The European Parliament (EP) can be regarded as the lower house of the European Union’s legislative branch. The upper house is the Council of the European Union.
The countries that make up the EU (its ‘member states’) remain independent sovereign nations but they pool their sovereignty in order to gain a strength and world influence they could not have on their own.
The European Parliament is a powerful institution which can amend and reject legislation, although in order to initiate legislation it needs the EU’s executive branch (the European Commission) to draft a bill.
Direct elections to the European Parliament were first introduced in 1979. The European Parliament consists on 736 MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) who are elected in the individual EU member states. MEPs are organised into different parliamentary groups such as the European People’s Party (EEP) or the Socialists and Democrats (S&D). These are in effect broad alliances of national parties.
The voting system used to elect MEPs differs in each member state, and in the UK closed List-PR in regional constituencies is used. This means that the votes cast by the electorate are pretty accurately translated into seats. Minor parties can expect representation if they have sufficient votes. However, because the party lists are closed voters can only vote for the party and have no opportunity to vote for individual candidates.
Want to find our more about the different voting systems and the implications they have for voters, parties, Parliament and for government? Have a look at our simple guide to voting systems...