What does the European Parliament do? What voters need to know about May elections

The majority of Italians knows when they will have to go to vote for the next European elections. Among the European nations, Italians have one of the strongest awareness on the calendar, the latest Eurobarometer survey showed. Released in April, the study focused on the attitude of the European on the EU. For Italy the findings are surprising: people know when the election day is, but many cannot say whether they will go to vote or not.

Only 16% of the Italians declared themselves “very likely” to go, with another 24% of respondents saying it is “likely” that they will express their opinion. Italians perhaps don’t have it clear in their mind what they are called to vote for. And so far nobody makes the effort to remind them what the European Parliament, the only directly-elected EU body, is about.

This is not a problem “made in Italy”. There are other countries with less than 20% being certain to vote: Czechia (10%), Portugal (17%), Croatia (17%) and Austria (18%). People in these countries should perhaps this message from the European Parliament, inviting them to vote.

The Parliament decides

In the EU the power of legislative initiative belongs to the Commission. But a proposal, by definition, is not a law. In order to become law, a proposal needs approval. This approval lies into the Council of the EU, representing the EU member states, and the European Parliament, representing Europe as a whole.

Trying to make a comparison at level of Constitutional law, the Council of the EU is comparable to the Senate while the European Parliament to the House of representative of any bicameral national Parliament. European thus elect their House of representatives.

The Parliament is co-legislator of the EU. It means it has the power to adopt newly proposed legislation and to and amend the already existing legislation. Furthermore, it decides on the annual EU budget on an equal footing with the Council.

When adopting a new law, MEPs and Council can task the Commission to complement the law with minor additions or changes (like technical annexes or updates) through delegated acts (acts which supplement or amend parts of the law) or implementing acts (acts giving details on how to implement the law). In this way, legislation can remain simple and, if needed, be supplemented and updated without new negotiations at legislative level.

Although it is up to the Commission to propose new EU laws, Parliament can take the initiative by requesting the Commission to submit a legislative proposal. When adopting such a “legislative initiative”, MEPs may set a deadline for the submission of a proposal. If the Commission refuses, it must explain why.

Supervision. The Parliament as democratic referee.

The European Parliament and its MEPs have a range of supervisory and control powers. These allow it to exercise oversight over other institutions, to monitor the proper use of the EU budget and to ensure the correct implementation of EU law. MEPs oversee notably the European Commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union.

It is the European Parliament having the right to approve and dismiss the European Commission. EU heads of state propose a candidate for Commission President, taking into account the results of European elections. But it is the European Parliament that elects the candidate. So, EU Parliament decides here, too.

The European Parliament ensures democratic control over the Commission, which regularly submits reports to Parliament including an annual report on EU activities and on the implementation of the budget. MEPs can censure the Commission, if it is the case.

Furthermore, Parliament can ask the EU Court of Justice to take action against the Commission or the EU Council if they have acted in a way that is contrary to the spirit of EU law. Also the Council is responsible in front of the Parliament. After each summit of head of State and government the president of the European Council presents a report to the European Parliament on the outcome.

Civic protection

Again, Parliament elects the European Ombudsman, the person who investigates complaints about maladministration in EU institutions and bodies. Any EU citizen, resident, company or organisation can submit a petition to the European Parliament about EU law. Parliament can set up a committee of inquiry to look into violations of EU law by member states.

European Parliament matters

So, the European Parliament matters. Unfortunately, Italians seem not having understood it. If they don’t go to vote, other will decide for them. And as seen, the ‘House of Representative’ of all European, including Italians, plays a very important role in shaping the near future of everybody. It is about the every-day life, and these European elections are very important.

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