EP Empowerment through soft law – the interinstitutional relations

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At the beginning of the European adventure, already in 1952, the Intergovernamental Conferences preparing the Treaties, didn’t consider the Assembly a key element of the institutional architecture, but at the same time, they could not totally exclude it, even to avoid criticisms by the respective National Parliaments.

It is not surprising that, in 1957, the European Parliament created by the Treaty of Rome was a mere forum of discussion with practically no influence. Nevertheless, the extraordinary impact of the European adventure has mobilised the most influential Members, delegated by their respective National Parliament. Since day one, those delegated Members, experimented parliamentarians, started to fight for three objectives: a) to expand the influence of the European Assembly on the legislation to be and the cntrol of the executive, following the model of their Parliaments; b) to become the best ambassadors of the revendications of the EP within their Assemblies, with the aim to build up a majority in support of EP requests; c) to oblige their respective governments to support the reinforcement of EP competences to reduce the democratic deficit of the European decision-making mechanisms[1].

The election of 1979 boosted the newly elected MEPs to increase their influence on all the decisions mechanisms. The reinforcement of the EP competences and the creation of a new Institutional balance has been the unifying paradigm supported by very large and composite majority in the EP. These majorities have not only exploited all the possibilities offered by the Treaties to create a dynamic of progressive empowerment of the EP, not through Treaty changes or primary legislation but also throughout a continuous fight to expand influence, often formalised with informal acts, such agreements with the Commission and/or the Council conduct, joint declarations, exchange of letters[2].

Through soft law The Assembly, later the directly elected EP, has over time grown from a minor partner in legislation into a full co-legislator with the Council of Ministers under the ordinary legislative procedure. (Heritier, p 1).

The battles of the EP to enhance its influence were not always successful. The best example is the adoption of the Single Act of 1986[3] which didn’t respond to the ambitious proposals of the Spinelli Report[4], in spite of the large majority which supported the Report in Plenary[5].

Jacques Delors, who was the main promoter of the new Treaty, in his Memoires…………. considered the SEA a “ pas fondemental………………..” and he was surprised and saddened by the criticisms of Altiero Spinelli.

Spinelli didn’t hide its deception in his declaration of vote where he compares the adoption of his Report at the big catch, described by Hemingway, with the risk that the sharks (the Governments) eat up the fish before arriving in the port.

Unfortunately, Spinelli didn’t live up enough to see that about two thirds have been included in later Treaties[6].

Beyond this anecdote, aim of this part of the research is to recompose the story of some of the most relevant acts of soft law which have contributed to enhance the influence of the EP in the European Institutional architecture, story reconstructed on the base of the witnesses of actors.

Soft Law has played a very important role, relatively less discussed, in the making of the relations of the European Institutions shaping the procedures to achieve the European legislation. Rarely in the history of the EU the successive Treaties have innovate, most of the time they have consolidated or built up on existing practice. Even the Court of Justice now recognizes the relevance of the soft law as part of the loyal cooperation among Institutions. We can then conclude that soft law has had, and still has a relevant role in anticipating evolution of the primary law.

This section will be divided into three parts: a) the Parlamentarisation of the Commission; b) the agreements in legislative area c) the interinstitutional agreements in the budgetary domain.

Beyond this distinction, the red thread of these agreements, supported by the large majority of the MEPs was to make EP more influential in the whole decision-making process, at the same level of the Council. Has this objective been achieved after more than 40 years? Is the research question that this section will try to answer.

As indicated in the presentation of the project, the story presented will be based on the witnesses of various actors, either oral or documents deposited in Historical Archives of the EU or the archives of the EU Institutions.



[1] The determination of the German, Dutch and Italian Government to support the reinforcement of the EP competences was influenced by the support of their National Parliaments. The Commission was then encouraged to present already in the ‘60ies the proposals to reinforce the Parliament competences.

[2] See A. Héritier,K. Meissner, C. Moury, M. Schoeller: European Parliament Ascendant – Parliamentary Strategies of Self-Empowerment in the EU, Palgrave, 2019

[3] The Single European act, OJ L 169 of 29/6/1987   https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:11986U/TXT

[4] Spinelli Report on the Draft Treaty establishing the European Union Adopted by the EP 14 February 1984

[5] Reproduction of the page of the signature of the Single European Act (SEA) held at the HAEU (NDG-513) https://archives.eui.eu/en/fonds/474339?item=NDG-513

[6] P. Ponzano: The Spinelli Treaty of February 1984 » in A. Glencross et A.Trechsel (eds), EU Federalism and Constitutionalism, Lexington Books, 2010.