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Guide to the European Union

How have the powers of the European Parliament increased?

The European Parliament was set up in the Treaty of Rome as a body that could be consulted on legislation but largely ignored. Since the Single European Act in 1986, all European treaties have granted more powers to the European Parliament.  The Parliament has always argued that it has legitimacy, as it is directly elected, and so it should be exercising these powers rather than the Commission and the Council.

The areas in which the Parliament’s powers have increased are:-

-        Legislation.  The Maastricht Treaty introduced a procedure by which the Council and the Parliament both have to agree legislation in some policy areas.  The areas covered have gradually increased and the Lisbon Treaty made this normal in most areas of policy.  The Parliament can make amendments and discuss these with the Council to reach agreement and, although much legislation does not reach this stage, the existence of a veto means that the Council and the Commission know that they have to find out the Parliament’s view at an early stage.  Legislation is implemented by the Commission together with a committee of experts from the different countries and Parliament now looks at their proposals before they are carried out.

-        Parliament’s role in relation to the budget has gradually increased from its first powers to reject part of the budget in 1970 and the Lisbon Treaty put Parliament on an equal footing with the Council on agreeing all aspects of the budget. There was a long battle with the Council in 2013 over a budget which reduced expenditure.  The Parliament has also used its powers to change unsatisfactory areas of expenditure, for example, rejecting the European Food Safety Agency budget after a critical report on the organisation’s performance. More dramatically, in 1999, the Commission resigned after Parliament refused to agree the budget when it was not satisfied that Commissioners had answered questions about financial mismanagement.

-        Parliament was given power to reject the Commissioners by the Maastricht Treaty. It has rejected individual Commissioners nominated by the President of the Commission. It also has to agree the nomination of the President by the Council, although this is now decided on the basis of whichever political group gets the most votes in the European election.

-        Parliament was given the power to reject Trade Agreements by the Lisbon Treaty and has to be updated on the negotiations by the Commission. As the Commission knows that there is a potential veto, it is has to find out Parliament’s view on details of the negotiations. Parliament rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement because of its effects on individual rights. Although the Commission initiates negotiations on trade agreements, the Parliament asked it to delay in the case of Japan until its Committee on International Trade had given a view.

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