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Member of the European Parliament
A Member of the European Parliament (English abbreviation MEP) is a member of the European Union's directly-elected legislative body, the European Parliament. MEPs are the European equivalents of a country's national parliamentary members, known as MPs in English; hence, the term Euro-MP is used colloquially in English.
When Parliament was first established, MEPs were appointed by member states in national delegations. Since 1979, however, MEPs have been elected by direct universal suffrage.
Number of MEPs
In the first direct European Parliamentary elections in 1979, 410 members were elected from the then 9 member states. This number has grown steadily with subsequent EU enlargements. The Parliament elected in 2004 has 732 members, drawn from the Union's 25 member states on a basis roughly proportional to each country's population (though by no means precisely proportional - smaller member states have a proportionally greater representation than larger ones).
The maximum figure of 732 was set by the Treaty of Nice and is now intended to remain steady even after future enlargements of the Union. When new member states accede to the EU and acquire representation in Parliament, the number of MEPs elected by the existing member states will be reduced proportionally so that the limit of 732 is not exceeded.
However, this figure can be exceeded temporarily during periods immediately following the accession of new member states. For instance, the highest number of MEPs ever in the parliament was a temporary 788, when parliamentarians from ten new EU member states joined on May 1, 2004. This figure was then adjusted back down to 732 in the subsequent elections on 10-13 June 2004. Similarly, the number of MEPs will rise again temporarily with future enlargements, then be reduced proportionally at subsequent elections.
MEPs within the Parliament
Virtually all MEPs are members of cross-nationality political groups, organised according to political allegiance. For instance, the UK's Labour MEPs are members of the Group of the Party of European Socialists, and Conservative MEPs are members of the European People's Party - European Democrats.
However, there are considerable differences between this Group structure and most national parliaments' party structure. The rules of the Parliament state that "no member shall receive a binding mandate", and as a result, Group discipline is far laxer than most party political discipline, with national delegations and individual members sometimes voting against the Group 'line' on particular issues. Furthermore, the position taken by a Group on any given issue is determined by discussion within the Group, not handed down by the party leadership. Individual 'back-bench' MEPs do therefore have considerable influence over the development of policy within the Parliament.
Aside from Group politics, individual members are also guaranteed a number of other powers and rights within the Parliament:
- the right to table a motion for resolution;
- the right to put questions to the leaders of the Parliament, the European Council, the Council of Ministers and the Commission;
- the right to table an amendment to any text in committee;
- the right to make explanations of vote;
- the right to raise points of order;
- the right to move the inadmissibility of a matter.
An MEP's day job
Being an MEP is a full-time job. One week in each month is taken up with the Parliament's session in Strasbourg, and much of the remaining three weeks by committee, Group, or full Parliament meetings in Brussels.
On top of all this is the need to keep in touch with constituents at home. The problems of having to travel frequently between Parliament and constituency, familiar to most national MPs, are compounded in the case of MEPs because the distances are much further. Parliamentary affairs leave only a couple of days each week for MEPs to spend time in their constituencies, during which time they must deal with individual constituents, local organisations, local and national politicians, businesses, trade unions, and so on. Because of these pressures, many MEPs do have substantial staffs to help them to respond.
Many MEPs choose to make their family home in Brussels rather than in their home country, to avoid having family pressures competing with other pressures in the limited time that members are able to spend in their constituency.
Because MEPs sit in a Parliament with far fewer powers than national parliaments, their public profile in their home country is typically lower than that of national parliamentarians.
Under the protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Union, MEPs in their home country receive the same immunities as their own national parliamentarians. In other member states, MEPs are immune from detention and from legal proceedings, except when caught in the act of committing an offence. This immunity may be waived by application to the European Parliament by the authorities of the country in question.
MEPs earn exactly the same salary as a member of their own national parliament. As a result, there is a wide range of salaries in the European Parliament. In 2002, Italian MEPs earned £78,244, while Spanish MEPs earned barely a quarter of that at £20,496.
Commentators in several member states (most notably Denmark, Sweden and the UK) have frequently accused MEPs of taking advantage of lucrative expense allowances for personal profit. Such criticisms typically centre on two areas:
- the amount paid to MEPs as expenses; and
- the manner in which it is paid.
- British MPs received an allowance for travel around their constituencies, but MEPs did not, despite the fact that their constituencies were much larger.
