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European Parliament Delegations Explained

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Members of the European Parliament form official groups – delegations – with ties to regions and organizations, as well as parliaments, in non-EU countries. Parliament has expanded its impact EU in foreign policy in recent decades, and its delegations are a key component of its diplomatic work.

The European Parliament’s delegations are official groups of Members who build ties to countries, regions or organizations outside the European Union (EU). There are two main types of delegations: permanent (‘standing’) delegations and ad-hoc delegations, which Parliament can create on a case-by-case basis to focus on particular developments in a country or region. Standing delegations belong in three subgroups: parliamentary assemblies, inter-parliamentary committees, and other inter-parliamentary teams. Standing delegations meet regularly in Brussels and Strasbourg to assess and discuss the situation in their partner countries and on their respective ties to the EU. The delegations invite external experts to share their views: representatives from embassies or universities, or staff from the European Union’s External Action Service (EEAS), for example. The delegations also invite members of the political opposition or civil society in a given country, to give them a voice at their meetings. In addition, they hold meetings with parliaments from the relevant countries: ‘inter-parliamentary meetings’. These activities help form and further relations between Members and their counterparts in countries outside the EU.

Rules and responsibilities

According to Rule 223(5) of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, the Conference of Presidents adopts the rules for the delegations on a proposal from the Conference of Delegation Chairs. The rules applying to them are set out in the Conference of Presidents’ decision of 29 October 2015. They maintain and develop Parliament’s international contacts and contribute to enhancing the role and visibility of the European Union in the world. The rules also specify that delegation activities shall aim at maintaining and enhancing contacts with parliaments of states that are traditionally EU partners. On the other hand, they shall contribute to promoting in third countries the fundamental values of the European Union: the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law (Article 6 of the Treaty on the EU). Parliament’s international contacts foster, wherever possible and appropriate, the parliamentary dimension of international relations.

The standing delegations: composition and work

The European Parliament currently – at the beginning of the ninth legislature (2019-2024) – has 44 standing delegations; the same number as in the previous legislature. Following the 2019 election, Parliament adopted a decision on the numerical strength of its inter-parliamentary del’s. It lists the delegations operating during this term, and the number of Members each one includes. The distribution and size of delegations may differ from one term to the next. For example, a single delegation covered Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in the seventh legislative term (2009-2014). Since 2014, four separate delegations have dealt with relations with these countries.

The number of Members in a given delegation corresponds to the number of parliamentarians from the respective partner country/countries. The work of the delegations also varies according to the partner. For example, the Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) delegation is established under the Cotonou Agreement. In the ACP delegation, two plenary sessions with the entire joint assembly are complemented with regional meetings. In some of them, the work is mainly based on invitation, where some countries are prioritized for visits. The voice of the delegations has major potential to amplify messages.

See also EPRS Briefings on ‘Connecting parliamentary and executive diplomacy at EU and Member State level’ and ‘The European Parliament’s evolving soft power’, September 2019.

What are the different types of standing delegations?

Parliamentary assemblies are regular, formal meetings of elected representatives from several parliaments. Currently, 5 of Parliament’s 44 delegations participate in parliamentary assemblies, namely the Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (DNAT), the Delegation to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the Delegation to the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, the Delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, and the Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean. In most cases, Parliament’s delegation is the largest single delegation at the assembly. The number of Members constitutes approximately half the total number of delegates. One exception is the DNAT, where the delegation size is limited to ten Members.

Inter-parliamentary committees are mostly bilateral. European Parliament delegations meet their counterparts from a country/countries in formal meetings, held on a regular basis. Inter-parliamentary committees differ according to the type of bilateral agreement establishing them, between the EU and the respective country. These include Parliamentary Association Committees, Parliamentary Cooperation Committees, Joint Parliamentary Committees or Stabilization and Association Parliamentary Committees. Parliament currently has 15 delegations participating in 23 parliamentary committees.

Other inter-parliamentary delegations form the largest group (25 out of the total number of 44), which work with relations with individual countries or a group of countries. The ‘inter-parliamentary meetings’ – in which they meet with their counterparts – are not held on a regular basis, and do not have their own rules, although they follow the general provisions for delegations.

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