It can cover up to 90% of the party’s expenditure, while the rest should come from own resources, such as membership fees and donations. New funding rules for European political parties and foundations were approved by the European Parliament on 17 April 2018.
The grant should cover expenditure directly linked to the objectives set out in the party's political programme such as:
- meetings and conferences,
- publications, studies and advertisements,
- administrative, personnel and travel costs, or
- campaign costs related to European elections
The grant may not be used for:
- campaign costs for referenda and elections (except for European elections),
- direct or indirect funding of national parties, election candidates and political foundations both at national and at European level, or
- debts and debt service charges.
A political foundation at European level is affiliated with a European political party while it underpins and complements the objectives of that party. A European political foundation makes analyses and contributes to debates on European public policy issues. It also participates in related activities like organising seminars, training, conferences and studies.
Foundations were funded from October 2007 to August 2008 by action grants awarded by the European Commission under a pilot project. The European Parliament took over funding as of September 2008 and now awards annual operating grants. The grant may cover up to 90 % of a foundation's expenditure, while the rest should be covered by own resources, such as membership fees and donations.
The grant can be used to fund expenditure directly linked to the activities set out in the foundation's programme of activities, such as:
- meetings and conferences,
- publications, studies and advertisements, or
- administrative, personnel and travel costs.
The grant may not be used to fund expenditure such as, inter alia:
- campaign costs for referenda and elections,
- direct or indirect funding of national parties, election candidates and national political foundations, or
- debts and debt service charges.
Since 2016 European Political Parties and European Political Foundations are registered and controlled by the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations (http://www.appf.europa.eu/appf/en/authority/welcome.html) (the 'Authority'), who can also impose sanctions on them. The Authority is independent from the EU parliament. Where doubts arise about whether a party or foundation are living up to the necessary requirements, the EP, Council or Commission may lodge a request with the Authority to verify the situation. Before coming to a decision on whether to de-register a party or foundation, the Authority must consult a Committee of independent eminent persons. The Authority is represented by its Director who takes all decisions of the Authority on its behalf.
During the first plenary session after the European elections, MEPs, in turn, elect a new President, fourteen new Vice-Presidents and five Quaestors
All elected offices in the European Parliament (the president, vice-presidents, quaestors, committee and delegation chairs and vice-chairs) are renewed every two and half years, so once at the start and once half-way through the 5-year legislative term. Current office-holders can be confirmed for a second mandate.
In electing the president, vice-presidents and quaestors, ensuring an overall fair representation of member states and political views account should be taken into account.
The President oversees Parliament's activities, chairs plenary sittings and signs off the annual EU budget. The President represents the Parliament to the outside world and in its relations with the other EU institutions.
In July 2019, David Sassoli was elected European Parliament President.
How is she or he elected?
The first act of a new European Parliament is to elect its President. Candidates for the Presidency may be proposed either by a political group or by a minimum of 38 MEPs. The election is held by secret ballot. To be elected, a candidate must win an absolute majority of the valid votes cast, i.e. 50% plus one.
If no candidate is elected at the first ballot, the same or other candidates may be nominated for a second round of voting under the same conditions. This can be repeated at a third round if necessary, again with the same rules.
If no-one is elected at the third ballot, the two highest-scoring candidates in that round proceed to a fourth ballot, where the one receiving the greater number of votes wins. (Should there be a tie at this stage, the older candidate is declared the winner).
Vice-Presidents may replace the President in performing his or her duties when necessary, including chairing plenary sittings. They are also members of the Bureau - the body responsible for all administrative, staff and organizational matters in Parliament. The Quaestors deal with administrative matters directly affecting MEPs themselves. The European Parliament has 14 Vice-Presidents and five Quaestors.
How are they elected?
Candidates for the posts of Vice-President and Quaestor may be presented either by a political group or by at least 38 Members. The vice-presidential election is held using a single secret ballot on all candidates. The order in which candidates are elected determines the order of precedence).
There are currently seven political groups in the European Parliament. Each political group elects its own chair or chairs. The group chairs and EP President constitute the Conference of Presidents.
The Conference of Presidents organises Parliament’s business and legislative planning, decides the responsibilities and membership of committees and delegations and is responsible for relations with other EU institutions, the national parliaments and non-EU countries.
Who are the committee Chairs and how are they elected?
During their constitutive sittings (and mid-term, when new office-holders are elected), Parliament's committees elect their Chairs and Vice-Chairs. Chairs and Vice-Chairs may also be confirmed for a second mandate in the elections taking place in the mid-term of the legislature.
