"The European Parliament (EP) is one of the three key institutions of the 27-member European Union (EU), and the only EU institution whose members are directly elected. The current EP has 736 members. The most recent EP elections were held on June 4-7, 2009. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) serve five-year terms. Once limited to being a consultative assembly, the EP has accumulated more power over time. It performs important functions in the EU's legislative and budgeting processes, and exercises a degree of supervision over the two other main EU institutions, the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) and the European Commission. Although the EP does not formally initiate EU legislation, it shares 'co-decision' power with the Council of Ministers in many policy areas, giving it the right to amend or reject proposed EU legislation. The recently ratified Lisbon Treaty increases the EP's role further, giving it amendment and veto authority over the vast majority of EU legislation (with some exceptions, such as tax matters and foreign policy). Moreover, supporters argue, as the only directly elected EU institution, the EP increasingly plays an important checks-and-balances role on behalf of Europe's citizens."
CRS Report for Congress, RS21998
U.S. Department of State, Foreign Press Centers: http://fpc.state.gov/