Far Beyond the Treaties' Clauses: The European Parliament's Gain in Power before the SEA, Maastricht and Amsterdam

Mechthild Herzog

The European Parliament can be considered the boldest advocate for ever more European integration. Its members have been pushing for broad Community competences in economic, social and financial policy matters from the EP's first years of existence - a time in which member states struggled to agree on mere political rapprochement in major parts of the above-mentioned areas, and also a time in which the EP had, according to the Communities' founding treaties, in fact few parliamentary powers. This paper aims to show that despite the minor role assigned to it by the treaties, the EP developed into a factual co-legislator long before the Single European Act (SEA), the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, being able to amend Council regulations and directives, and exercising a certain level of control not only over the Commission, but also the Council through non-binding instruments such as questions, to whom both institutions regularly answered.This paper seeks to assess different strategies through which the MEPs aimed to gain more parliamentary power: among them is an intriguing change from overstating their power during the first three decades of the EP's existence (e.g. acting rather according to what the treaties did not explicitly forbid, instead of complying with the very limited treaty provisions dedicated to the institution); from the 1980s onwards, however, the MEPs chose strategically to understate their recently gained influence in order to gain the range of powers enjoyed by national parliaments in relation to their political executives. This paper seeks to refute dominant theories of the EP as a fairly powerless talking club prior to its first direct elections in 1979, demonstrating that treaty basis and political reality differed remarkably.

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