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The European Parliament represents, in the words of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, 'the peoples of the States brought together in the European Community'. Over 500 million European citizens, in 28 Member States, are now represented by 751 members in the European Parliament, elected in May 2014 for a five-year fixed term. The first direct elections to the European Parliament were held in June 1979 when, 34 years after the end of Second World War, for the first time in history, the peoples of the nations of Europe, once torn apart by war, went to the polls to elect members of a single parliament. Europeans could have devised no more powerful symbol of reconciliation.
The European Parliament has steadily acquired greater influence and power through a series of treaties. These treaties, particularly the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty and the most recently adopted Treaty of Lisbon, have transformed the European Parliament from a purely consultative assembly into a legislative parliament, its power of co-decision making it an equal partner with the Council of Ministers in most EU policy areas.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected at five-year intervals, under a variety of systems of proportional representation. Elections are held either on a regional basis, as for example in the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium, on a national basis, as in Spain and Denmark, or under a mixed system as in Germany. The UK currently has 73 Members, with Scotland being one electoral area electing only 6 MEPs.
In Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg voting is compulsory. A common core of democratic rules applies everywhere: these include the right to vote at 18, equality of men and women, and the principle of the secret ballot.
Since the Maastricht Treaty came into force in 1993 every citizen of an EU Member State who lives in another country of the Union may vote or stand for election to the European Parliament in their country of residence. In 1979, 16.5% of MEPs were women, and this figure has risen steadily over successive parliamentary terms, reaching 27.5% by 1996, 31% after the 2004 elections, 35% in 2009 and 36.75% in 2014.
The European Parliament currently has 751 Members, allocated as follows:
Germany - 96; France - 74; Italy, UK - 73; Spain - 54; Poland - 51; Romania - 32; Netherlands - 26; Belgium, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal - 21; Sweden - 20; Austria - 18; Bulgaria - 17; Denmark, Finland, Slovakia - 13; Ireland, Lithuania, Croatia - 11; Latvia, Slovenia - 8; Cyprus, Estonia, Luxembourg, Malta - 6.
At the elections in May 2014 a total of 751 members were elected from across the 28 Member States. Scotland's share, as determined by the UK Government, will be 6 MEPs. Independent countries of a similar population will be electing at least twice as many.
The European Parliament meets and debates in public. Its decisions, positions and proceedings are published in the Official Journal of the European Communities.
Members sit in political groups in the Chamber, not in national delegations. Parliament currently has seven political groups, as well as 'non-attached' Members. These political groups include members from around 200 political parties. The two SNP Members are part of the European Free Alliance, which currently consists of MEPs from devolved or autonomous areas including Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, and Valencia. The EFA has an arrangement with Green MEPs to form the Greens/Europeans Free Alliance Group, currently the sixth-largest with 50 members. Decision making processes in the European Union are far from simple, with most new laws requiring approval by a majority of the 28 member state governments and a majority of MEPs.
Members sit on parliamentary committees and delegations, as either full or substitute members. MEPs are obliged by Treaty to spend one week each month at a plenary session in Strasbourg, when Parliament meets in full session. Additional two-day plenary sittings are held in Brussels. Two weeks in every month are set aside for meetings of Parliament's committees in Brussels. The remaining week is devoted mainly to meetings of the political groups, also in Brussels.
With the assistance of translators and interpreters, Parliament works in 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.