A Member of the European Parliament (MEP) is the English name for a person who has been elected to the European Parliament. The name of MEPs differ in different languages, with terms such as europarliamentarian or eurodeputy being common in Romance language-speaking countries.
When the European Parliament was first established, MEPs were appointed by member states from members of their own national parliament. Since 1979, however, MEPs have been elected by direct universal suffrage. Each country establishes their own way of electing their MEPs and in some countries the electoral system has changed over time and across regions. All now use one or another form of proportional representation. For a list of the current members see Members of the European Parliament 2009–2014.
From 1 January 2007 (when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU), there were 785 MEPs, but their number fell back to 736 at the latest elections in 2009, though this will eventually rise to 751, with each member state having at least six and at most 96. Elections occur once every five years, on the basis of universal adult suffrage. There is no uniform voting system for the election of MEPs; rather, each member state is free to choose its own system, subject to three restrictions:
The allocation of seats to each member state is based on the principle of degressive proportionality, so that, while the size of the population of each country is taken into account, smaller states elect more MEPs than would be strictly justified by their populations alone. As the number of MEPs granted to each country has arisen from treaty negotiations, there is no precise formula for the apportionment of seats among member states. No change in this configuration can occur without the unanimous consent of all governments.
The most recent elections to the European Parliament were the European elections of 2009, held in June of that year. They were the largest simultaneous transnational elections ever held anywhere in the world, since nearly 500 million citizens were eligible to vote.
The European Parliament has a high turnover of members compared to some national parliaments. For instance, after the 2004 elections, the majority of elected members had not been members in the prior parliamentary session, though that could largely be put down to the recent enlargement. Only one (Hans-Gert Pöttering) has served continuously since the first elections in 1979.
All but 27 MEPs are members of cross-nationality political groups, organised according to political allegiance. For instance, the UK's Labour MEPs are members of the Party of European Socialists, and all Conservative MEPs were members of the European People's Party - European Democrats, until they left it to form a new group (the European Conservatives and Reformists Group) in July 2009.
Group discipline is laxer than most national parliaments, with national delegations and individual members sometimes voting against the Group 'line' on particular issues. Furthermore, the position taken by a Group on any given issue is determined by discussion within the Group, not handed down by the party leadership. Individual 'back-bench' MEPs do therefore have considerable influence over the development of policy within the Parliament.
Aside from working through their Groups, individual members are also guaranteed a number of individual powers and rights within the Parliament: