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Photo: adina80xx / photocase.com
The fear that the High Authority, the predecessor of the Commission, would be too heavy with all its powers was the reason to balance it with a parliament.

For a parliament to have power means that it can make life difficult for the government. Also on the European level: Last year the national governments could hand over European banking data to the US authorities, but now with the Lisbon treaty the parliament has a say and blocks the deal. Why should the national governments then empower the European Parliament (EP), if it restricts their means to make politics?

The classic evolution of a parliament goes usually the opposite way, that a parliament acquires its powers by some sort of collective force. Just as the English Parliament in the 17th century pressurised the king with its power to levy taxes. Or as in many countries in Europe that just saw democratic movements a few years ago.

The story is different with the European Parliament, however. Contrary to democratic experiences in many European countries and contrary to the egoistic rationality of governments to have easy policy-making, the EP was created by leaders from national governments, who were not only but mainly moved by democratic considerations themselves. It's a myth that the creation was the result of a public democratic process. This is the result of the research of political scientist Berthold Rittberger. He looked back in the history of the parliament in the 1950s to show this.

Integration Jean Monnet style

Western Europe of the 50s was marked by the 'Monnet method' of integration. It meant a sector-by-sector approach to integration, instead of a federalist approach that was also on the table. The countries first agreed on a sector in which they wanted to cooperate and then they discussed how they could do this. A prime example for this approach is the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which was created in 1951.

Dutch and the Belgian delegations voiced their concerns that the planned High Authority might be a super-national dictatorship of experts.

Already during its creation the ECSC foreshadowed today's institutional structure: It was clear that there will be a Council, as the institution where the national governments gather like today, and that there would be a High Authority, as the executing agency like today's Commission, and that there would be a Court to interpret the treaty. But this was not the complete institutional setup.

Before the negotiations began, leaders of the Dutch and the Belgian delegations voiced their concerns that the planned High Authority might be a super-national dictatorship of experts that regulate national coal and steel industries. Some sort of control mechanism was required, a counter-balance institution that could stand up to the technocratic administration of the High Authority. So the Common Assembly, the predecessor of the European Parliament, was created to be a balance against the weight of the High Authority.

Stars of Europe rising
Photo: .marqs / photocase.com
European Stars rising to power: They could also have been on a tank in the 50s, if the European Defence Community was realised.

Forgotten integration: The European Defence Community

The ECSC is well known today, together with the Euratom Community, as predecessors of the European Union. However, there were other Communities, that have been forgotten, but that also show this creation of a parliament. Dating back also to the early 1950s are the attempts to set up a European army force and a European Political Community. (Both failed, however, after the French National Assembly refused to ratify the treaty of the European Defence Community.)

These forgotten communities intended "to equip their respective parliamentary assemblies with executive control, budgetary and legislative powers which exceeded not only those of their predecessor – the Common Assembly of the ECSC – but also those of the parliamentary assembly established subsequently by the EEC Treaty", finds Rittberger.

Luxembourg Treaty: More power

This scheme reappears in the Luxembourg Treaty of 1970. Again, more power was transferred to the European level; this time it was funds for agricultural policies. And again the increased budgetary control of the executive authority was complemented with increased budgetary powers for the parliamentary assembly. This balance of power was especially advanced by the Dutch government, which stated that because it can deny the funds for administrative expenses "the European Parliament will have the opportunity to make life difficult for the Commission and the Council."

So, how and why the parliament came to power is this: The governments wanted to safeguard that the power which they conferred to the European supranational structure would not go astray. The parliamentary assemblies were hence designed as a counter-balance. To keep things in a balance, the power bestowed on the parliamentary assemblies was proportionate to the total power that was pooled in the supranational institutions. National governments hence accepted to have a more difficult time in policy-making for ensuring a balance of powers.

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