The European Parliament is also dealing with the soccer World Cup in Qatar this week in Strasbourg and will pass a resolution on this on Thursday. It will definitely be an eloquent resolution. She will castigate the disregard for human rights in Qatar as well as the role of the world football association Fifa. And of course the question arises: does something like a football World Cup fall within the competence of the European Parliament at all?
Parliament covers up its own impotence with an overdose of morality – something you even hear in the other EU institutions, in the Commission and in the Council of the 27 member states. On the other hand, strong messages are part of the identity of this house. Roberta Metsola, the current President, spoke of “symbolism” when she opened the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the European Parliament this Tuesday.
“The European Parliament has become the only directly elected, multilingual, multiparty and transnational parliament in the world,” said Metsola at the Strasbourg plenary ceremony. But she also recalled how difficult it was and still is to make the European Parliament a real parliament.
Compared to national parliaments, many competencies are still lacking
The body was initially called “Common Assembly”, founded in 1952 with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). It had an exclusively advisory function, the 78 members were delegated by the national parliaments. In 1962, the MEPs decided to call their assembly the “European Parliament”, and it was not until 1979 that the first direct elections took place.
With every major European contract, the competences of the house grew. The current legal basis is the Treaty of Lisbon from 2009. The “co-decision procedure” has become common practice, with the Council and Parliament passing laws on an equal footing. But compared to national parliaments, many competencies are still lacking.
The European Parliament is not allowed to introduce its own laws. Nor is it allowed to elect the President of the Commission on its own. Ursula von der Leyen, current President of the Commission, is therefore not a European head of government, having emerged from Parliament and being solely responsible to it. She didn’t even run for the 2019 election and still got the job – instead of the successful EPP top candidate Manfred Weber.
Parliament is currently making a new attempt to strengthen its own legitimacy, so there should be transnational lists for the first time in the next European elections in 2024. On the other hand, in the crisis situations of recent years, the practice has become established that member states and the Council govern in a kind of emergency legislation bypassing Parliament. The power struggle will continue.
The first president was Holocaust survivor Simone Veil
For a long time, the European Parliament was notorious as a “chatterbox,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at the ceremony, but at some point it would become “the number one institution in Europe.” Naturally, he received a lot of applause for this. De Croo was invited as a guest speaker, as were French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. Parliament has a mainstay in all three countries.
Borne made it clear that France definitely does not want to do without the headquarters of the parliament – knowing full well that most MEPs would prefer not to travel to Strasbourg for the plenary sessions and would rather stay in Brussels. The pan-European importance of Strasbourg is too great, said Borne.
The most emotional speech was given by Xavier Bettel, the man from Luxembourg, where Parliament has an administrative seat. The Prime Minister recalled his personal heroine Simone Veil, whose parents perished in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, who was lucky enough to survive the Holocaust – and who was elected the first female President of the European Parliament in 1979. A truly historic European symbol.