Introduction

Understanding the Delegations

The European Parliament's delegations are official groups of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) who develop relations with the parliaments of non-EU countries, regions or organisations.

At regular meetings in Brussels and Strasbourg, members of the delegations discuss the situation in their partners' countries and the links between the partners and the EU. The delegations invite experts who work outside the European Parliament - in embassies or universities, for example, or in the EU's diplomatic service - to give talks and exchange views with MEPs.

The delegations often invite guests whose voices might otherwise not be heard: members of the political opposition or members of civil society. Their presentations expand the MEPs' understanding during brief - often just one-hour - meetings.

The delegations also organise "inter-parliamentary meetings" where they have a chance to discuss issues directly with elected representatives from the countries they focus on.

These meetings are held at most twice a year and last for a few hours or days. They take place in alternating venues: for one meeting, MEPs will travel outside the EU, to the other parliament; and for the next, the MEPs will welcome their guests in the European Parliament.

When MEPs travel outside the EU for these meetings, they also try to meet with people outside the parliament and visit EU-funded projects.

The standing delegations

The European Parliament currently has 44 "standing" - in other words, permanent - delegations. This may change for the next legislative term, which begins in 2019. The Parliament could also decide to create ad hoc delegations to focus on a particular area in the meantime.

Just after the last election, Parliament passed a resolution "on the numerical strength of the interparliamentary delegations". This resolution lists the delegations operating during this term, and the number of MEPs each one includes.

From one term to another, the distribution and size of delegations may differ significantly. For example, in the previous legislative term (2009-2014), one delegation worked with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Since mid-2014, four separate delegations cover these countries.

Composition
The largest delegations are usually those that participate in "parliamentary assemblies", where several parliaments convene.

For example, there are 78 MEP in the European Parliament's delegation to the semi-annual forum that brings together all the parliaments of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries. When these MEPs travel to the assembly, they meet 78 parliamentarians - one from each of the 78 countries in the ACP group.

But such a large delegation is unusual, since most of the Parliament's delegations count 15 or fewer members. The smallest ones have just 8 members.
Whatever their size, all the delegations have the same structure: they have a Chair and two Vice-Chairs, who are elected by the delegation. All the members of the delegation are nominated by the Parliament's political groups, with the total composition of the delegation reflecting Parliament's overall political balance.

Every single MEP is a member of a delegation. Some belong to more than one.

Rules

The delegations must follow strict rules defined in an official document called the "Implementing provisions governing the work of delegations and missions outside the European Union".

This text lays out the general aim of the delegations: "maintaining and enhancing contacts with parliaments of States that are traditionally partners of the European Union and [...] promoting [...] the values on which the European Union is founded."

The provisions also describe how the Parliament's delegations should work with the Parliament's committees, and how their operations should respect Parliament's positions and standards.

In order to keep costs down, the number of members travelling outside the EU is also strictly controlled, with all trips requiring prior authorisation.

EP delegations, actors with a global reach

Presentation and responsibilities

Delegations shall maintain and develop Parliament's international contacts and contribute to enhancing the role and visibility of the European Union in the world.

Accordingly, delegation activities shall, on the one hand, be aimed at maintaining and enhancing contacts with parliaments of States that are traditionally partners of the European Union and, on the other hand, contribute to promoting in third countries the values on which the European Union is founded, namely the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law (Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union).

Parliament's international contacts shall be governed by the principles of public international law.

Parliament's international contacts shall be aimed at fostering, wherever possible and appropriate, the parliamentary dimension of international relations.

(Article 3, principles governing delegation activities adopted by the Conference of Presidents on 29 October 2015)

Types of delegations

All of the European Parliament's delegations reach out to parliamentarians in other countries, regions and organisations. But just how and where they meet depends on their type of delegation.

Parliamentary assemblies


One group of delegations participate in "parliamentary assemblies" - regular, formal meetings that bring together elected representatives from several parliaments. The European Parliament's delegation is just one of several at these assemblies.

In most cases, the European Parliament's delegation is the largest single delegation at the assembly, with the number of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) accounting for about half the total number of delegates. In a few cases, the European Parliament's representatives are a minority of the total delegates.

