Is the European Parliament Missing its Constitutional Moment?

Over the years, step by step, the European Parliament has won a share of real constitutional power. At times, as in 1984 with the Spinelli Draft Treaty and in 2002-03 in the Convention on the Future of Europe, Parliament has had a decisive influence on the constitutive development of the European Union. At other times, MEPs have found it just as difficult as the European Council has done to make constitutional sense of a Union which is an uneasy compromise between federal and confederal elements. If EU governance is congenitally weak it may be because its institutions are unable to manage the dichotomy between supranational and intergovernmental. Today, circumstances have thrown the European Parliament a golden opportunity to take a major step in the federal direction – but it looks as though MEPs are going to retreat again.

As long ago as 1951, the Treaty of Paris gave the nascent European Parliament the job of drawing up proposals for election by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure. After much grunting and groaning, the first elections were held in 1979. But the electoral procedure was not uniform. A degree of uniformity was introduced in 1999 when, thanks to Tony Blair, all fifteen states held elections according to one or other system of proportional representation. But the elections still remain more national than European: the candidates are selected by national political parties, campaign on national platforms on mainly national issues, and are elected according to different (albeit proportional) national procedures. Although confederations of national political parties have been created at EU level, these organisations are not real political parties: they have next to no influence on the outcome of the European elections; they are actually prohibited from campaigning directly inside member states; and their relationship with the party political groups in the Parliament remains casual and tenuous ...

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