4.5 The European Parliament
The European Parliament fulfils three main functions:
it shares the power to legislate
it exercises democratic supervision over all EC institutions
it shares authority over the EC budget.
The legislative and supervisory roles are based on the European Parliament's democratic legitimacy. Its members are directly elected every five years by the citizens of the EU member states.
The European Parliament's power to legislate is shared with the Council of the European Union. Broadly speaking, the legislative role of the Parliament is exercised following one of four procedures:
Co-decision and consultation are at present the most used. The co-decision procedure places the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on an equal footing. It is now considered the most common procedure for adopting EU legislation and the European laws passed through this procedure are joint acts of the Parliament and the Council. The Commission sends legislative proposals to both institutions. They each read and discuss those proposals twice in succession. If they cannot agree, then the proposals are put to a ‘conciliation committee’. This committee has an equal number of representatives from the Parliament and the Council. Representatives of the Commission may also attend the committee meetings. Once the committee has reached an agreed text a third reading will take place at both the Parliament and the Council. It then becomes EU law.
The Parliament may also be involved in the legislative process through the assent procedure. Here, the Council will submit a legislative proposal which the Parliament can either accept (by absolute majority) or reject. Unlike the co-decision procedure, it is not possible to amend the proposal.
The Parliament may also be consulted by the Commission. In certain cases this is a legal requirement and in others it is optional. In cases of consultation the Parliament may approve, reject or request amendments. Finally, the Parliament has a responsibility for examining the Commission's work programme (on an annual cycle) and may ask for the Commission to put forward new legislative proposals where it finds them necessary.
In addition to these powers, the European Parliament also has the power to censure the Commission – that is, to compel it to resign as a body. This power, however, is not used lightly, and from the five motions of censure tabled so far, three have been rejected when put to the vote. The most recent such motion of censure was in January 1999.