Currently, 5 of the European Parliament's 44 delegations participate in parliamentary assemblies. Examples include the Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (abbreviated as DNAT) and the Delegation to the Euro-Latin America Parliamentary Assembly (DLAT).

Inter-parliamentary committees

The European Parliament's delegations to inter-parliamentary "committees" meet their counterparts in regular, formal meetings. Most of these inter-parliamentary committees are bilateral: they involve the European Parliament and one other delegation, usually from a single country.

Inter-parliamentary committees may be called "Parliamentary Association Committees", "Parliamentary Cooperation Committees", "Joint Parliamentary Committees" or "Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committees", depending on a number of factors.

All these committees were created by bilateral agreements between the EU and the partner. The meetings follow strict "rules of procedures".

The European Parliament currently has 15 delegations that participate in 23 parliamentary committees. Examples include the Delegation to the EU-Mexico Joint Parliamentary Committee (D-MX) and the Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee (D-UA).

Other inter-parliamentary delegations

The largest group of delegations focus on "relations with" another country, or sometimes with a group of countries.

These delegations meet their fellow legislators in ordinary "inter-parliamentary meetings". The frequency of these meetings can vary according to the schedules and availability of the two partners. These meetings do not have their own rules, although they still adhere to the general "provisions" for delegations established by the European Parliament.

Most of the European Parliament's delegations - about 25 of the 44 total - fall into this category of inter-parliamentary delegations. Two examples are the Delegation for relations with Japan (D-JP) and the Delegation for relations with Canada (D-CA).

Conference of Delegation Chairs

The Conference of Delegation Chairs (CDC) is the political body in the European Parliament that coordinates the work of the house's 44 standing delegations.

The Conference ensures that the delegations work efficiently and in coordination with Parliament's other structures. Its regular meetings provide a forum to discuss issues and challenges common to the delegations.

Composition and Chair


The members of the Conference are the chairs of Parliament's 44 delegations and of the 3 committees that work on international relations.

One of the 44 chairs participating in the group is elected to be Chair of the Conference. He or she holds the position for a term of two-and-a-half years, or half of the European Parliament's five-year legislative term.

Currently, the Chair of the Conference of Delegation Chairs is Inés Ayala Sender. Her term will expire at the end of the Parliament's eighth term, in 2019.

A Spanish Member of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Ms Ayala Sender is also the Chair of the Delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and the Arab Maghreb Union, as well as a member of the Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean.

Scheduling

Meetings of the Conference of Delegation Chairs are usually held on the Tuesdays of Strasbourg sessions. This means there are 12 meetings in a year.

Twice a year, the Conference plans the next six-month calendar of delegation meetings. The draft calendar is submitted to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, International Trade and on Development. After that, the calendar is passed on to the "Conference of Presidents", the European Parliament's body that includes the President of the Parliament and the Chairs of the political groups.

The Conference of Presidents is responsible for approving the delegations' calendar.

Recommendations to and from other political bodies

The Conference of Delegation Chairs also sometimes submits proposals about the delegations' work to the Conference of Presidents.

The Conference of Presidents and the European Parliament's Bureau - another political body, made up of Parliament's president and vice-presidents - may delegate specific tasks to the Conference of Delegation Chairs.

Cooperation among delegations and between delegations and committees

By adopting common approaches and guidelines for delegations activities, the Conference of Delegation Chairs advocates best practices.

It also works with the "Conference of Committee Chairs" - a parallel political body that coordinates the work of committees.

In this way, Parliament's committees and delegations remain coordinated with one another.

And this, in turn, reinforces the European Parliament's scrutiny of EU foreign relations.

Framework

The Conference of Delegation Chairs is described in Parliament's Rules of Procedure.

In the current version of the Rules, Rule 30 covers the Conference with the following four clauses:

  1. The Conference of Delegation Chairs shall consist of the Chairs of all standing interparliamentary delegations. It shall elect its chair.
  2. In the absence of the Chair, the meeting of the Conference shall be chaired by the oldest Member present.
  3. The Conference of Delegation Chairs may make recommendations to the Conference of Presidents about the work of the delegations.
  4. The Bureau and the Conference of Presidents may instruct the Conference of Delegation Chairs to carry out specific tasks.