The European Parliament is the democratically elected assembly at the heart of Europe’s decision-making, representing more than half a billion people.
There are 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from all 28 member states of the European Union.
There are 73 MEPs from the UK including six representing the 5.6 million people of the South West of England & Gibraltar constituency which stretches from Gloucestershire in the north to the Scilly Isles beyond the furthest tip of Cornwall and also includes the 30,000 citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean.
The people of the South West and Gibraltar are currently represented by Lib Dems Caroline Voaden and Martin Horwood, along with one Green MEP and three from the anti-European Brexit Party. You can read more about why Martin stood for the European Parliament here.
The Parliament represents the people of Europe, whereas the European Council and Council of Ministers represent the governments. The third key body in the European Union – the European Commission – is Europe’s ‘civil service’ and actually runs the EU administration in the same way that Whitehall departments run the British governments.
MEPs are elected to the parliament for a five-year term in their home country and go to Brussels and Strasbourg where they group themselves into larger European parties. They do not sit by country. Martin and Caroline, along with their fellow Lib Dems and Northern Irish Alliance Party MEP Naomi Long, are all members of the 108-strong Renew Europe group which brings together pro-European Liberals and centrists from across the EU. The other main groups are the right-wing European Peoples’ Party, the Socialists & Democrats and the Greens. There are smaller groupings incorporating the far left, right wing nationalists and populist parties and the remaining British Conservatives.
Seats are divided among member states proportionately to their population but MEPs usually vote in line with their party rather than their nationality.
The European Parliament also elects the President of the European Commission, the head of the EU’s administration. Caroline and Martin were among those voting this July for the next President, Ursula von der Leyen – the first woman ever to hold the top job – who took office in December.
The elected Parliament decides jointly with the elected heads of government in the Council of Ministers on laws that affect the lives of the European Union’s citizens. It votes on laws and plans proposed by the European Commission, has a say on the EU budget and checks that money is actually being spent in the way it has approved.