Each committee elects its Bureau, consisting of a Chair and of Vice-Chairs, in separate ballots. The number of Vice-Chairs to be elected is determined by the full Parliament upon a proposal by the Conference of Presidents.
Parliament’s standing interparliamentary delegations (for relations with non-EU parliaments) also elect their Chairs and Vice-Chairs, using the same procedure as for committees.
The political groups elect “coordinators” for the parliamentary committees. They are each group’s political leader in the committee. They coordinate their group’s viewpoint on the topics before the committee, and together with the chair and the vice-chairs, they organise the work in the committee.
Newly-elected MEP credentials are verified to ascertain that they do not hold an office that is incompatible with being a Member of the European Parliament. Examples include being a member of government or parliament in an EU Member State, the European Commission, the Court of Justice, the European Central Bank Board of Directors, the Court of Auditors, or the European Investment Bank. Active officials of EU institutions or bodies set up under the EU treaties to manage community funds are also barred from becoming MEPs.
Once election results are official, Member States communicate the names of those who have won a seat to the EP and the President, in turn, asks the competent authorities of the Member States them to take the measures necessary to avoid any issues related to incompatibility of offices.
Before taking their seats, new MEPs whose election has been notified to Parliament must declare, in writing, that they do not hold an office incompatible with that of an MEP’s. This declaration needs to be made no later than six days before Parliament's constitutive sitting.
New MEP credentials are checked ex post by the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee, which draws up a decision based on the information provided by Member States. The decision is then passed on to the President who informs the plenary during the next sitting. In addition to checking credentials, Parliament also rules on any disputes pursuant to the Act of 20 September 1976 concerning the election of Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage, except those based on national electoral laws.
Where it is established that an MEP holds an incompatible office, the Parliament "shall establish that there is a vacancy."
Parliamentary immunity is not a Member’s personal privilege, but a guarantee that an MEP can freely exercise his or her mandate and cannot be exposed to arbitrary political persecution. As such, it guarantees the independence and integrity of the Parliament as a whole.
Members of the European Parliament cannot be subject to any form of inquiry, detention or legal proceedings because of opinions expressed or votes cast in their capacity as MEP.
An MEP's immunity is twofold:
- in his member state , similar to the immunity granted to members of national parliaments ; and
- in the territory of any other member state, immunity from any measure of detention and from legal proceedings. (Article 9 of Protocol n°7)
Immunity cannot be claimed when a Member is found in the act of committing an offence.
How can immunity be waived or defended?
Following a request by a competent national authority to the European Parliament that the immunity of a Member be waived (or a request by an MEP or former MEP that his/her immunity is defended), Parliament’s President will announce the request to the plenum and refer it to the parliamentary committee responsible, which is the Committee on Legal Affairs.
The committee may ask for any information or explanation which it deems necessary. The MEP concerned will be given an opportunity to be heard, and may present any documents or other written evidence.
The committee adopts, in camera, a recommendation to the whole Parliament to approve or reject the request, i.e. to lift or defend the immunity. At the plenary session following the committee decision, Parliament reaches a decision by a simple majority vote. Following the vote, the President will immediately communicate Parliament's decision to the MEP concerned and to the competent authority of the Member State concerned.
Does an MEP keep his/her seat even if his or her immunity is waived?
Yes. The mandate of an MEP is a national mandate and cannot be taken away by any other authority. Moreover, the lifting an MEP's immunity is not a "guilty" verdict. It merely enables the national judicial authorities to proceed with an investigation or trial. And as MEPs are elected under national electoral law, if an MEP is found guilty of a criminal offence, it is for the member state's authorities to decide whether his or her mandate is therefore voided.
If a member leaves the Parliament during the mandate she or he is replaced according to the rules of his or her country. Contact your local European Parliament Liaison Office for more information.
The European Parliament elects the Commission President.
After the elections, one of the first tasks of an incoming Parliament is to elect a new President of the European Commission (the EU’s executive body). Member states nominate a candidate for the post, but in doing so they must take account of the European election results. Moreover, Parliament needs to approve the new Commission President by an absolute majority (half of the existing MEPs plus one). If the candidate doesn’t obtain the required majority, the member states need to propose another candidate within a month's time (European Council acting by qualified majority). For the 2014 elections, Parliament introduced the system of lead candidates. Each European political party put forward a candidate for Commission president and the party which became the biggest in the elections could propose Parliament’s candidate for the nomination for the Commission leadership.
Candidates for the remaining Commission portfolios have to go through a tough parliamentary vetting process too.
