Parlement Européen, originally uploaded by Jean-Michel Priaux.
The European Parliament (abbreviated as Europarl or the EP) is the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union (EU). Together with the Council of the European Union (the Council), it forms the bicameral legislative branch of the EU and has been described as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world. The Parliament and Council form the highest legislative body within the EU. The Parliament is composed of 736 MEPs (Member of the European Parliament), who serve the second largest democratic electorate in the world (after India) and the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world (375 million eligible voters in 2009).
It has been directly elected every five years by universal suffrage since 1979. Although the European Parliament has legislative power that such bodies as those above do not possess, it does not have legislative initiative, as most state parliaments within the Union do (however, it does have it in a de facto capacity – see Powers and functions below). Parliament is the «first institution» of the EU (mentioned first in the treaties, having ceremonial precedence over all authority at European level), and shares equal legislative and budgetary powers with the Council (except a few areas where the special legislative procedures apply). It likewise has equal control over the EU budget. Finally, the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, is accountable to Parliament: in particular Parliament can veto it and its President and can force the body to resign.
The President of the European Parliament (Parliament’s speaker) is currently Jerzy Buzek (EPP), elected in July 2009. He presides over a multi-party chamber, the two largest groups being the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). The last Union-wide elections were the 2009 Parliamentary Elections. Parliament has two meeting places, namely the Louise Weiss building in Strasbourg, France, which serves for twelve four-day plenary sessions per year and is the official seat, and the Espace Léopold (Dutch: Leopoldruimte) complex in Brussels, Belgium, the larger of the two, which serves for committee meetings, political groups and complementary plenary sessions. The Secretariat of the European Parliament, the Parliament’s administrative body, is based in Luxembourg.