Since the early days of the European Communities, it has always been the tradition for each new President of the Commission, on taking office, to deliver a general policy statement before the European Parliament.
The Historical Archives Unit has gathered together these statements by Commission Presidents, from Walter Hallstein, President of the first Commission of the European Economic Community, to Romano Prodi, who oversaw the biggest enlargement of the European Union.
In January 1958 the representatives of the governments of the six founding Member States designated the Members of the first Commission of the European Economic Community, to be presided over by Walter Hallstein.
Mr Hallstein gave his first speech before the European Parliamentary Assembly (as the European Parliament was known until 1962) in March 1958. In his statement he touched on several topics, such as the internal organisation of the Commission and its working place, the internal problems of the European Community, and the free-trade area. With regard to external relations, Mr Hallstein argued that the Community should not be afraid to play a role on the international stage.
At the end of his statement, Mr Hallstein underlined that the Commission’s relations with the Parliamentary Assembly would not be limited to discussions on the annual reports, but that the Commission would seek the opinion of the Assembly on every suitable occasion.
In 1967 Jean Rey was appointed President of the first single Commission of the European Community as established by the 1965 Merger Treaty. While he delivered a first statement at Parliament’s sitting on 19 July 1967, it was only on 20 September that he presented a more detailed overview of the tasks of the new Commission. Already in his initial speech, however, Mr Rey stressed the importance of relations with Parliament, declaring that the Commission would work in full agreement with it. In his second speech, he outlined the need to reinforce the Community’s institutions, and called for new policies in the fields of industry, energy, research and regional policy.
The appointment of Franco Maria Malfatti was confirmed in late May 1970 by the foreign ministers of the six founding Member States. He resigned on 21 March 1972 in order to participate in parliamentary elections in Italy, having been in office for only a year and a half. As President of the Commission, he delivered a first speech on 8 July 1970. On 15 September he again addressed Parliament with a statement on the activities of the Commission. In both statements the main topics were enlargement and the development of political and monetary cooperation.
On Mr Malfatti’s resignation, the Vice-President and Commissioner in charge of agriculture, Sicco Mansholt, was appointed President of the Commission. In keeping with tradition, Mr Mansholt addressed Parliament on 19 April 1972. In his speech, Mansholt raised the issues of enlargement, monetary and economic cooperation, the creation of a European identity and citizenship, the economic situation (in particular as regards inflation and the special drawing rights) and institutional reform. The Mansholt Commission’s term of office came to an end after nine months with the accession of Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
François-Xavier Ortoli was the first French President of the European Commission. Following the example of his predecessors, on taking office he delivered a statement on 16 January 1973, presenting the Commission’s annual work programme in a second statement on 13 February. In his first statement Mr Ortoli raised such issues as the problems associated with the Commission’s power of initiative, the strengthening of the budgetary powers of Parliament, the definition of an overall view of the Community’s relations with developing countries, and interinstitutional relations.
Roy Harris Jenkins was appointed President of the Commission in 1977, the first from one of the new Member States that had joined in 1973. In his first speech on 11 January 1977, ‘a statement of personal conviction and aspiration’, and in a second speech on 8 February 1977, the ‘Programme Speech’ , Mr Jenkins spoke of the need to distribute portfolios in the new Commission in order to ‘give emphasis to some developing and crucial policy areas and to bring more coherence to certain functions’, such as giving a greater role to the information activities of the Commission, creating a portfolio for the future enlargement and reforming the Common Agricultural Policy.
The Thorn Commission was the first to appear before a directly elected Parliament. After introducing the new Commission on 12 January 1981, Gaston Thorn presented its work programme on 11 February in Strasbourg. Given the context of the economic crisis occurring in the early 1980s, priority was given to a ‘plan of action for steering Europe’. Mr Thorn reminded Parliament of the complicated political situation in the world (given in particular the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the conflicts in the Middle East), pointing out that ‘Europe is still in the middle of the hotbed of tension between East and West’ and that ‘the people of Europe have a role to play as custodians of world peace’. The statement touched on issues such as the Community’s monetary, energy, social and regional policies, enlargement, and the role of the European institutions.
One of the longest-serving Presidents of the Commission, Jacques Delors presented the goals of the first Delors Commission on 14 January 1985. The President-elect stressed the need for decisive steps to be taken to promote: a Community-wide market; industrial cooperation; a strengthening of the European Monetary System; and the convergence of economies in order to hasten higher growth and employment.
In presenting the Commission’s programme on 12 March 1985, Mr Delors raised a number of issues, in particular enlargement (the accession of Spain and Portugal), the implications for labour markets of new technologies, and the need to improve the Community’s decision-making process. He also expressed his ‘aspiration for a cultural Europe’, saying that ‘we will defend and affirm our identity and cultural diversity in a world being transformed by information technology’.
The Santer Commission was the first to be assessed by Parliament in accordance with the new rule 33 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure on the vote of approval of the Commission, whereby, as part of the new investiture procedure, the President-elect proposed by the governments of the Member States is to make a statement before Parliament.
In his speech on 17 January 1995, Mr Santer addressed a wide range of issues. Giving precedence to aspects of the internal market, he called for efforts to create modern and efficient infrastructures in the areas of transport, energy and environment. Among other topics raised, he called for efforts to strengthen social cohesion, promote gender equality (‘fostering equality of the sexes is a democratic imperative’), combat social exclusion, ensure quality of life, address climate change, pursue effective systems of education and training, provide humanitarian aid and fight against fraud.
The Santer Commission’s work programme was presented on 15 February 1995.
‘It is time for some glasnost here! I want to bring Europe out from behind closed doors and into the light of public scrutiny’. These words by President-elect Romano Prodi express the essence of his statement before Parliament on 14 September 1999.
While the full Commission programme was not presented until later, on 15 February 2000, in his first statement Mr Prodi drew attention to five issues that he saw as the main challenges to the new Commission: the pursuits of enlargement, institutional reform, securing economic growth, creating new jobs and promoting sustainable development.
In his speech, Mr Prodi also insisted on the need to build ‘a union of hearts and minds [...] – a sense of common European citizenship’.
Copyright Photos: © European Union, 1960-1999, EC