The European Parliament
The European Parliament is directly elected by the citizens of the EU's Member States.
Along with the Council of Ministers and the European Commission, it is one of 3 decision making bodies of the European Union. It is the only directly elected European institution.
Together with national parliaments, its function is to scrutinise the EU and its institutions. It has 751 members, coming from the twenty seven member states of the European Union.
The UK currently has 73 members. Elections are held every five years. The most recent being held between 22nd - 25th May 2014. These elections are carried out under a regional list system. The number of seats for each country are divided between 12 regions, and each region's seats are awarded to a party depending on the number of seats that party achieved in that region. So for example the South West region has 6 MEP seats available, of which 2 went to the Conservative Party based on the support they got on the day.
Ending The Strasbourg Jaunt
The European Parliament is based both in Brussels and Strasbourg, with administrative offices located in Luxembourg. The Parliament meets in Strasbourg for one week each month, in plenary session, to amend and vote on draft legislation. Preparatory meetings of political groups and committee work take place largely in Brussels.
Conservatives have campaigned vigorously to end the monthly move to Strasbourg and to give the European Parliament a single seat in Brussels. Rotating between 2 different countries costs around €156 million per year which is an unacceptable waste of taxpayers' money. We have tabled resolutions calling for an end to Strasbourg sessions and we have successfully persuaded MEPs to reduce the time they spend in Strasbourg by a fifth. We have also staged demonstrations on this issue.
As well as being a waste of money, the monthly move to Strasbourg reduces the effectiveness of the Parliament in scrutinising the European Commission. Conservative MEPs have raised the issue several times in Parliament (as featured on the BBC and in the Daily Telegraph) and will continue to do so until the Strasbourg sessions come to an end.
Political Alliances In The European Parliament
Members of the European Parliament sit in pan-European political groupings rather than as national delegations. The Conservative Party used to be aligned with the group of the European People's Party (EPP). However due to the EPP’s views on European Federalism the Conservative Party broke away from the grouping after the 2009 elections to form a new group called the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR)
Constituent declaration of the ECR
All Groups are required to demonstrate ideological coherence. This is usually done by publishing a document (sometimes called a constituent declaration) stating the principles to which each group member is expected to adhere. The constituent declaration of the ECR has become known as the Prague Declaration. That document outlines the following principles:
Free enterprise, free and fair trade and competition, minimal regulation, lower taxation, and small government as the ultimate catalysts for individual freedom and personal and national prosperity.
Freedom of the individual, more personal responsibility and greater democratic accountability.
Sustainable, clean energy supply with an emphasis on energy security.
The importance of the family as the bedrock of society.
The sovereign integrity of the nation state, opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity.
The overriding value of the transatlantic security relationship in a revitalised NATO, and support for young democracies across Europe.
Effectively controlled immigration and an end to abuse of asylum procedures
Efficient and modern public services and sensitivity to the needs of both rural and urban communities.
An end to waste and excessive bureaucracy and a commitment to greater transparency and probity in the EU institutions and use of EU funds.
Respect and equitable treatment for all EU countries, new and old, large and small.
Membership of the ECR as of 20th May 2015
For more information on the parties involved please click on their name, you will then be redirected to the relevant page on the online Encyclopedia Wikipedia.
Labour Members are part of the Group of the Party of European Socialists (PSE) and the Liberal Democrat Member belongs to the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). The ECR currently has 72 MEPs from fifteen countries.
The co-decision procedure, introduced under the Maastricht Treaty, means that the European Parliament shares legislative power with the Council of Ministers (made up of representatives of national governments). Co-decision gives the European Parliament the power to amend or veto EU legislation and applies in a range of policy areas, including the single market, the environment and consumer protection.
In other areas, such as tax policy, where co-decision does not apply, the European Parliament only gives an opinion. The final decision is left to member governments.
The European Parliament shares budgetary powers with the Council of Ministers, and has the final say over the level and composition of EU spending (with the exception of spending under the Common Agricultural Policy). Each December, the Parliament adopts the European Union's budget for the following year. EU funds cannot be released until the budget has been agreed by the European Parliament and signed off by its President.
Conservative MEPs introduced a new procedure of putting specific parts of the budget into a reserve fund. This allows MEPs to impose conditions before these funds can be spent. This technique has been used very effectively to increase control over spending and help prevent waste and fraud.