The Council, in agreement with the Commission President-elect, adopts a list of candidate commissioners, one for each member state. These Commissioners-designate appear before parliamentary committees in their prospective fields of responsibility. Each committee then meets to draw up its evaluation of the candidate's expertise and performance, which is sent to the President of the Parliament. A negative evaluation has prompted candidates in the past to withdraw from the process. The full Commission, including the Commission President and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, then needs to be approved in a single vote of consent by Parliament.
After the President and Commissioners have been approved by Parliament, they are formally appointed by the Council, acting by a qualified majority. In the event of a substantial portfolio change during the Commission's term of office, the filling of a vacancy or the appointment of a new Commissioner following the accession of a new member state, the Commissioners concerned is heard again before the relevant committees.
All votes taken by the Parliament before elections remain legally valid for the next Parliament. This means that after the elections the new Parliament will pick up files where the previous Parliament left them and will continue with the next stage in the decision-making procedure.
For legislative business that hasn’t reached the plenary before the elections, there is no legally valid Parliamentary position and therefore Parliament's internal rules of procedure stipulate that in these cases the work done on them (e.g. in committee) during the previous parliamentary term lapses. However, at the beginning of the new parliamentary term, the new Parliament's Conference of Presidents – the EP President and political group leaders – may decide to continue the work already done on those files (rule 240 of the EP's Rules of procedure).
Intergroups are unofficial groupings of MEPs who are interested in a particular topic that does not necessarily fall within the scope of the European Parliament's normal work but may be of interest to wider society. Intergroups hold informal discussions and promote exchanges between MEPs and civil society.
As intergroups are not official bodies of Parliament, they cannot express Parliament's views. They may not engage in any activities which could be mistaken for Parliament's official activities.
Parliament's presidium has laid down conditions for establishing intergroups, which are formed at the start of each parliamentary term (such as that an application that must be signed by at least three political groups and a yearly declaration of financial interests is required). If these conditions are met, political groups may provide intergroups with logistical support.
Chairs of intergroups must declare any support they receive in cash or kind. These declarations must be updated every year and made publicly available.
MEPs are the elected representatives of EU citizens; they represent their interests and those of their cities or regions in Europe. They listen to people with local and national concerns, interest groups and businesses. They are EU lawmakers but can also scrutinise the Commission and the Council of Ministers. MEPs play an important role on the big issues of our times such as climate change, migration, human rights in the world and the way in which we regulate our financial markets.
MEP daily workloads are split between work for their constituents in their home country, committee work, debates in their political groups, as well as negotiations and votes in the plenary. MEPs attend meetings of their committees and their political groups as well as many others. They may also be part of a delegation for relations with non EU-countries which might require occasional travel outside the EU.
Working in committees
Parliament is divided up into twenty specialised committees, which are the first to deal with legislative proposals submitted to it.
These committees deal with the legislative proposals through the adoption of reports with amendments. (In between committee votes and the plenary debates and votes, amendments and resolutions are discussed by the political groups.) The committees also appoint a team of MEPs to conduct negotiations with the Council on EU legislation. And they adopt own-initiative resolutions, organise hearings with experts and scrutinise the other EU bodies and institutions.
A committee consists of between 25 and 76 full members and an equivalent number of substitutes.
Each committee elects a chair and up to four vice-chairs from its full members, forming the ‘committee bureau’, for a two and a half year mandate. The political make-up of the committees reflects the plenary assembly.
The Parliament can also set up sub-committees and special temporary committees to deal with specific issues, and may create committees of inquiry to investigate alleged contraventions or maladministration of EU law. The parliamentary committees normally meet in Brussels. Their debates are held in public and, in principle, can be followed by webstreaming.
From 1 July 2014 to 31 January 2020, 751 MEPs were elected to the European Parliament, as laid down in the Lisbon Treaty.
However, the withdrawal of the UK as an EU member state reduced that figure to 705 MEPs as of 1 February 2020, allowing room for possible future enlargements of the European Union.
Of the 73 UK seats vacated, 27 were re-allocated to better reflect the principle of degressive proportionality. The 27 seats were distributed to France (+5), Spain (+5), Italy (+3), Netherlands (+3), Ireland (+2), Sweden (+1), Austria (+1), Denmark (+1), Finland (+1), Slovakia (+1), Croatia (+1), Estonia (+1), Poland (+1) and Romania (+1). No member state lost any seats.
