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 705 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from all 27 member states of the European Union.
Before Brexit in January 2020, we too had a voice in this important assembly. There were 751 MEPs including 73 from the UK. Six represented the 5.6 million people of the South West of England & Gibraltar constituency which stretched from Gloucestershire in the north to the Scilly Isles beyond the furthest tip of Cornwall and also included the 30,000 citizens of the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean, who were also expelled from the European Union at Brexit despite voting massively against it.
In 2019 and 2020, the people of the South West and Gibraltar were 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 and more about his work as an MEP here.
The Parliament is elected by and represents the people of Europe. The European Council and Council of Ministers represent the elected governments of the Member States. 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 government. It is elected by the Parliament.
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, were all members of the 108-strong Renew Europe group which brings together pro-European Liberals and centrists from across the EU. Its numbers have also changed now because of Brexit. 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 nationalist, conservative and populist parties.
Seats are divided among member states roughly in proportion 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, and then the rest of the Commission. Caroline and Martin were among those voting in July 2019 for the current President, Ursula von der Leyen – the first woman ever to hold the top job – who took office in December 2019.
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. All of the issues and initiatives and legislation voted on in the European Parliament will continue to affect Britain one way or another. But now we have no say in them.