Background
 

50 years of the European Parliament - evolution, powers, policies, presidents and elections

Institutions - 12-03-2008 - 19:17
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The European Parliament celebrated its 50th anniversary on 12 March 2008 in Strasbourg during its plenary session. The President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering , the President-in-office of the Council and Prime Minister of Slovenia, Janez Janša and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso addressed the House.

This background note details the evolution of what was the European Assembly of 142 nominated Members with just four official languages and is now the directly elected European Parliament, with Members speaking 23 languages.
 
The European Parliamentary Assembly met for its constituent meeting in Strasbourg on 19 March 1958 with simple consultative powers.  
 
The European Parliament of 2008 has wide decision-making powers on legislation, the budget and control and scrutiny of the European Commission.  In fact, the European Parliament is unique in the world.  There is no other directly elected supra-national parliament with such wide-ranging power. 
 
Once and if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, the European Parliament, following the elections in June 2009, will be composed of 751 MEPs with its powers once more enlarged.
 
Specifically, this background note highlights and recalls, over the last 50 years, key legislation adopted by the European Parliament, increases in its powers, dates of past European elections and elections of Parliament's Presidents, as well as the increase and evolution in the number of both MEPs and languages.  There is also a list of EP Sakharov Prize-winners, an annual award for freedom of thought.
 
This note serves as a brief explanation of some European Parliament highlights over the last 50 years.
 
REF.: 20080226BKG22350

The European Parliament in action - key events and legislation since Parliament enjoyed co-decision powers with the Council

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Current parliamentary term:
 
Consumer credit legislation adopted
 
16 January 2008
Parliament adopted a directive aiming to stimulate the European market while still protecting consumers. The new directive aims to harmonise consumer credit contracts in a number of areas, such as standard information to be included in advertising provided to consumers before contracts are signed and when they are concluded, calculations of the total cost of a loan, the right to cancel and the right to pay off a loan early.
Equitable Life report adopted
 
19 June 2007
Parliament overwhelmingly approved the final report by its committee of inquiry into the crisis at Equitable Life, a British life assurance company. The report includes a call for the UK government to set up a compensation scheme for policyholders who lost money. It also contains far-reaching recommendations on EU lawmaking, aimed at preventing such cases in future and at fostering a healthy European pensions and insurance market.
Mobile phone roaming legislation adopted
 
23 May 2007
The Regulation was adopted by an overwhelming majority to ensure that consumers can benefit from cheaper roaming. Thanks to an agreement brokered by the European Parliament, this new law cuts the cost of making and receiving mobile telephone calls while abroad in the EU, for at least 140 million users.
Investigations into CIA report adopted
 
14 Feb 2007
The final report on illegal CIA activities in Europe was approved by a majority of 382 against 256 with 74 abstentions, deplores the passivity of some Member States in the face of illegal CIA operations, as well as the lack of co-operation from the EU Council of Ministers.
REACH legislation adopted
 
13 December 2006
The draft regulation on REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of CHemicals). REACH, obliges producers to register all those chemical substances produced or imported above a total quantity of 1 tonne per year. Registration affects about 30,000 substances.  MEPs succeeded in including the substitution of the most hazardous substances where alternatives exist, recognition of a duty of care by manufacturers and the promotion of alternatives to animal testing.
Services Directive adopted
 
15 November 2006
The services directive which aims to facilitate the provision of cross-border services by removing obstacles to the free movement of services in the internal market reached its final stage with the European Parliament approving the Council common position with minor changes. The final position adopted by Parliament broadly reflects the Parliament's first reading position achieving a balance between competition and social protection.
Port Services directive rejected for the second time
 
17 January 2006
The European Parliament for a second time torpedoed proposals on market access to port services. Many MEPs demanded in its place legislation on transparency and fair competition between ports. A number of MEPs also criticised the omission of Parliament's wishes on self-handling and pilot services, which were extremely controversial points of the first ports package.
Airlines blacklist adopted
 