The proposal ensures that seats are distributed in an "objective, fair, durable and transparent way". In line with the Treaty on European Union, the new distribution of seats respects the principle of "degressive proportionality", whereby larger member states have fewer seats than smaller ones in relation to their population; MEPs from larger member states represent more citizens than those from smaller ones.
How much are MEPs paid?
Under the single statute for Members, in force since July 2009, MEPs all earn the same salary. It is set at 38.5% of the basic salary of a judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The monthly gross MEP salary, under the single statute, is €8,995.39 (as of 1 July 2020). It is paid out of the Parliament's budget. All MEPs pay EU tax and insurance contributions, after which the salary is €7,011.74. In addition, most EU countries oblige MEPs to pay additional national tax. The final net salary for an individual Member therefore depends on the tax regime of the Member State in which an MEP is elected.
There are a few exceptions to the single statute: MEPs elected to Parliament prior to 2009 can opt to continue to use the previous system for transitional allowances, pensions and salaries, under which Members are paid the same amount as national MPs, for as long as they are MEPs.
Members are entitled to an old-age pension when they turn 63. The pension equals 3.5% of the salary for each full year in office but not more than 70% in total. The cost of these pensions is met by the European Union budget.
An additional pension scheme, introduced for MEPs in 1989, was closed to new members from July 2009 and is being phased out.
The nature of an MEP’s workload means often having to be away from home. A number of allowances are therefore available to cover the costs incurred (figures below applicable as of 2021).
Most European Parliament meetings, such as plenary sessions, committees and political groups take place in Brussels or Strasbourg. MEPs are refunded the actual cost of travel tickets for attending the latter, upon submission of receipts, up to a maximum of either a business class (or similar) air fare, first class rail ticket, or €0.53 per km for car journeys (up to a maximum of 1,000KM), plus fixed allowances based on journey distance and duration to cover miscellaneous travel expenses (motorway tolls, excess baggage charges or reservation fees).
Members are often required to travel within and outside the Member State in which they are elected to carry out official duties as well as for other reasons (for example, to attend a conference or take part in a working visit). For activities not in their country, MEPs may be reimbursed for their travel, accommodation and related expenses up to a maximum annual amount of €4,517. For activities within the Member State of election, only travel expenses are reimbursed, up to a maximum annual amount determined on a country-by-country basis.
Daily allowance (also called “subsistence allowance”).
Parliament pays out a flat-rate allowance of €324 to cover accommodation and related costs for each day that MEPs are in Brussels or Strasbourg on official business, provided that they sign an attendance register. The allowance covers hotel bills, meals and all other related expenses. The allowance is reduced by 50% if MEPs miss more than half the roll-call votes on days when plenary votes are held, even if they are present and sign the attendance register.
For meetings outside the EU, the allowance is €162 (again, subject to the signing of a register) with hotel bills refunded separately.
This flat-rate allowance covers expenses resulting from Members’ parliamentary activities such as office rental and management costs, internet subscriptions, computers and telephones, the organisation of conferences and exhibitions. The allowance is halved for Members who, without proper justification, attend fewer than half the plenary sittings in one parliamentary year (September to August). This allowance is set at €4,576 per month.
MEPs are entitled to a reimbursement of two-thirds of their medical expenses. Apart from the proportion of reimbursement, the detailed rules and procedures of this system are the same as that which covers EU civil servants.
At the end of their term of office MEPs are entitled to a transitional allowance, equivalent to their salary, for one month per year they were in office. The maximum duration of this allowance is two years. Where a former MEP takes up a mandate in another parliament or a public office, the salary which is received from this new function is offset against the transitional allowance. If the MEP is simultaneously entitled to an old-age or invalidity pension, s/he cannot receive both, but must choose one or the other.
Parliament provides equipped offices to MEPs in both Brussels and Strasbourg. MEPs may make use of Parliament's official vehicles on official business when in either city.
MEPs hire their own staff, within a budget set by Parliament. 2020, The maximum monthly amount available for all the costs involved in recruiting personal assistants is €25,620 per MEP (effective 1 July 2020). None of these funds are paid to the MEPs themselves.
MEPs can choose different kinds of assistants:
- Accredited assistants, based in Brussels (or Luxembourg/Strasbourg) are managed administratively directly by Parliament’s administration, under the same employment conditions as for temporary EU staff. MEPs can recruit a maximum of three accredited assistants (under certain conditions four). A minimum of a quarter of the total budget must be used for the employment of accredited assistants.
- MEPs can also hire “local” assistants based in their member states. They are managed administratively by qualified paying agents to ensure that tax and social security requirements are properly met. A maximum of 75 % of the total budget can be used for these local assistants.