- British MPs were paid a lump sum of just under £19,500 for accommodation at seat of Parliament, regardless of the time they actually spent there. MEPs received £150 per day attended and were required to sign in to prove attendance.
- Both British MPs and MEPs were paid travel expenses for journeys from constituencies to Parliament. Contrary to widespread rumours, MEPs received 'YY economy class' air fares paid, not first class, plus an allowance per kilometre for the trip from their home to the airport. Only one journey was allowed per week.
- British MPs were given first class rail tickets for spouse and children to Westminster up to thirty times per year. MEPs had no such allowance.
- British MPs were given two return tickets per year to any EU parliament or the European Parliament itself. MEPs had no such allowance.
- British MPs received unlimited travel expenses around the UK on parliamentary business. MEPs were given a similar allowance, but this was limited to £2,170 per year, plus an extra allowance if they needed to return home midweek.
- British MPs and MEPs both received an office allowance. MEPs were paid 44% more than MPs, but this had to include postage and all equipment, whereas MPs also received unlimited free postage and free computers.
- British MPs and MEPs both had a staff allowance. MEPs received 30% more than MPs, but their staffs are typically larger, and this amount had to cover staff pensions, temporary replacements for illness, redundancy costs at end of mandate, staff travel, insurance, administration, and employer's liability. MPs had those provided for free on top of their allowance.
- At the end of their mandates, British MPs received four months of office allowances, while MEPs received three.
With regard to the manner in which it is paid, complaints are often raised about the fact that MEPs' flights to and from Brussels are paid at a flat rate, regardless of the expenditure actually incurred. The price paid is for economy travel, not first-class, but nevertheless this value often amounts to significantly more than the actual price of travel with one of the many budget airlines that serve Brussels.
Another area of concern is the fact that MEPs' accounts are currently audited on a spot-check basis, not a universal one. Feeling this to be insufficient, some members voluntarily submit their accounts for a full independent audit annually.
Reform of salary and expenses
Parliament has repeatedly expressed a will to reform its salary and expenses package, most recently in a resolution adopted on 22 April 2004. However, because agreement is needed from both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers, resolution has so far proven impossible. Those countries whose MEPs would receive a pay increase as a result of salary harmonisation - notably Germany - have repeatedly vetoed these proposals in Council. 
The arrangement by which each MEP receives the same salary as a member of his own national parliament was originally intended as a stop-gap measure while a unified rate was agreed. But this has become a serious sticking-point in the Parliament. By law, salaries should be harmonised so that all MEPs receive the same, but this has proved politically difficult. Any figure selected (for instance, the average of current rates) would mean a big cut for some and a big increase for others, which is hard to justify.
A recent proposal was to fix the salary at half that of a judge at the European Court of Justice. When this was first suggested two years ago, it was, on average, only a slight increase for MEPs; but the measure has not yet been agreed, and the pay rise would be much more substantial if it were implemented now.
A possible flat salary of € 90 000 has recently been proposed, but this was rejected.
Members declare their financial interests, which are published annually in a register and available on the Internet.
Information about individual members
Around a third of MEPs have previously held national parliamentary mandates, and over 10% have ministerial experience at a national level. Among the 177 MEPs with such experience elected in 1999 were six prime ministers and three former members of the European Commission. Many more MEPs have held office at a regional level in their home countries.
Current MEPs also include former judges, trade union leaders, media personalities, actors, soldiers, singers, athletes, and political activists.
Many outgoing MEPs move into other political office. A remarkably high proportion of European countries' recent heads of government have previously served in the Parliament.
The so-called dual mandate, where an individual is a member of both his or her national parliament and the European Parliament, is officially discouraged and has been prohibited by a number of EU countries, most recently Italy. Despite this, a small and dwindling number of members do hold a dual mandate; for example, Baroness Ludford MEP and Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne MEP (both UK Liberal Democrats who also sit in the House of Lords).
Around a third of MEPs are women, a higher percentage than most national parliaments. This figure varies considerably among the various national delegations, however. Of UK members, for instance, approaching half of the Labour MEPs are female, compared to only about 8% of Conservative members.
Length of service
Generally speaking, the European Parliament has a remarkably high turnover of MEPs. For instance, after the 2004 elections, the majority of elected members had not been members in the prior Parliamentary session. Only 14 of them have served continuously since the first elections in 1979, and not one has served continuously for longer.
- The European Parliament (fifth edition, 2003), by Richard Corbett, Francis Jacobs and Michael Shackleton.
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