With its 751 members from 28 EU Member States, the European Parliament is the only directly elected institution of the European Union (EU). The Parliament is organised into political groups and specialised standing committees. I belong to the left-wing Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) and am a member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, the Special Committee on Tax Dumping and am substitute member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism. In addition, in order to combat rampant lobbying in the EU, I am also part of the cross-party Intergroup on Integrity, Transparency, Anti-Corruption and Organised Crime.
The European Parliament (EP) has four key roles. First, the EP is involved in the legislative procedures of the EU. Following a proposal by the Commission, the Parliament and the Council may make amendments through the ordinary legislative procedure. A regulation or directive becomes law if it is approved by both the Council and the Parliament.
Second, the EP, together with the European Council, adopts the European Union’s budget, although the scope of the budget is largely determined by the EU Member States.
Third, the EP has a controlling function vis-à-vis the Commission, the Council and the European Central Bank by means of public hearings and direct oral and written questions. Please see here for the questions I addressed to the Commission and the Council, and the answers of the respective institutions. You can read my questions to the European Central Bank (ECB) here. You will find answers of the ECB to my questions here.
Fourth, the EP can approve or reject the President of the European Commission as well as the European Commissioners and may pass a motion of censure against them. The President of the European Commission, however, is appointed by the heads of state and government, and negotiates with the national governments on the appointment of the other Commissioners. The majority of the Parliament, despite much blustering, had no problem electing Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of the tax haven Luxembourg, as President of the European Commission, or entrusting the former financial lobbyist Jonathan Hill as Commissioner with regulation of the financial markets.
Information about powers and procedures is available in graphical form on the website of the European Parliament.
Unlike the German Bundestag, the European Parliament has no right of legislative initiative and can only ask the Commission to make legislative proposals, rather than proposing laws itself. A European public is also lacking. Debates in the plenary sessions of the Parliament are rarely broadcast on television. Small groups and the opposition only have very weak minority rights, for example to set up investigative committees. Ultimately that always requires a majority in the plenary session, which the large groups (the Conservatives and the Social Democrats) manage to block, such as in the case of the LuxLeaks scandal. In the field of trade policy, for example the planned TTIP free trade agreement with the USA, the Parliament may voice its opinion, but may only vote on the finalised agreements.
In addition, EU laws (directives that are to be transposed into national law by the Member States and regulations that apply directly) are restricted by EU treaties. These commit the EU to an economic model that serves the interests of the banks and corporate groups, and these constitution-like treaties were only subject to referendums in a few countries. As a result, European democracy is very weak, while the influence of powerful interest groups is very great.