Saturday 21 February 2009

European Parliament: President

Ahead of the European elections between 4 and 7 June 2009 there are people who want to know more about the European Parliament than short and simple messages convey.

We take a closer look at the internal organisation of the European Parliament, starting with its President.


Treaty provisions

The first paragraph of the current Article 197 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC) provides that:

The European Parliament shall elect its President and its officers from among its Members.

In the Treaty of Lisbon this paragraph is formally deleted when amending Article 197 TEC; formally because exactly the same wording appears in. first Article 9a(4) of the Treaty on European Union in the original version, and then as Article 14(4) TEU in the consolidated version of the Lisbon Treaty.



The treaty provisions express that the European Parliament sets its internal rules autonomously, within the limits of the treaties.

This offers the European Parliament wide discretion with regard to its internal organisation.

The treaties (rather self-evidently) make it clear that the European Parliament has to have a President.


President or Speaker?

Less obvious but given is that this leading figure is called President in the English version, not for instance Speaker.

If we look at a few language versions of Article 14(4) TEU, we get the following results:


4. El Parlamento Europeo elegirá a su Presidente y a la Mesa de entre sus diputados.


(4) Das Europäische Parlament wählt aus seiner Mitte seinen Präsidenten und sein Präsidium.


4. The European Parliament shall elect its President and its officers from among its members.


4. Le Parlement européen élit parmi ses membres son président et son bureau.


4. Euroopan parlamentti valitsee jäsentensä keskuudesta puhemiehen ja puhemiehistön.


4. Europaparlamentet ska välja sin ordförande och sitt presidium bland sina ledamöter.


Three of the versions, two belonging to founding member states, use comparable expressions domestically and with regard to the European Parliament.

The French Assemblée nationale (National Assembly) has a Président, and the European Parliament uses the same term. The Deutscher Bundestag (Germany’s Parliament) has a Bundestagspräsident, so the national terminology and the EP terms are in line. The lower house in Spain (Congreso de los Diputados) has a Presidente.

None of the other three were among the initial member states of the ECSC and the EEC. There are small variations in the terms employed:

The UK House of Commons is led by the Speaker, but the EP has a President.

The Finnish version uses ’puhemies’ meaning Speaker, in line with national parliamentary custom.

The Swedish treaty version has opted for ‘ordförande’, the general term for Chair(man), although the Swedish Parliament has a ‘talman’ (Speaker).


EP Rules of Procedure

The EP’s Rules of Procedure (16th edition, October 2008) have more on the President of the European Parliament:

According to Rule 11(1), at the first sitting after the European elections and any other sitting held for the purpose of electing the President and the Bureau, the oldest MEP present takes the Chair until the President has been elected.



Rule 12 provides that the President has to be nominated by a political group or by at least forty members. The President is elected by secret ballot.

The rule favours a package to be negotiated in advance, because the second paragraph expresses the wish to achieve a fair representation of member states and political views when electing the President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors:

Rule 12 Nominations and general provisions

1. The President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors shall be elected by secret ballot, in accordance with the provisions of Rule 162. Nominations shall be with consent. They may only be made by a political group or by at least forty Members. However, if the number of nominations does not exceed the number of seats to be filled, the candidates may be elected by acclamation.

2. In the election of the President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors, account should be taken of the need to ensure an overall fair representation of Member States and political views.


Election of President

Rule 13 gives more details about the election of the President:

Rule 13 Election of President - opening address

1. The President shall be elected first. Nominations shall be handed before each ballot to the oldest Member, who shall announce them to Parliament. If after three ballots no candidate has obtained an absolute majority of the votes cast, the fourth ballot shall be confined to the two Members who have obtained the highest number of votes in the third ballot. In the event of a tie the elder candidate shall be declared elected.

2. As soon as the President has been elected, the oldest Member shall vacate the Chair. Only the elected President may deliver an opening address.


Term of office

The term of office of the President is two and a half years (Rule 16), meaning that the EP normally elects a President twice during its five year term.


Duties of the President

The President directs the activities of the European Parliament, presides over the proceedings and represents the Parliament:

Rule 19 Duties of the President

1. The President shall direct all the activities of Parliament and its bodies under the conditions laid down in these Rules and shall enjoy all the powers necessary to preside over the proceedings of Parliament and to ensure that they are properly conducted.

2. The duties of the President shall be to open, suspend and close sittings; to rule on the admissibility of amendments, on questions to the Council and Commission, and on the conformity of reports with these Rules; to ensure observance of these Rules, maintain order, call upon speakers, close debates, put matters to the vote and announce the results of votes; and to refer to committees any communications that concern them.

3. The President may speak in a debate only to sum up or to call speakers to order. Should he wish to take part in a debate, he shall vacate the Chair and shall not reoccupy it until the debate is over.

4. Parliament shall be represented in international relations, on ceremonial occasions and in administrative, legal or financial matters by the President, who may delegate these powers.

(Explanation: Rule 19(1) can be interpreted as meaning that the powers conferred by that Rule include the power to call an end to the excessive use of motions such as points of order, procedural motions, explanations of vote and requests for separate, split or roll-call votes where the President is convinced that these are manifestly intended to cause and will result in a prolonged and serious obstruction of the procedures of the House or the rights of other Members.

The powers conferred by this Rule include the power to put texts to the vote in an order other than that set out in the document to be voted on. By analogy with the provisions of Rule 155(7), the President may seek the agreement of Parliament before doing so.)


In coming posts we look at the EP officers.

Ralf Grahn

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