Historical Archives By / May 16, 2017

The political impact of the European Parliament in the 1980s

Written by Christian Salm, Research on the history of the EU has mainly covered the impact of the nation states…

Written by Christian Salm,

EPRS roundtable discussion - ' The political impact of the European Parliament in the 1980s: Writing EU history '

Research on the history of the EU has mainly covered the impact of the nation states and their governments on the European integration process. Consequently, historical research on the role of the EU’s supranational institutions has been neglected. There are only a few exceptions where historical studies reconstruct the influence of the European Commission on various dimensions of European integration. One example is two volumes on the history of the Commission, which give an inside view of this institution in the 1970s and 1980s. Source-based comprehensive historical research on the European Parliament, explaining its development since it foundation in the 1950s, does not exist. An EPRS project on the history of the Parliament will partly remedy this gap in the existing historiography on the EU. The project seeks to research the character and culture of the first two directly-elected European Parliaments, from June 1979 to May 1989, and the role they played in the institutional development of the Community and in the launching of the single market programme.

On 10 March 2017, EPRS organised a roundtable discussion to launch this history project. It brought together academics Birte Wassenberg (Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Strasbourg), Wolfram Kaiser (Professor of European Studies at the University of Portsmouth), and Laurent Warlouzet (Professor of Contemporary History at the Université de Boulogne), who will all write on the subject for the project. In addition, Gijs de Vries, a prominent MEP (NL, ELDR) from 1984 onwards participated in the roundtable discussion and described his personal experiences as an MEP in the 1980s. EPRS Director-General, Anthony Teasdale, opened the roundtable, emphasising that the EPRS history project will seek to raise awareness among new generations of the work of the Parliament in the past, when it made a substantial impact, despite having only limited powers.

EPRS roundtable discussion - ' The political impact of the European Parliament in the 1980s: Writing EU history 'Birte Wassenberg, who is carrying out a study on the character, composition and culture of the first two directly elected Parliaments, underlined the importance of the first direct election of June 1979 to understanding the Parliament’s character and culture in the 1980s in her presentation. She argued that the first direct election not only gave the Parliament a more democratic outlook, but also contributed to increasing the Parliament’s confidence to become an engine for democratisation in Europe and the world. Among other important aspects on the Parliament’s character, composition and culture, Wassenberg’s study will tackle questions such as: Did the Parliament’s direct elections lead to an increase in representativeness? How did direct elections affect affiliation and political developments inside the Parliament’s various bodies?

Moving from Parliament’s culture and character to its influence on European policy-making in the 1980s, Wolfram Kaiser, responsible for the study on the Parliament’s impact on the institutional development of the Community, underlined that the Parliament created a trajectory for its own advocacy of institutional reform from the time of its foundation in the 1950s onwards. Looking at the 1980s, Kaiser stated that in the Draft Treaty on European Union, adopted by Members in 1984, the Parliament saw its main contribution to the renewed debate of the time regarding institutional reforms at the European level. His final study will seek, inter alia, to demonstrate how futile it is to judge the impact of the Parliament on European policy-making, not based on its limited formal legal power in the 1980s, but with a focus on how the Parliament, political groups and individual MEPs used networks and expertise to advance particular positions on the policy regarding legislative issues within the context of institutional development.

Laurent Warlouzet, writing on the Parliament’s impact on launching and completing the single market programme, began his presentation by arguing that the Parliament asserted its role in policy-making in the 1980s by rejecting two draft Community budgets, in 1979 and 1984. Using the example of various Parliament reports, Warlouzet stressed that the European Parliament was able to take an intellectual role in the debate on how to design and set up the single market programme. Further topics that Warlouzet’s study will capture include, for example, Parliament’s interactions with the Commission, the Council and the Communities’ Member States in defining the single market agenda, and the practical work of the Parliament in amending single market legislation proposed by the Commission.

The concluding discussion focused on methodological issues related to all three studies. Speakers underlined that they will use a wide range of historical sources, especially from the European Parliament’s historical archives. The three studies are expected to be published in spring 2018.

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