Apart from employing accredited and local assistants, up to a quarter of the total budget available can also be used to pay for services from providers chosen by the MEP, such as ordering an expert study.
The assistants are required to avoid external activities that may cause a conflict of interest. Since 2009, MEPs may no longer employ close relatives.
The names or corporate names of all assistants are published on Parliament’s website for the duration of their contract, unless they obtain a derogation on duly justified grounds of protection of their safety.
The European Parliament (EP) is the legislative branch of the European Union and one of its seven institutions. It is directly-elected and made up of 705 members (MEPs) representing all EU countries.
The European Parliament decides upon EU legislation, including the multiannual budget, together with the Council of the European Union (EU Member State governments). The EP holds other EU institutions, like the European Commission, to account.
It elects the President of the European Commission and plays a key role in vetting Commissioner-designates through individual hearings. The College of Commissioners - how the twenty-seven commissioners are referred to collectively - must then be approved through a consent vote by the EP.
Members of the European Parliament are elected in EU member states every five years and represent around 446 million citizens. Over the years, and with subsequent changes to EU treaties, the Parliament has acquired substantial legislative and budgetary powers.
The Parliament is a co-legislator, it has the power to adopt and amend legislation and decides on the annual EU budget on an equal footing with the Council. It supervises the work of the Commission and other EU bodies and cooperates with national parliaments of EU countries to receive their input.
The vast majority of EU law is passed through ordinary legislative procedure, also often referred to by its previous name: “co-decision”. It is the standard EU legislative decision-making procedure, giving equal weight to the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. It applies to a wide range of areas such as immigration, energy, transport, climate change, the environment, consumer protection and economic governance.
There are a few areas in which other decision-making procedures are used. In areas such as taxation, competition law and Common Foreign and Security Policy, the European Parliament is “consulted”. In those cases, Parliament may approve or reject a legislative proposal, or propose amendments to it, but the Council is not legally obliged to follow Parliament's opinion, although it does need to wait for it before taking a decision. The “consent” procedure, when Parliament’s approval is required, applies to the accession of new EU member states and international trade agreements between the EU and third countries or groups of countries. The consent procedure is also used in the final decision on the appointment of the European Commission.
Although it is up to the Commission to propose new EU laws, Parliament can take the initiative by requesting that the Commission submit a legislative proposal. When making use of "legislative initiative", MEPs may set a deadline for the submission of a proposal. If the Commission refuses to, it must explain why.
When adopting a new law, MEPs and the Council can instruct the Commission to complement the law with minor additions or changes (like technical annexes or updates) through delegated acts (which supplement or amend parts of the law) or implementing acts (giving details on how to implement the law). In this way, legislation can remain simple and, if needed, be supplemented and updated without new negotiations at the legislative level.
Depending on the kind of act adopted by the Commission, MEPs have different options if they disagree with the measures proposed by the Commission. MEPs have a veto right for delegated acts. For implementing acts, MEPs can ask the Commission to amend or withdraw them, but the Commission has no legal obligation to do this.
The Parliament determines the EU's annual budget together with the Council. However, annual budgets have to comply with parameters set-out in the EU's seven-year "multiannual financial framework" . This long-term budget requires Parliament's approval in order to be adopted.
The EP also plays a crucial role in scrutinising EU budget spending through the yearly “discharge procedure”.
Following up on Council recommendations, the EP signs off annual accounts and makes recommendations to further improve budget management, ascertaining whether or not the European Commission upholds principles of sound financial management and abides by established spending rules and regulations.
The Parliament grants separate general budget management approval to EU institutions, decentralised agencies and joint endeavours.
The EU's national governments unanimously decided in 1992 to lay down in the EU treaty where the EU institutions are officially seated.
This decision had important consequences for the working arrangements for the Parliament: its official seat and the venue for most of the plenary sessions officially became Strasbourg; parliamentary committees were to have their meetings in Brussels; and Parliament's Secretariat (its staff) would be officially based in Luxembourg. In 1997 this whole arrangement was incorporated into the EU treaty.
Any change in the current system would need changing the treaty, which requires unanimity among all member states governments and ratification by each of their national parliaments.
What are the costs of using Strasbourg as a seat of Parliament?
A 2013 study by the European Parliament shows that €103 million could be saved per year should all EP operations be transferred from Strasbourg to Brussels (2014 prices). This is a significant amount, though it corresponds to just 6% of Parliament’s budget, or 1% of the EU’s administrative budget or just 0.1% of the entire EU budget.