16 Nov 2005
Parliament's first reading report was adopted with 577 votes in favour 16 against with 31 abstentions. It gave the green light for the introduction of an EU-wide blacklist of airlines that do not meet safety requirements.
Software Patents rejected
 
6 July 2005
Parliament rejected legislation on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions.  This decision, supported by 648 MEPs on 680 who voted, reflected disagreement between MEPs and the Council: Members sought a way to avoid the granting of patents on pure software, while protecting inventions using computer programmes.
Tony Blair launches UK Presidency in the EP
 
23 June 2005
Tony Blair makes a speech to the European Parliament to launch the UK Presidency of the EU (second half of 2005).  Tony Blair told MEPs that whatever they disagreed on, everyone agreed that a profound debate about the future of Europe was underway. He said this could not be resolved by trading insults or in terms of personalities, but only by an open and frank exchange of ideas.
 
 
1999-2004 Parliamentary term:
 
Temporary committee on improving safety at sea
 
21 April 2004
Following the Prestige disaster, the European Parliament decided to set up a temporary committee. In its final report, MEPs called for the creation of a European maritime safety area. This area should be based on: the banning of substandard vessels, the drawing up of joint protocols on action in the event of disasters, the introduction of a system of liability and the improvement of living and working conditions for seafarers.
Port services, rejection
 
20 November 2003
MEPs rejected, by 209 in favour, 229 against and 16 abstentions, the text, proposed by the conciliation committee, on the liberalisation of port services. The EP sunk port services directive for the second time on 18 January 2006 
Ban on animal testing known as cosmetics directive
 
27 February 2003
MEPs approved a directive to outlaw animal tests for finished cosmetics products throughout the EU as of 2004. They also voted to phase in bans on tests of cosmetics ingredients that use animals and on any sales in the EU of animal-tested products and ingredients.
Renewable Energy
 
27 September 2001
The Directive on renewable energy sources set a target of 12% of energy consumption from renewables for the EU-15 by 2010. With the 2004 enlargement, the EU's overall objective became 21%. It also constitutes an essential part of the measures needed to comply with the Kyoto Protocol.
 
1994-1999 Parliamentary term:
 
Pressure from the European Parliament forces the European Commission to resign
 
14 January 1999
Parliament approves by 319 in favour, 157 against and 54 abstentions, a resolution to set up a committee of independent experts. On 15 March, the committee delivers its final report and denounces Commission's responsibility. The day after, the Jacques Santer Commission resigns.
Legal protection of industrial designs and models
 
13 October 1998
Parliament approved a directive to provide effective protection for industrial designs and models throughout the EU, the aim being to remove obstacles to the free movement of goods and guarantee undistorted competition. The final agreement provided for a ban on the introduction by Member States of any obstacles to free movement of goods, although changes in national law would be allowed if towards liberalisation.
Free market in Telecommunications
 
6 October 1997
With a series of legislative acts, the telecommunications market was opened up to competition across the Union. MEPs persuaded, inter alia, Council to introduce a requirement for Member States to ensure that all users have access to a basic set of quality services at a reasonable cost (universal service obligation).
Temporary committee of inquiry on BSE
 
19 February 1997
MEPs adopt the final report of the temporary committee of inquiry set up in 1996 and make 79 recommendations to combat BSE. The parliament also decided to set up another temporary committee to follow up its recommendations on BSE.
 
Other key addresses to the European Parliament:
 
12 May 1992, Queen Elizabeth II addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg
11 October 1988, Pope John-Paul II addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg
8 May 1985, Ronald Reagan addressees the European Parliament in Strasbourg
16 December 1981, Margaret Thatcher as President of the European Council visits Strasbourg
 
 
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Increase in powers of the EP

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19 March 1958
Constituent session of the European Parliamentary Assembly (11am, Strasbourg): the Assembly has the right to be consulted by the Council.
 
