The European Parliament is holding most of its plenary sittings in Strasbourg, usually during one week each month, although plenary sittings are occasionally held in Brussels as well. During the session weeks in Strasbourg, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are spending part of their time in the hemicycle, where the actual debates and votes take place, but are also busy with numerous additional activities.
Presence of MEPs in Strasbourg
Being present in Strasbourg during session weeks is an essential part of the work of any MEP. It is not possible to take part in votes on decisions of the European Parliament without being present at the plenary sessions. Apart from MEPs who are unable to attend because of illness or similarly important reasons, almost all of them are thus attending the session weeks in Strasbourg.
The official attendance lists of any given session day can be consulted in the section of the EP website containing the minutes of plenary sittings by first clicking on a date in the calendar and then, on the following page, on “Attendance Register”.
Presence in the hemicycle and duration of sittings
It is a general characteristic of the work of the European Parliament that not all MEPs are continuously sitting in the hemicycle throughout the plenary sessions. This would hardly be possible, if only for the duration of the sittings: On a typical session day, the sitting often begins at 9:00 in the morning (or even earlier) and lasts until 23:00 at night.
The agendas of all plenary sittings are accessible by selecting a date in the calendar of the plenary agendas section of the EP website.
Committee work and specialisation of MEPs
MEPs are also working if they are not present in the hemicycle. For instance, the subject-specific committees of the European Parliament are doing extensive work on each legislative proposal before it is tabled for plenary. MEPs are usually full members of one such committee and substitute members of another one. An overview of all committees of the European Parliament is available on the European Parliament website.
Naturally, this specialisation of MEPs by subject makes itself felt at the plenary sittings as well: If a particular topic is debated in plenary, primarily the different political groups’ experts for the given subject area are attending the debate, rather than all MEPs. Due to the limited speaking time available, it would not be possible for all MEPs to contribute to every debate anyway.
Other activities outside the hemicycle
Spending all day in the hemicycle would not be compatible with other tasks of the MEPs either, who are usually expected to attend plenty of other meetings that are taking place in parallel, including meetings of the political groups, press conferences, meetings with visitors from an MEP’s constituency, etc.
Live streaming of the plenary
Furthermore, MEPs always have the possibility to watch a live video stream of the plenary sitting from their offices or any other computer if they wish to follow certain parts of the sitting without actively taking part in it.
It is worth noting that a huge majority of MEPs is usually present in the hemicycle during voting time. Only MEPs who are personally present are allowed to take part in the votes. During voting time, the plenary doesn’t debate anymore but takes its decisions on issues that have usually been debated before.