In 2014 the Court of Auditors prepared its own, independent analysis in response to the EP’s resolution of 20 November 2013. The Court confirmed the conclusions of the 2013 EP study but arrived at a total expenditure associated with the Strasbourg seat of €109 million per year. A further €5 million savings would come from reduction of the travel expenses in the budgets of the European Commission and the Council.
A 1992 decision formalised a situation that already existed at the time and which reflected compromises arrived at over a number of years.
When the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up a few years after WWII, in 1952, establishing joint management of the steel and coal reserves of six countries, including Germany and France, its institutions were located in Luxembourg. The Council of Europe (an intergovernmental body made up of 47 countries championing human rights and culture was also set up in the immediate post-WW2 period), was already based in Strasbourg and it offered its plenary chamber for meetings of the ECSC's "Common Assembly", which was to develop into the European Parliament. Strasbourg gradually became the main home of plenary sessions of the Parliament, though additional sessions were also held in Luxembourg in the 1960s and 1970s.
After the creation of the European Economic Community in 1958, much of the work done by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers came to be concentrated in Brussels. Since Parliament's work involves closely monitoring and interacting with both these institutions, over time Members decided to organise more of their work in Brussels. By the early nineties, the present arrangement was more or less in place, with committees and political groups meeting in Brussels and the main plenary sessions taking place in Strasbourg. A major part of Parliament's staff is based in Luxembourg.
There are 24 EU official languages. Supporting communications in so many languages means that citizens can access and better understand the EU laws that affect them. Citizens can interact with the EU institutions by, for example, submitting petitions or requesting information in any of the official languages and they can follow debates in the Parliament via live web streaming.
However, it is also important for MEPs to be able to speak, listen, read and write in their own language and, in fact, in any of the EU's official languages. This is because it is a fundamental democratic principle that every EU citizen can become a Member of the European Parliament, even if he or she does not speak a foreign language. MEPs are elected to represent the interests of the citizens voting for them and not on the basis of their knowledge of foreign languages. Additionally, to guarantee the same working conditions for all MEPs, they must have full access to information in their respective languages. MEP speeches in one official language are simultaneously interpreted into other official languages and official texts are translated into all 24 languages. In order for EU legislation to be directly applied or transposed into national legislation it must first be translated into the EU official language of each Member State. Citizens can request and receive information in any of the official languages.
The accession of Croatia on 1 July 2013, brought the total number of official languages to 24: Bulgarian, Czech, Croatian, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.
The departure of the United Kingdom from the EU has not as such resulted in the abolition of English as an official language. All EU governments would need to decide on that unanimously and as English is also an official language in Ireland and Malta, that possibility seems remote.
The work of an interpreter or translator
In general, each interpreter and translator works in his/her mother tongue. With 24 official languages, there are 552 possible language combinations. In order to cope with this challenge, the Parliament sometimes uses a system of "relay" languages: a speaker or a text is first interpreted or translated into one of the most widely used languages (English, French or German), and then into others.
Interpreting and translating are different professions: interpreters render one language into another orally in real time during meetings; translators work with written documents, producing a completely accurate version of the document in the target language. European Parliament interpreters are trained in relaying the messages of the MEPs for them. Moreover, given the specialisation of parliamentary debates, they are supported by the administration in preparing the specific meetings they are assigned to, and in keeping abreast of developments in the languages they work from. As skilled linguists, they provide a high quality service to all MEPs.
Translators are also involved in other linguistic mediation tasks, such as adapting texts for podcasts, subtitling and audio recording in 24 languages.
The Parliament employs about 270 staff interpreters and can also regularly draw on a pool of more than 1,500 external accredited interpreters. Between 700 and 900 interpreters are on hand for plenary session weeks. The Parliament employs about 600 translators, and about 30 % of the translation work is outsourced to freelance translators.
As of May 2019, the number of civil servants, temporary and contract staff working for Parliament (including for the political groups) in different locations was as follows (assistants to MEPs are not included in the following table):
- The majority of Parliament's staff (55.5%) are women.
- Almost 8.5% of Parliament's staff work for the political groups (662 posts).
- Parliament's staff come from all European Union member states and even a number of other countries. Belgium accounts for the largest share, followed by France, Italy, Spain and Germany.
- Some work has been outsourced such as parts of Parliament's building management, IT, cleaning and canteen services. On any given day there may be over 10,000 people on Parliament’s premises, when staff numbers are swelled by journalists, visitors and lobbyists.
Over the years, several measures have greatly improved accessibility for Members, staff and visitors with disabilities. All new projects to extend, renovate or fit out its buildings must, from the start, fully ensure accessibility for people with disabilities as a priority.
