Europe as a Global Player: A Parliamentary Perspective

By Poettering, Hans-Gert | Harvard International Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Europe as a Global Player: A Parliamentary Perspective

Poettering, Hans-Gert, Harvard International Review

In the 28 years since the European Parliament was first elected, it has developed from a largely advisory forum into a full-fledged branch of Europe's legislature. Since the Single European Act of 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, the role of the European Parliament in EU decision-making has increasingly changed from one of marginality to one of centrality. Today, members of the European Parliament share law-making powers with the Council of Ministers across many policy areas. The Parliament has truly come of age.


The advent of co-decision between the Parliament and the Council has made the Parliament a major actor in the EU legislative process. The Parliament has become an integral part of a new European political system, in which the vast majority of decisions require explicit approval of the Parliament. Whether it be the liberalization of transport, regulation of financial markets, limits on carbon emissions, or product standards and consumer protection, the decisions of the Parliament are now as important as those of member states in setting EU law.

In recent years, our work as members of the Parliament has shaped and advanced European integration in many fields. We pushed forward the process of EU enlargement when there was reticence in some other quarters. The single market and the single currency would never have occurred without the early and sustained advocacy of Euro-parliamentarians. The political majority in the European Parliament is now critical in determining who is chosen as president of the European Commission. Furthermore, as a result of parliamentary pressure, foreign and security policy has become an integral part of EU activity.

When I first became a member of the European Parliament in 1979, the individual sovereign states guarded their own foreign and security policies, making the policy area something of a taboo subject at the supranational level. This disunity, however, changed in the mid-1980s, when the Single European Act formalized modest arrangements for "European political cooperation." The Maastricht Treaty converted them into a formal Common Foreign and Security Policy, for the first time raising the possibility of a European defense. Today, more than a dozen EU military and policing missions can be found throughout the world. While deployment of EU troops or police forces outside the European Union was unheard of in 1979, it is a daily reality in 2007.

A European Constitution

As the European Union becomes more involved in world affairs and as domestic integration deepens, it becomes more important that the European institutions function as effectively and democratically as possible. These objectives can most effectively be obtained through the ratification of the European constitutional treaty. We need the reforms espoused by the constitution to successfully fulfill our role in EU and world affairs.

European integration has gone through cycles of crisis and self-doubt in the past, but it has usually emerged stronger as a result. When the European Defense Community failed in 1954, it subsequently took less than three years to reach an agreement on the Rome Treaties. When the first effort to establish a common currency failed during the 1970s, the experience of further monetary crises pointed to the continuing necessity for a full economic and monetary union, a logic that led to the adoption of the euro in 2002. While the difficulties in securing ratification of the European constitutional treaty by all member states have been a blow to the development of the European Union, I believe that they can be overcome, just as European integration has cleared previous obstacles that initially seemed insurmountable in its 50-year history.

One clear lesson from the recent ratification crisis is that there is a need to connect more closely European citizens with the project of European integration.

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