The European Parliament (EP) represents the citizens of the EU, being the only directly elected institution of the EU. It plays a major role in monitoring EU policies and in making recommendations to the Council of the EU and the European External Action Service (EEAS). Although it is the most active on human rights and supportive of civil society, it has little formal power or influence over EU foreign policy.
The 751 Members of the EP (MEPs) serve five-year terms. According to the size of its population, each Member State is allocated a certain number of seats. Once elected, MEPs elect a President that represents the institution externally and vis-à-vis others EU institutions.
On human rights issues, it is through parliamentary questions to the Council, Commission or EEAS that individual MEPs can publicise a situation and express concern. They can also recommend specific actions. Then, during the EP plenary, general resolutions pertaining to human rights, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Mediterranean region may be adopted as well as human rights urgency resolutions. Although not binding for other EU institutions, resolutions may call for action. Moreover, the EP issues an annual report on human rights and democracy in the world.
The EP organises its work through 20 parliamentary committees.
The committees relevant to human rights in the MENA region are:
- the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET),
- the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) – holding hearings, with NGO experts or representatives of civil society frequently invited, and adopting reports about country-specific or thematic human rights issues,
- the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM), and finally
- the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).
There are also 41 parliamentary delegations that maintain relations with parliaments in non-EU countries. The EP also has the capacity to send election observation missions.