As Conservative MEPs we take our responsibility for the EU budget very seriously. Ashley has already tabled 7 budget amendments designed to cut waste and save taxpayers money.
Supervision and Scrutiny
A key task for MEPs is scrutinising the work of the European Commission and holding it to account. The European Parliament has the power to dismiss the European Commission. In 1999, for example, MEPs (led by British Conservatives) forced the Santer Commission to resign.
MEPs scrutinise and amend draft proposals from the European Commission in the European Parliament’s committees. They may also amend “Common Positions” agreed by national governments in the Council of Ministers.
In addition, the Parliament can set up committees of inquiry. Conservative MEPs used this system successfully to set up an independent inquiry into the Foot and Mouth epidemic. This was something the Labour Government refused to do.
MEPs may also table oral and written questions to the Council or the Commission. Oral questions are answered publicly during plenary session. Conservative MEPs have used both written and oral questions to raise important issues with the Commission, demand action and discover the truth behind EU-related controversies and news stories.
Other EU Institutions
The Council of Ministers is the main decision-making body in the EU and is made up of ministers from national governments. There are different Council meetings for different policy areas. For example economic matters are discussed in the meeting of finance ministers (Alistair Darling and his counterparts from other countries) known as ECOFIN. The Council of Ministers has the power to conclude international agreements with other states or international organisations.
The Presidency of the Council is rotated between member states on a six month basis. Towards the end of each six month presidency, the European Council (which is made up of the heads of national governments), meets in the country which holds the Presidency.
The European Commission is the executive and administrative body of the EU. It has the right to initiate draft EU legislation. Based in Brussels, it is also responsible for the implementation of EU legislation.
As the ‘guardian of the treaties’, the Commission is responsible for ensuring that Community law is applied properly. The Commission has been consistently criticised for failing to enforce EU legislation properly, leaving many states flouting their obligations under the EU treaties. For example, France had its illegal beef ban in place for 3 years but the European Commission proposes to let them get away with this without suffering any penalty whatsoever.
The Commissioners and their President are nominated by national governments. There are currently twenty seven Commissioners who each serve for five years, but they may be dismissed mid-term by the Parliament.
In recent years, the Commission has been heavily criticised for failing to keep track of the taxpayer's money for which it is responsible. Millions of pounds have gone missing via fraud and waste. Conservatives are campaigning to clean up the Commission and are at the forefront of the debate, which led to the resignation of one of the previous Commissions (headed by Jacques Santer)
The European Court of Justice often referred to as the ECJ, adjudicates on all legal issues and disputes concerning Community law, and must ensure that the law is uniformly interpreted and correctly applied. It is based in Luxembourg and has a judge from each member state. It may overturn laws adopted by Member States, if it deems them to be inconsistent with the EU treaties.
The ECJ has been criticised for the slow pace of enforcement. For example, farmers left out of pocket by the illegal French ban on British beef can expect to wait many years for compensation. The ECJ has also run into controversy for its overtly political and integrationist stance - in many cases stretching the words of the Treaties to cover areas never envisaged by the national governments who agreed them.
The Court of Auditors checks that EU revenue is spent correctly. It presents an annual report to Parliament and carries out investigations into certain spending areas. It has been very critical of waste and fraud within the European Commission.
The European Central Bank is the central bank for members of the single currency, based in Frankfurt. It sets interest rates and monetary policy for the euro-zone. Its statutory objective is price stability.
The Economic and Social Committee is an advisory body of 222 representatives nominated by member states from industry, union and interest groups every four years. It must be consulted on matters of economic and social policy and may issue opinions on other important topics. Conservatives believe it should be abolished in order to save money for the taxpayer and reduce the amount the EU spends on bureaucracy.
The Committee of the Regions is a consultative body of 222 members, appointed by member states, from local and regional government. It must be consulted on regional policy, environment and educational matters. Many have advocated a review of the status and funding granted to this Committee, suggesting that it should either become self-financing, or be abolished.
The European Investment Bank is the EU's long term lending institution and facilitates the financing of investment projects. Concerns have been expressed that the EIB is not properly supervised. Conservatives would like to see it subject to the same prudential supervision as ordinary commercial banks as well as coming within the remit of the EU finance watchdog, the Court of Auditors.
The European Ombudsman is appointed by the European Parliament to investigate complaints against the European institutions. All individuals, institutions and businesses in the EU are entitled to register complaints if they have suffered from "maladministration". Similar work is done by the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee.