Does the European Parliament have powers similar to the US Congress? Or is it more of a symbolic political body with not as much power?
The EU has parallels with the US, but fundamentally the EU is a union of sovereign states, not a sovereign union of states. So more power is put into the individual member states, both in terms of the laws they can make for themselves and for setting the agenda for the EU.
The Parliament is broadly equivalent to the US House of Representatives. They are directly elected, with smaller countries getting proportionally more representatives (for example Malta has 6 with a population of less than half a million). They debate, propose amendments and vote on bills. But one key difference is that they can’t propose new bills.
There’s the “Council of the European Union”, which you could compare to the US Senate. Each country in the EU gets one vote in that. Although each country doesn’t elect a “senator”, they country just send whoever is appropriate for discussing each particular issue. Similar to how the US Congress works, both of these institutions must pass a bill before it becomes law.
This is where it gets a bit different from the US. The EU Commission is the executive branch of the EU, but is also responsible for proposing bills to the Parliament/Council of the European Union. Each country has 1 commissioner, but those commissioners are not meant to be representing their country, they are supposed to act in the interests of the EU as a whole.
One of the commissioners is the President of the Commission. They’re not exactly comparable to the US President though, they are the President of the specific institution rather than being “President of the EU”.
Finally there’s the “European Council”. Confusingly similar name to the “Council of the European Union”, but it’s a different thing. That is made up of all the head of government of each member state, plus a President. It sets the overall agenda, direction and priorities for the EU. It’s a bit like a collective presidency.
It does not have as much power as Congress, although Congress would be the right analogue. The European Parliament basically gets paid to do a lot of nothing…
To be honest they discuss laws proposed by the European Commission, can propose amendments to these laws and in the end they have to approve the laws for them to be enacted (but the Council of the European Union also has to approve). The same goes for the EU budget, but that’s it.