Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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European Parliament

One of the five original institutions of the European Union created in 1952 to represent the populations of the six West European states—France, Italy, the Benelux countries, and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany)—in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). When the European Economic Community (EEC) and European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) were formed by the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the European Parliament (EP) was expanded to include the ECSC, EEC, and EURATOM, now known collectively as the European Union (EU). The 1987 Single European Act finally formalized the term for Parliament members (MEPs) at five years.

With enlargement of the EU in 2004, 732 MEPs are now elected to represent twenty-five member states. Since 1979 the MEPs have been elected through universal suffrage every five years, and seats are distributed proportionally among the EU member states based on their respective populations. Members are grouped in seven transnational European political parties, the most important ones being the center-rightist Popular Party and the leftist Socialist Party. Female members currently make up approximately 30 percent of the MEPs. The EP holds plenary sessions in Strasbourg, France, while several of its seventeen committees meet in Brussels, Belgium. The general secretary of the EP, along with most of the secretariat staff, is based in Luxembourg.

The powers of the EP are limited by the more powerful Council of Ministers and the European Commission, which are the legislative and executive branches of the EU's system, respectively. Nevertheless, the EP's powers have increased in recent years, especially after the 1991 Maastricht Treaty, which gave the EP joint legislative powers with the Council of Ministers, although final decisions are still left to the latter. The EP has budgetary powers and is empowered to dismiss the commission, although this has occurred only once. The legislative authority resulting from the Single European Act (SEA) and the Maastricht Treaty gives the EP the power to force a second reading of legislation proposed by the commission and voted on by the council, binding the latter to approve a law by a full majority if the EP rejects the law. The EP also exerts a joint decision-making process on accession treaties and association agreements with non-EU countries. Finally, budgetary control over the commission (which presents some 5,000 questions yearly) has been tightened due to poor administration and scandals. The main limit on the EP's power is the fact that final decision-making power is in the hands of the national states and, therefore, in the Council of Ministers.

Alessandro Massignani


Further Reading
Nugent, Neill. The Government and Politics of the European Community. 3rd ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
 

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