In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The European Parliament

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks and Historical Accounts
  • Journals
  • Data Sources
  • European Parliament Elections
  • Candidate Selection and Electoral Campaigning
  • Career Motivations and Legislative Activity
  • Party Group Cohesion
  • Party Competition and Coalitions
  • Roll-Call Vote Bias
  • Legislative Organization and Parliamentary Committees
  • Legislative Organization and Office Allocation
  • Bicameralism and the Division of Legislative Power in the EU
  • Informal Negotiations and Interinstitutional Legislative Agreements
  • Parliamentary Oversight of the Executive

Political Science The European Parliament
Nikoleta Yordanova
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0341


The European Parliament (EP) has experienced an unprecedented transformation since its first direct elections in 1979 and developed into one of the most powerful legislatures in the world. It started as a talking shop assembly of legislators seconded from the national parliaments of the European Communities’ member states who met twice a year. Now it co-decides on nearly all European Union (EU) legislation, approves the EU budget together with member state governments represented by the EU Council, scrutinizes the EU executive (i.e., the European Commission), and needs to give its consent for any new international trade agreement of the EU. This spectacular evolution has stimulated prolific research on the EP’s elections, internal organization, relations with other EU institutions, and policy impact. This bibliographical review does not purport to include all the important contributions but rather offers a map of this rich scholarly work. This article summarizes EP research into four streams. First, scholars have investigated the ability of the EP election to effectively link the EU to its citizens and increase its legitimacy and accountability. Second, an extensive body of work analyzes party competition and cooperation in the EP. A related third stream of literature studies the parliamentary organization and committees. Fourth, scholars have developed elaborate theoretical models and empirical tools to investigate the power relations between the EP and other EU institutions. These debates are discussed after a brief review of major data sources used in EP studies as well as key textbooks and journal venues for research on the EP.

Textbooks and Historical Accounts

The unprecedented development of the European Parliament (EP) in just over four decades has fascinated many. Nine consecutive editions of Jacobs, et al. 2019 provide an excellent overview of the parliamentary internal setup, operation, and competences from a practitioners’ perspective. Judge and Earnshaw 2008 is one of the first books to outline the EP organization and work from a scientific perspective. Ripoll Servent 2018 offers a comprehensive up-to-date introduction to the EP, situating it in the broader European Union (EU) political system and tracing its empowerment, setup, and functions. A handy literature review by Hix and Høyland 2013 surveys the main analytical work on the EP over the years. Another body of literature analyzes the puzzling speedy and substantial EP empowerment, unparalleled in the national parliaments of the EU member states. Drawing on new institutionalism and democratic theory, Rittberger 2005 analyzes the legislative and budgetary powers of the EP since the Treaty of Rome. In a recent theoretically driven account of the EP empowerment, Héritier, et al. 2019 explains the growth of the parliamentary legislative, budgetary, and oversight competences, as well as the increased EP say over the EU’s external trade relations and economic governance. Similarly, Rittberger 2014 studies the reforms of the EU’s economic governance in the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis and its implications for the EP’s institutional powers. Ripoll Servent 2015 points instead to the decreased activism of the EP in defending civil liberties as a result of its legislative empowerment and need to become a full partner in negotiations with the other EU institutions. The transformation of the EP’s institutional powers and its policy objectives appear to be interdependent.

  • Héritier, Adrienne, Katharina L. Meissner, Catherine Moury, and Magnus G. Schoeller. European Parliament Ascendant Parliamentary Strategies of Self-Empowerment in the EU. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-16777-6

    A theoretically compelling, methodologically rigorous, and empirically rich analysis of the EP self-empowerment since the Treaty of Rome across institutional functions and policy areas.

  • Hix, Simon, and Bjørn Høyland. “Empowerment of the European Parliament.” Annual Review of Political Science 16 (2013):171–189.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-032311-110735

    A succinct, yet comprehensive review of the theoretical and empirical research on the EP over the past decades, what we have learned and what we do not yet know.

  • Jacobs, Francis, Richard Corbett, and Michael Shackleton. The European Parliament. 9th ed. London: Routledge, 2019.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780429310645

    A premier textbook on the EP from an insiders’ perspective, this book is a must first read for those unfamiliar with the EP, its composition, organization, powers, and work.

  • Judge, David, and David Earnshaw. The European Parliament. 2d ed. The European Union Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-07775-2

    One of the first comprehensive textbooks on the origin, elections, representational role, internal organization, and work of the EP from a scientific perspective.

  • Ripoll Servent, Ariadna. Institutional and Policy Change in the European Parliament Deciding on Freedom, Security and Justice. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137410559

    An in-depth study of the EP’s legislative empowerment and its negative impact on parliamentary activism in the defense of civil liberties.

  • Ripoll Servent, Ariadna. The European Parliament. Houndsmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-40709-2

    A recent textbook tracing the development of the EP and its inner workings, placing it in the broader political system of the EU.

  • Rittberger, Berthold. Building Europe’s Parliament: Democratic Representation Beyond the Nation State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1093/0199273421.001.0001

    An original account of why the national governments of EU member states have endowed the EP with significant supervisory, budgetary, and legislative powers, drawing on new institutionalism and democratic theory and relying on archival material. The book argues that political elites significantly empowered the EP to address the “democratic deficit” problem of the EU.

  • Rittberger, Berthold. “Integration without Representation? The European Parliament and the Reform of Economic Governance in the EU.” JCMS-Journal of Common Market Studies 52.6 (2014):1174–1183.

    DOI: 10.1111/jcms.12185

    An examination of legitimacy‐seeking and interinstitutional bargaining arguments to explain the conditions under which the EP’s struggle for more power was successful in the context of various EU governance reforms adopted in the aftermath of the Euroscrisis.

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