Consultative power
30 March 1962
The Parliamentary Assembly decides to call itself the European Parliament (EP).
 
22 April 1970
 
Signature in Luxembourg of the Treaty amending certain budgetary provisions: increase in budgetary powers of the Assembly following replacement of Member States' financial contributions by "own resources".
 
Budgetary powers
15 October 1973
Council adopts measures to improve its relations with the EP as regards the conclusion of trade agreements and improvements to the procedure for consulting the Assembly.
 
Council/EP
9 and 10 December 1974
The Paris Summit decides on election to EP by direct universal suffrage.
Direct election
4 March 1975
 
Joint declaration establishing a conciliation procedure following increase in the Assembly's budgetary powers.
 
Conciliation
 
22 July 1975
 
Signature in Brussels of the Treaty amending certain financial provisions of the treaties. This strengthens the Assembly's budgetary powers (the EP obtains the right to reject the budget and to grant discharge to the Commission for implementation of budget); entry into force: 01.06.1977.
 
Budgetary powers
20 September 1976
 
Adoption in Brussels of the Act concerning the election of the representatives of the Assembly by direct universal suffrage.
EP direct election act
14 February 1984
The Spinelli report on establishing the European Union was adopted by the European Parliament by 237 votes to 31 with 43 abstentions.
Adopt.
Spinelli project
29-30 June 1987
European Council in Brussels. For the first time, the European Council is addressed by the President of the EP before the start of its proceedings.
Participation in Brussels Summit
1 July 1987
 
Entry into force of Single European Act (SEA). "EP" title now official. Introduction of cooperation procedure (right to a second reading) and assent procedure (EP's assent needed for conclusion of international agreements and enlargement).
 
SEA: cooperation and assent
7 February 1992
 
Signature at Maastricht of Treaty on European Union. Introduction of codecision procedure (with a conciliation procedure, applicable to 15 legal bases). The Commission must now be approved by the EP, which also appoints the European Ombudsman. Entry into force: 1.11.1993.
Maastricht Treaty: codecision
18 January 1995
In plenary session, MEPs vote (417 for, 104 against) to appoint Jacques Santer as President of the next European Commission.
Appointment of Commission
2 October 1997
 
Signature of Amsterdam Treaty: simplification of codecision procedure, which is extended to 32 legal bases, and right to approve President of the Commission. Entry into force: 01.05.1999.
Amsterdam T.: approval of Commission President
26 February 2001
 
Signature of Nice Treaty: codecision extended to 37 legal bases. Entry into force: 01.02.2003.
Nice Treaty
25 March 2007
Signature in Berlin of the Declaration on the 50 years of the Treaties of Rome.
Berlin Declaration
August-October 2007
Intergovernmental conference (IGC) takes place under scrutiny of EP through its three representatives. 
IGC
12 December 2007
Proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, formal sitting, Strasbourg.
Charter FR
13 December 2007
European Council in Lisbon, signature of Lisbon Treaty: extension of codecision to 85 legal bases. Right to appoint President of Commission on a proposal by European Council (which must take account of results of European elections).
Lisbon Treaty: appointment of Commission President
 
 
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EP: elections and growth in number of Members and official languages

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1 January 1958
 
Entry into force of Rome Treaties.  The Assembly meets with 142 Members.
142 MEPs
4 languages
16 January 1973
First meeting of European Parliament expanded to 198 Members following accession of United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark.
1st enlargement
198 MEPs
6 languages
12-13 July 1976
Brussels European Council decides that EP will be elected by direct universal suffrage. Number of seats increased to 410.
410 MEPs
 
