My research on the institutional evolution of the European Parliament (EP) prior to its first direct elections in 1979 builds to a significant extent on personal accounts by former Members of the EP (MEPs), and by members of staff of different European institutions. In the context of this research project, I conducted semi-structured interviews with MEPs from all member states and party groups represented in the EP prior to 1979. In addition, I collected a range of personal accounts via written exchanges with MEPs and staff, partly as supplement to the conducted interviews, and partly because some of the contacted persons were not able, for reasons of health or other, to arrange a direct interview. The table below provides an overview of the personal accounts collected.

Name and gender (m=male, f=female) Date and place of the interview National party EP party group* MEP / EP staff member from/to
Renato Ballardini (m) Riva del Garda, 17.01.2017 Partito Socialista, Italy SG 1969-1974
Georges Clerfayt (m) Phone interview, 12.07.2017 Front démocratique francophone, Belgium NA 1975-1977
Anthony Brown (m) Dublin, 15.02.2017 [Special Advisor to the Irish Minister of Social Welfare Frank Cluskey, Labour Party]
John Alexander Corrie (m) Phone interview, 21.09.2016 Conservative and Unionist Party, Scottland ConG 1975, 1977-1979, 1994-2004
Jean-Pierre Cot (m) Hamburg, 25.09.2017 Parti socialiste, France SG 1978-1979, 1984-1999
Karen Marie Dahlerup (f) Copenhagen, 01.04.2017 Socialdemokratiet, Denmark SG 1977-1979, 1979-1980
Doeke Eisma (m) Phone interviews, 21. and 27.10.2016 Democraten 66, Netherlands SG 1973-1974, 1981-1984, 1994-1999
Maarten Engwirda (m) Phone interview, 12.05.2017 Democraten 66, Netherlands NA 1971-1973
Ole Espersen (m) Phone interviews, 01.06.2017 Socialdemokratiet, Denmark SG 1974-1977
Arnaldo Ferragni (m) Series of e-mails, March 2018 CDG 1960-1972
Colette Flesch (f) Luxembourg-Ville, 13.10.2016 Demokratesch Partei, Luxembourg LAG 1969-1979, 1979-1980, 1984-1985, 1989-1990, 1999-2004
Lothar Ibrügger (m) Brussels, 18.02.2017 Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, Germany SG 1978-1979
Liam Kavanagh (m) Phone interview, 02.09.2016 Labour Party, Ireland SG 1973-1979, 1979-1981
Astrid Lulling (f) Schifflange, 30.09.2015 Sozialistesch Aarbechterpartei, then Sozial-Demokratesch Partei, then Chrëstlech-Sozial Vollekspartei, Luxembourg SG 1965-1974, 1989-2014
Charles McDonald (m) Dublin, 14.02.2017 Fine Gael, Ireland CDG 1973-1979
Hans Werner-Müller (m) Wadern, 12.06.2017 Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, Germany CDG 1977-1979
Fionnuala Richardson (f) Dublin, 14.02.2017 SG 1974-1988
Jacques Santer (m) Luxembourg-Ville, 12.09.2016 Chrëstlech-Sozial Vollekspartei, Luxembourg CDG 1974-1979, 1979, 1999-2004
Heinz Schreiber (m) Phone interviews, 27. and 28.06. and 11.08.2017 Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, Germany SG 1977-1979, 1984-1989
Horst Seefeld (m) Series of phone interviews and e-mails, February to October 2017 Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, Germany SG 1970-1979, 1979-1989
Vera Squarcialupi (f) Milan, 18.01.2017 non-affiliated, Italy ComG 1976-1979, 1979-1989
Dick Taverne (m) London, 10.11.2016 Labour Party, then Social Democratic Party, then Liberal Party, UK NA 1973-1974
Alain Terrenoire (m) Paris, 20.06.2017 Union des démocrates pour la République, France EPDG 1973-1978
Arie van der Hek (m) Phone interview, 19.10.2016 Partij van der Arbeid, Netherlands SG 1973-1977
Werner Zywietz (m) Phone interview, 21.09.2016 Freie Demokratische Partei Deutschlands, Germany LAG 1977-1979

*CDG = Christian Democratic Group, SG = Socialist Group, LAG = Liberals & Allies Group, ComG = Communist Group, EPDG = European Progressive Democratic Group, ConG = Conservative Group, NA = non-affiliated.

