The European Parliament’s (EP) primary raison d’être is the representation of the EU citizens, providing its members with the necessary argumentative basis to claim: There is no democratic legitimacy in EU politics without us! – Whereas this claim is the same today as it was almost 70 years ago, the Assembly which was established as part of the European Communities in the 1950s had little in common with today’s EP. Indeed, the institution was not intended by the founding treaties to be more than a consultative assembly with some power of control over the Communities’ executive. Accordingly, its members (MEPs) were no directly elected full-time Euro-parliamentarians, but delegates from the member states’ national parliaments for whom the EP mandate constituted just one of many parliamentary tasks. Nevertheless, most early MEPs behaved as if they sat in a fully-fledged supranational parliament already.
On 18 March 2021, I will give a talk on the early European Parliament’s role in the democratisation of the European Communities at the conference ‘Democracy in the Construction of Europe‘ (organised by Sara Lorenzini, Umberto Tulli and Gabriele D’Ottavio from the University of Trento’s same-named Jean Monnet project). In my talk, I will discuss how MEPs organized working routines and procedures within the EP according to their ideas of what the EP should become, rather than with respect to the powers it formally held. By presenting the EP as the Communities’ parliament acting in the citizens’ interest, MEPs sought to emphasise their institution’s role as provider of democratic legitimacy for Community policy-making. In so doing, the delegates hoped to convince the member states’ citizens of the added value of closer European integration whilst simultaneously enhancing their own institution’s position. Even though they could build their parliamentary activism on little more than the EP’s power of deliberation, the early MEPs achieved a series of noteworthy successes in their pursuit of turning the EP into a supranational parliament.