Is the European Parliament just a ‘talking shop’?

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The European Parliament (EP) is directly elected by the citizens of the EU every 5 years. Many claim that the EP has no real powers to influence the work of the EU, and that it’s just a ‘talking shop’. However, a look at the facts shows that isn’t quite the case.

One of the key powers of the Parliament is its control over the Commission. The Parliament now elects the Commission President and since 2014 this happens to be the candidate from the European party that wins the most seats in the election, meaning there’s a link between the outcome of the elections and the Commission. All proposed Commissioners are scrutinised by the EP and afterwards the College of Commissioners has to be approved collectively by the EP before they can take office.  As well as that, the EP has the power to censure (remove) the College of Commissioners from office by a 2/3 majority, ensuring that the Commission remains accountable to the people’s representatives. The mass resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999 was in direct response to a threat of EP censure, showing how powerful the EP can be.

Under the ‘Ordinary Legislative Procedure’ (OLP), the Council and the Parliament legislate on an equal basis. The EP has the power to reject, approve, or substantially amend the legislative proposals in front of it. For a proposal under the OLP to come into effect, both the Council and the EP must agree on a common position and approve the proposal. The EP therefore has a significant impact on the vast majority of EU laws. It also has to give its consent for the EU to conclude most international deals, meaning the EP position must be reflected at least somewhat in the final deal, or the deal may be vetoed.

The other main power of the Parliament is that it’s one of the joint budgetary arms of the EU. It negotiates on an equal basis with the Council on how large the yearly budget should be, and what money should be spent where. The EP also scrutinises if the Commission and the other institutions have spent EU money correctly through the ‘yearly discharge’ procedure. The Parliament ultimately decides whether to approve, refuse or delay the discharge of the previous year’s budget (in other words, it will say whether or not EU money was spent correctly). The EP therefore has significant oversight over how taxpayers money is spent, and a large say over what it funds.

The European Parliament has been continuously strengthened with almost every new Treaty since its inception as the Common Assembly of the European Coal & Steel Community. While it cannot propose its own legislation at present, it still has a significant impact on the daily workings of the EU and can be considered quite far from the level of a ‘talking shop’.