The European Parliament (EP) holds significant powers in today’s European Union. Yet it was not intended to be more than a consultative assembly at the founding of the European Communities in the 1950s. As a result, most scholars have thus far largely ignored the EP’s role in European policy-making processes prior to its significant legislative power gains through the Single European Act (1986) and the Maastricht Treaty (1992). This research project, however, has revealed that the early EP must not be considered a powerless ‘talking shop’. Instead, the EP was much more influential in shaping Community law and policy-making already in the 1950s to 1970s than either the founding Treaties or most existing scholarship would allow. Long before the Parliament was assigned formal powers, Members of the EP (MEPs) – delegates from the national parliaments at the time – succeeded in gaining institutional and political influence by interpreting narrow Treaty provisions to their broadest possible extent. Through the MEPs’ supranational-level activism, the EP thus developed gradually but lastingly into a powerful co-legislator even prior to its first direct elections in 1979.

This research project demonstrates that this supranational-level activism was driven first and foremost by MEPs’ shared ideas of ever closer integration, and was facilitated further by the growing willingness of the other Community institutions and member state governments to accept the EP’s increasing involvement. Such growing willingness, in turn, was based on the successful positioning of the EP as the sole guarantor of democratic legitimacy for Community policy-making. Moreover, a range of exogenous developments such as crises, technological and societal developments provided fertile ground for MEPs’ endeavours to promote closer integration and enhance their institution’s influence. Hence, the EP’s gain in formal power from the late 1970s and 1980s was the result, not the beginning, of institutionalisation processes within the EP that eventually led to increasingly formalised and institutionalised parliamentary influence.

This research project is based, amongst other sources, on personal accounts by former MEPs and EP staff. Find more information on the interviews I conducted with contemporary witnesses about the early EP’s functioning and development here.

Connected publications

Intra-party group unity in the European Parliament prior to its first direct elections in 1979. Parliamentary Affairs, 72:2 (2019), pp. 464-479.

Die informelle Entwicklung einer supranationalen Co-Legislative: Das Europäische Parlament, 1952-1979. In Christian Henrich-Franke, Claudia Hiepel, Guido Thiemeyer & Henning Türk (eds.): Grenzüberschreitende institutionalisierte Zusammenarbeit von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart, Baden-Baden: Nomos (2019), pp. 417-446.

La politique du Parlement européen sur l’égalité des sexes avant 1979: une réussite inattendue. In Anne-Laure Briatte, Éliane Gubin & Françoise Thébaud (eds.): L’Europe, une chance pour les femmes? Le genre de la construction européenne, Paris: Éditions de la Sorbonne (2019), pp. 105-114.

Far Beyond the Treaties’ Clauses: The European Parliament’s Gain in Power, 1952-1979. Journal of Contemporary European Research, 3:2 (2017), pp. 1055-1075.