Interviews were between half an hour and five hours long, with an average length of approximately two hours. Contacts could be established with the help of the Historical Archives of the European Parliament and the European Parliament Former Members Association, and later with the help of interviewees themselves. The interview material was analysed based on oral history methodology (see e.g. Thompson & Bornat 2017; Ritchie 2015; McGrath 2009): the material was contextualised, filtered, and cross-checked – as far as possible – through the consultation of archival documents from the EP and other Community bodies, and of secondary literature, as well as through similar questions to other MEPs and follow-up interviews with individual interviewees. Such careful treatment of the interviewees’ statements was necessary because, for one reason or other, some contemporary witnesses tend to generalisation, nostalgia, the mixing up of details, or the presentation of some facts in a way to appear in the best possible light.

Questions to contemporary witnesses

All interviewees were asked the same catalogue of questions, in addition to which specific details from their own experience were discussed in more detail. The questions dealt with MEPs’ perceptions of the EP and its powers in general, with procedures, structures and everyday working routines in the EP and contacts with the other Community institutions, with MEPs’ individual engagement in the EP and their double mandate, with MEPs’ attitudes towards European integration and the role the EP played therein, and with the EP’s social policy. Moreover, the interviewees were asked about their personal background, the reasons for which they entered the EP and why they left it, and what other national, European or international experiences they had that stood in any relation to their European mandates.

The interviewed members of EP staff were asked questions similar to the first part of the questions addressed to the MEPs, namely about the functioning and everyday working procedures of the EP, about inter- and intra-institutional relations, and about dominating ideas and norms in the EP not only among MEPs, but also among members of staff. Unfortunately, I was unable to contact more former members of staff, both because of difficulties in obtaining contact details, and because of a lack of time and resources. However, I was able to gather more information from the staff perspective since a number of interviewed MEPs themselves experienced the EP in that role, having worked in the EP or another Community body prior to or after holding an EP mandate. Furthermore, a number of MEPs could give insights into the cooperation of the Council with the EP, because they later became ministers in their national governments and thus members of the Council (among them Jean-Pierre Cot, Ole Espersen, Colette Flesch, Liam Kavanagh, and Jacques Santer).

Bias of the sample

The table above shows that the sample of personal accounts is not entirely balanced with regard to nationality, EP party group, and gender. The gender bias has its roots in the fact that only very few women sat in the EP prior to 1979 (for an overview of the EP’s female delegates prior to its first direct elections, see ‘Europe’s First Women‘, by the European Parliamentary Research Service). The bias regarding nationality and party group is based on a number of factors. First and foremost, the few former delegates who sat in the EP prior to 1979 and who are still alive have reached an advanced age, which complicated the process of getting in touch with them, not least because phone or post were often the only media available to reach them, but addresses and phone numbers could not always be found.

Once an interview could be conducted, however, interviewees occasionally provided contact details of former colleagues, allowing me to get in touch with additional contemporary witnesses via a snowball effect. It seems that Socialist MEPs on the one hand, and German MEPs on the other hand remained particularly well connected also after their time in the EP, which is one of the reasons why both groups are somewhat over-represented in the sample. Another possible reason for the high number of interviewees from the Socialist Group lies in the comparatively high number of younger Socialist MEPs prior to 1979: ca. 18 per cent of all Socialist MEPs who sat in the EP prior to 1979 were younger than 40, compared to ca. 7.5 per cent of Christian Democratic MEPs, and ca. 12 per cent of Liberal MEPs. This, too, may be a reason why particularly many former Socialist MEPs were able and willing to share their experiences.

Finally, the sample of personal accounts is biased with regard to the period it covers: hardly any MEP could be found who held a European mandate in the 1950s or early 1960s. Most interviewees sat in the EP during the 1970s, and only a small number had entered the EP already in the second half of the 1960s. Notwithstanding these imbalances, the interviews that were conducted offer a valuable and indeed necessary fundament of this research, as they provide information which is not accessible to that extent elsewhere. Given how small the EP was at the time, how comparatively low the level of fundamental controversies was, and how relatively united MEPs strove for common political and institutional aims (as analysed in more detail in the different publications resulting from the research project), the bias of the sample does not diminish its immense added value for the research project.

Getting access to the raw material

The personal accounts I collected contain extensive information on the EP’s institutional evolution, its functioning and institutional structure (notably with regard to its party-group and committee system). The period covered by interviewees goes well beyond the EP’s first direct elections in 1979: many of the contemporary witnesses were actively involved in politics at the European level until the 1990s or even 2000s. The personal accounts also include detailed insights into EP and Community policy-making in a wide range of policy areas, such as agricultural, development, economic, employment, monetary, social and trade policy.

This collected material may provide helpful input to scholars studying any aspect falling into the areas mentioned above. If you are studying the EP with a focus on any of the listed policy areas, the EP’s institutional structure, the behaviour of its members (both MEPs and staff), or its institutional development more generally, and if you are interested in gaining access to the interview data, please do not hesitate to get in touch.