"The 754-member European Parliament (EP) is a key institution of the European Union (EU), a unique political and economic partnership composed of 27 member states. The EP is the only EU institution that is directly elected. Although the EP does not formally initiate EU legislation, it plays a significant role in the EU's legislative and budgeting processes, and works closely with the two other main EU bodies, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union (also known as the Council of Ministers). Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) serve five-year terms. The most recent EP elections were held in June 2009. The EP currently has seven political groups, which caucus according to political ideology rather than nationality, plus a number of 'non-attached' or independent members. The EP has 20 standing committees that are key actors in the adoption of EU legislation and a total of 41 delegations that maintain international parliament-to-parliament relations. The EP is led by a President, who oversees its work and represents the EP externally. Once limited to being a consultative assembly, the EP has accumulated more power over time. Experts assert that the EU's latest effort at institutional reform-the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on December 1, 2009-increases the relative power of the EP within the EU considerably. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EP now shares legislative power with the Council of Ministers in most policy areas, giving the EP the right to accept, amend, or reject the vast majority of EU laws (with some exceptions in areas such as tax matters or foreign policy). The treaty also provides the EP with the power to decide on the allocation of the EU budget jointly with the Council, the right to approve or reject international agreements, and greater decisionmaking authority over trade-related issues."
CRS Report for Congress, RS21998