7-10 June 1979
First elections to EP by direct universal suffrage. Nine Member States, turnout 63 per cent
1st EP elections
17-20 July 1979
First constituent session in Strasbourg. Simone Veil (France) is elected President by absolute majority in second round
Election of EP President
1 January 1981
Accession of Greece: 434 MEPs
2nd enlargement
434 MEPs
7 languages
14 & 17 June 1984
Second EP elections by direct universal suffrage. Ten Member States, turnout 61 per cent
2nd elections
1 January 1986
Accession of Spain and Portugal to European Communities. 518 MEPs.
3rd enlargement
518 MEPs
9 languages
15-18 June 1989
Third EP elections. Twelve Member States, turnout 58.5 per cent.
3rd elections
9-12 June 1994
Fourth EP elections.  Twelve Member States, turnout 56.8 per cent.
4th elections
19-28 July 1994
Constituent session: adjustment of number of seats following unification of Germany: 567 seats.
German unification
567 MEPs
1 January 1995
Accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden to EU. Number of MEPs increased to 626.
4th enlargement
626 MEPs
11 languages
10-13 June 1999
Fifth EP elections. Fifteen Member States, turnout 49.8 per cent.
5th elections
1 May 2004
 
Accession to EU of Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia (representing over 100 million citizens in total). The EP has 732 Members.
5th enlargement
732 MEPs
20 languages
10-13 June 2004
Sixth EP elections. Twenty five Member States, turnout 45.6 per cent.
6th elections
1 January 2007
 
Accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU. The EP has 785 Members until the 2009 European elections. The EU population increases to 492.8m. With the addition of Bulgarian, Irish Gaelic and Romanian, the EU now has 23 official languages.
6th enlargement
785 MEPs
23 languages
June 2009
European elections, prior to which the Treaty is due to be ratified by the Member States. The EP will have 750 MEPs plus its President.
European elections
 
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Main treaty changes affecting the European Parliament

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Treaty
Election
of MEPs
Legislative and budgetary role
Appointment and
scrutiny of executive
ECSC Treaty
(1950)
Choice between direct elections or national parliaments to select members
 
Right to dismiss High Authority
Rome Treaty
(1957)
Specific provision for direct elections (implemented in 1979)
Right to be consulted and to give its opinions to the Council
 
Budgetary treaties (1970 and 1975)
 
Right to reject budget, modify level of expenditure and approve/disapprove accounts ("discharge")
 
Single European Act (1986)
 
'Cooperation procedure' providing right to a second reading of legislation and 'assent procedure' to approve enlargement and some international agreements
 
Maastricht Treaty (1992)
 
'Co-decision procedure' with conciliation to apply to 15 legal bases.
Right to invite Commission to present a legislative proposal
Right to approve Commission as a whole + Committees of Inquiry.
Appointment of Ombudsman and ECB President to report to EP committee
Amsterdam Treaty (1997)
 
Simplification and extension of co-decision to 32 legal bases
Right to approve Commission President
Nice Treaty (2000)
 
Extension of co-decision to 37 legal bases
 
Lisbon Treaty
(2007)
 
Extension of co-decision to 85 legal bases and to be called 'ordinary legislative procedure'.
Possibility to revoke delegated legislation
Commission President to be elected by EP on basis of proposal of European Council that takes into account the elections of the European Parliament
Source and based on:  The Institutions of the European Union, second edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, edited by John Peterson and Michael Shackleton, p.106
 
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EP Presidents 1958 - present day

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1. EP Presidents before direct elections (1958-1979)
 
  1. Robert Schuman, March 1958 - March 1960
  1. Hans Furler, March 1960 - March 1962
  1. Gaetano Martino, March 1962 - March 1964
  1. Jean Duvieusart, March 1964 - March 1965
  1. Victor Leemans, March 1965 - March 1966
  1. Alain Poher,  March 1966 - March 1969
  1. Mario Scelba, March 1969 - March 1971
  1. Walter Behrendt, March 1971 - March 1973
  1. Cornelis Berkhouwer, March 1973 - March 1975
  1. Georges Spénale, March 1975 - March 1977
  1. Emilio Colombo, March 1977 - March 1979
 