All Parliament buildings have at least one entrance that is accessible by wheelchair. The car parks in all three cities where Parliament is located (Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg) have spaces reserved for disabled drivers, and the cafeterias are equipped with tables and cash tills adjusted for people using a wheelchair. Working dogs are allowed onto the Parliament premises.
In addition to these access-friendly facilities, the Parliament’s digital accessibility has been steadily improved over the last few years, with an increase of assistive technologies available on request. For the hearing impaired, induction loops can be provided and sign language interpreters can be requested in advance. For the visually impaired, braille printing and displays, reading aids and screen reader programmes are just a few of the assistive technologies at hand.
In line with the EU directive for the accessibility of websites of public sector bodies, the Parliament’s website has been adapted to follow web accessibility initiative (WAI) guidelines. The webpages have been made clearer and easier to navigate, and content remains the same when viewed through a screen reader. Multimedia content has also been made more accessible with the addition of subtitles and transcriptions.
As decided by EU member state government leaders (European Council) in 1992, the Parliament has three places of work - Strasbourg (its official seat), Brussels and Luxembourg. It has a total of 27 buildings in the three places of work. It also has some buildings in other member states where the European Parliament Liaison Offices are located.
Number of buildings
Surface area, m²
1 180 131
The Parliament has gradually been buying the buildings it uses in its main working places, as in the mid and long-term it is more cost-effective than renting them out. To meet the needs for more office space, for example as a result of the EU enlargement of 2004, buying is preferred rather than renting buildings, where possible. The same is increasingly true of Parliament’s Liaison Offices in the Member States.
Buying saves a lot of money – it is between 40 and 50% cheaper than renting over the long-term, according to the Court of Auditors. Overall, Parliament owns 87.5% of its buildings (151 300 m² rented and 1 052 400 m² owned). Renting them instead would cost around €163 million per year.
Directly elected, the Parliament ensures a wide range of transparency measures both regarding the Members, the parliamentary work and the administration are in place to allow citizens to follow its debates and decisions. In conformity with Parliament’s commitment to transparency, important progress was made in the past years regarding its Rules of procedure and transparency of the activities of the Members. The Parliament set up a number of tools aiming at facilitating people’s scrutiny over Parliament’s activities and, in particular, its legislative work.
Joint transparency register
The Transparency Register is open to all interest representatives that try to influence the law-making and policy implementation process of the EU institutions. It makes visible what interests are being pursued, by whom and on whose behalf, and the resources devoted to these activities. In this way, the register allows for public scrutiny, giving citizens and interest groups the possibility to track the activities of all types of lobbyists.
Aside from requesting access to the Parliament, only registered interest representatives may be invited as speakers to public hearings of committees, support and participate in the activities of members’ intergroups and unofficial groupings, receive email alerts about committee business, co-host events and seek patronage from the President. They must respect the Code of Conduct for registrants.
The European Parliament, Commission and Council have agreed on introducing rules to bring yet more transparency to the activities of interest representatives at the EU level. The aim of the proposed new inter-institutional agreement is also to include the Council in the scope of the lobby register. Parliament, Council and Commission aim together to make registration de facto mandatory, as a precondition for certain lobby activities .
More information about the agreed rules: Parliament approves new rules for a common mandatory Transparency Register | News | European Parliament (europa.eu)
More information about the negotiations Home | Inter-institutional negotiations on the Transparency Register | European Parliament (europa.eu)
Transparency on contacts with interest representatives for MEPs
EP Rules of procedure establish that rapporteurs, shadow rapporteurs and committee chairs are required for each report to publish online information on their scheduled meetings with interest representatives falling under the scope of the interinstitutional agreement on the transparency register. All other members are invited to do so on a voluntary basis. The information on meetings is published on members’ profile pages.
MEPs drafting reports or opinions can choose to attach a legislative footprint to their reports. Such a list can demonstrate the range of outside expertise and opinions the rapporteur has received. It is then published with the report after its adoption in committee.
Code of conduct for MEPs/ declaration on financial interests
Members of the European Parliament are subject to a Code of conduct, which obliges them to submit a detailed declaration of their financial interests, i.e. any support (financial, staff, material) granted in connection with their political activities. MEPs also have to declare their attendance at events organized by third parties, where the reimbursement of their travel, accommodation, or subsistence expenses or the direct payment of such expenses, is covered by a third party.