2. EP Presidents after direct elections (1979- present), in office for 2 and half years
 
  1. Simone Veil, July 1979
  1. Pieter Dankert,  January 1982
  1. Pierre Pflimlin, July 1984
  1. Lord Henry Plumb,  January 1987
  1. M. Baron-Crespo,  July 1989
  1. Egon A. Klepsch,  January 1992
  1. Klaus Hänsch,  July 1994
  1. José María Gil-Robles, January 1997
  1. Nicole Fontaine, July 1999
  1. Pat Cox,  January 2002
  1. M. Josep Borrell Fontelles,  July 2004
  1. Hans-Gert Pöttering,  January 2007
 
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Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought prize-winners since 1988

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2007 Salih Mahmoud Osman
2006 Alexandre Milinkevitch
2005 Ladies in White, Hauwa Ibrahim and Reporters Without Borders
2004 Zhanna Litvina, President of the Belarus Association of Journalists
2003 UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and all UN staff
2002 Oswaldo José Payá Sardiñas
2001 Izzat Ghazzawi,Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Dom Zacarias Kamwenho
2000 ¡ Basta Ya !
1999 José Alejandro 'Xanana' Gusmão
1998 Ibrahim Rugova
1997 Salima Ghezali
1996 Wei Jingsheng
1995 Líela Zana
1994 Taslima Nasreen
1993 Oslobodjenje
1992 Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo
1991 Adem Demaçi
1990 Aung San Suu Kyi
1989 Alexander Dubcek
1988 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Anatoli Marchenko (posthumously)
 
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Audiovisual material is available on FTP site on 50th anniversary - video and audio kits and 50 selected photographs

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A video-kit, audio kit on European Parliament's 50th anniversary, and 50 photos can be found at the link below. 
 
Illustrative footage of key moments of the Parliament: from its first session in March 1958 up to today chronologically. This historical video kit includes footage of each elected President of the European Parliament from Mr. Robert Schuman to Mr HG Pöttering. 
 
An audio-kit of key speeches. 15 key speeches have been selected. 
 
The photo service has selected 50 pictures marking the anniversary: "50 years of the European Parliament".
 
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50th anniversary of the European Parliament commemorated in Strasbourg - 12 March 2008

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The European Parliament in Strasburg with the the logo of the 50th anniversary 58-08

50 years of the European Parliament celebrated in Strasbourg

To celebrate the European Parliament's 50th anniversary on 19 March 2008, the presidents of the EP, the Council and the Commission each addressed the House in a special sitting in Strasbourg plenary on Wednesday, 12 March 2008. The speeches were preceded and followed by performances by the European Youth Orchestra.
 
In his opening address, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering first welcomed several former presidents of the European Parliament, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, speakers of national parliaments and numerous other dignitaries.
 
Mr Pöttering stressed that "step by step, the European Parliament has fought to secure more and more rights and has become ever more aware of its responsibility and of what it can do; and today it does credit to its name".
 
"Today, we are 785 Members from 27 European nations; we represent seven political groups and more than 150 national political parties; we are both a legislative and a budgetary authority, on an equal footing with the Council of Ministers; we exercise oversight over the European Commission and elect its President; we are the representatives of close to 500 million Union citizens; we reflect all political tendencies in the European Union; we have become self-assured and a major player in European politics", he said.
 
Talking about the Reform Treaty President Pöttering said "The Treaty of Lisbon will further strengthen our rights. In future, decisions on important issues now of concern to citizens in the European Union can be taken only if the European Parliament gives its consent".
 
"The Treaty of Lisbon and the Charter of Fundamental Rights will make a decisive contribution towards making democracy and parliamentarianism in the European Union a reality at all levels. We can be proud of our consistent support for the Reform Treaty and for the Charter of Fundamental Rights."
 
To applause from the House, he stressed the role of national parliaments, saying "the cooperation between the European Parliament and national parliaments is of special concern to us. We must endeavour, in future, to maintain that cooperation".
 
"An achievement worth embracing and celebrating"
 
The president-in-office of the Council, Janez Janša, prime minister of Slovenia, began by saying “Ce n’est pas sans émotion que je prends la parole", echoing the words spoken by Robert Schuman, the first President of the European Parliamentary Assembly, in his inaugural address on 19 March 1958.
 
Mr Janša recalled that, in the aftermath of two wars and in a world dominated by East-West tensions, "six Member States of the European Communities brought together 168 million Europeans, healed the wounds of the war, made economic progress and, together with the Euro-Atlantic alliance, safeguarded an area of freedom and democracy" - although "most of the remaining part of Europe, regrettably, existed in a totalitarian Communist environment".
 
But now, he said, an "entirely different image presents itself".  With the "elimination of the borders that once divided Europe", "practically all of wider Europe now also lives in freedom and democracy. This is an achievement worth embracing and celebrating."
 
The existence and the operation of the European Parliament from 1958 is "a direct reflection of the progress achieved in the process of integration over the past fifty years", he added.   
 
However, "if the first fifty years of the EU have been dedicated to the European agenda – to our own political and economic development and reform – the next fifty years will also put the global agenda at the forefront of our attention."  Apart from economic issues, energy and climate change, Mr Janša highlighted human rights and intercultural dialogue as areas in which the European Parliament plays a key role.
 
The range of EU activities is increasing all the time but a single rule applies to them all: "success is directly proportional to unity".  In the words of Jean Monnet, “Each man begins the world afresh. Only institutions grow wiser; they accumulate collective experience.”  "Our joint task is therefore to promote the European collective experience. From this experience, we can draw the strength to address current challenges", argued Mr Janša. 
 
On a personal note, the prime minister told the House "I know what this time represents for our generation, being born myself in the same year as the European Parliament" and he looked forward to "the next major anniversary of this home of European democracy".
 
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso
 
It has been 50 years since Schuman brought together the three European communities in a new single assembly, but the political choice outlining a European representative democracy has been confirmed at every subsequent stage of the European construction, said Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
 
The founding fathers foresaw that Europe needed lasting and strong institutions to enshrine the ever-deeper links among the Six. These institutions also had to be able to evolve, he continued, noting that Europe's "unique institutional triangle" has since proven its vitality by adapting to vast growth in the tasks entrusted to the Union and to the dynamics of enlargement.
 
"We owe this success to the ingenuity and balance of our institutional construction, which does not follow the usual distribution of powers. We owe it also to the way we work, which respects both the Community method and subsidiarity", he added.
 
Fifty years on, Europe, living in peace and spanning the continent, still needs strong institutions to tackle the challenge of our time: globalisation. Its experience of opening markets, accompanied by rules that reflect its values of freedom, solidarity and sustainable development, mean that "Europe alone has the dimensions, institutions and instruments necessary to shape globalisation", said the President.
 
Mr Barroso saluted Parliament's contribution to the European project, in every field of daily life. In 50 years, Parliament has gained many powers and prerogatives. Some of this power derives from the peoples' votes. Some is formal, such as co-decision and budgetary powers. And some derives from political influence - Parliament has become a co-legislator and an influential partner in the institutional triangle, but has also developed close links with national parliaments, he said.
 
Parliament's power has strengthened Europe as a whole. A strong European Parliament is an indispensable partner for other institutions, and in particular the European Commission, said the President, adding that the Lisbon Treaty, once ratified, will extend Parliament's powers, and also strengthen the Commission's dual democratic legitimacy through stronger links with Parliament and the Council.
 
Mr Barroso concluded with a quote from Portuguese writer Agustina Bessa Luis: "At 15 years old you have a future; at 25, a problem; at 40, experience; but before 50 years old, you have no history".
 
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