Furthermore, both the Code of Conduct and Parliament’s Rules of Procedure say that MEPs must not engage in paid professional lobbying directly linked to the EU decision-making process. The information supplied by Members in their declarations is on their individual profile pages.
Public access to documents
Citizens and residents of the European Union have a right of access to the documents of Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies (Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The right of access to documents is an essential component of the transparency policy being implemented by the European institutions.
The European Parliament's public register website contains references to documents produced or received by the institution since 03 December 2001. The vast majority of these documents can be directly consulted and downloaded from the website, free of charge.
Documents which cannot be consulted directly on the register may be requested.
Citizen can contact the EP (Ask EP) to get information about the European Parliament, its positions and activities, organisation and rules, powers and procedures. The unit cannot provide legal advice or adopt political positions.
The 2021 EP budget amounts to around €2 billion.
Parliament is able to support the work of its 705 MEPs and operate in 24 different languages thanks to its annual budget. This represents one fifth of all EU institutions’ total administrative expenditure and only 1.2% of the EU’s general budget. The vast majority of EU funding is invested directly in the member states.
How the budget is decided?
The procedure for drawing up Parliament’s budget normally starts in February. The Secretary-General comes up with a proposal, defining the priorities and resources for the following year. The bureau, composed of the President and the 14 Vice-Presidents, use this as the basis for adopting preliminary draft estimates and submits them to the budgets committee.
One of the committee members - known as the budget rapporteur - is appointed to draw up a report outlining Parliament’s work priorities and proposing how much money should be spent on them. First the budgets committee votes on the report and then all MEPs vote on it during a plenary session, usually in May. These estimates are then incorporated in the EU’s draft budget for the following year, which MEPs amend and adopt during a plenary session in December at the latest.
Visiting the European Parliament is a unique opportunity for citizens to learn how EU parliamentary democracy works and how the decisions taken by the European Parliament are relevant to their daily lives. Parliament offers visitor a wide range of possibilities to get acquainted with the work, history, functioning of the Institution and the European Union. The European Parliament welcomes large numbers of visitors across several locations, parliamentary visitor centres and museums.
The visitor’s offer of the EP is various and addressed to groups and individual visitors.
About half a million of people from the EU and beyond visit the Plenary chamber (Hemicycle) of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg every year. Many of these visitors come as part of a group (either invited by an MEP or on their own), but individual visitors numbers have been increasing in past years. Groups are welcomed by Parliament staff, who give a talk on the work and role of the European Parliament. The groups may meet with MEPs and can visit the Hemicycle. Individual visitors can visit the Hemicycle with an interactive multi-media guide in 24 languages, follow a plenary session or book a Hemicycle talk with one of the Parliament’s speakers.
The European Parliament believes that public access to its proceedings and premises should be easy, because it sees transparency as important to the exercise of democratic rights within the European Union. As the cost of travelling to Brussels and Strasbourg may be prohibitive for many EU citizens due to the long distances involved, in some cases, the Parliament helps to cover part of Members’ visitor group expenses.
Visitors coming to Brussels can also visit the Parlamentarium and the House of European History, which are outside the European Parliament premises and open during the weekend. The Parlamentarium also hosts a popular role-playing game for secondary school students, modelled on the workings of the European Parliament, in which participants play the part of an MEP negotiating legislation that will affect the day-to-day lives of people living in Europe.
In Strasbourg, an exhibition space known as Parlamentarium Simone Veil with a 360-degree cinema and interactive tools are part of the visit. The Strasbourg premises of Parliament also host the Euroscola student programme, which offers thousands of students between 16 to 18 years old the experience of being a Member of Parliament for a day.
The European Parliament has opened smaller visitor centres in Member States to bring the Parliament closer to the citizens. It is planned to have a centre in each Member State. The aim of these Europa Experiences is to bring Europe where people are, offer them information and encourage citizens to get involved.
The visitors’ offer is not limited to physical visits. The European Parliament has increased its online/ digital offer and is now offering for example Online EP Talks and online European Youth Seminars.
During Online EP Talks visitors can deepen their knowledge about the power, role and activities of this institution with an online presentation and question and answer session adapted to the group’s interests. An Online EP Talk is available in one of the 24 official languages of the European Union.
During the online European Youth Seminars young people from different EU countries come together to brainstorm, discuss and debate social challenges. As part of a multicultural group, they work together on topics relevant to today’s Europe. Participants come up with innovative solutions and present them to a Member of the European Parliament. An online European Youth Seminar is generally available in English, French or German.
Every year in early May Parliament celebrates Europe day with various activities in Strasbourg and Brussels organised by different Parliament’s services and political groups.