Since the first election by direct universal suffrage in July 1979, four Socialist Members have chaired the European Parliament.
At the Paris summit in 1974, European leaders, including the Social Democrat Helmut Schmidt, approved the principle of European elections by direct universal suffrage. That new stage in European integration can be divided into two phases: from 10 September 1952, when the European Parliament was still no more than a common assembly of 78 members of national parliaments, until 24 July 1979, the date when the European Parliament’s 410 Members were first elected by universal suffrage.
Since the creation of the European Parliament, its power and political role have continued to grow pursuant to the various treaties.
Parliament has three powers, legislative, budgetary and supervisory:
- legislative, the European Parliament adopts European legislation and shares that power with the European Council,
- budgetary, the Parliament and the Council are the two European budgetary authorities,
- supervisory, the European Parliament exercises democratic scrutiny of all Community activities.
Today (legislative term 2009-2014), the European Parliament has 736 MEPs, elected for a five-year term, from the 27 Member States of the EU. It is the only Community institution that meets and debates in public.
The European Parliament exercises its powers in accordance with its Rules of Procedure , which lay down its organisation and working methods, as well as the duties of those holding office within the institution.
The European Parliament is chaired by a President who is elected by all MEPs in accordance with Rule 13 of the Rules of Procedure.
Rule 13: Election of President – opening address’ Chapter 2: Officers of Parliament
‘1. The President shall be elected first. Nominations shall be handed before each ballot to the oldest Member, who shall announce them to Parliament. If after three ballots no candidate has obtained an absolute majority of the votes cast, the fourth ballot shall be confined to the two Members who have obtained the highest number of votes in the third ballot. In the event of a tie the elder candidate shall be declared elected.
2. As soon as the President has been elected, the oldest Member shall vacate the Chair. Only the elected President may deliver an opening address.’
The President has the following duties pursuant to Chapter 3, Rule 19, of the Rules of Procedure:
Rule 19: Duties of the President:
‘1. The President shall direct all the activities of Parliament and its bodies under the conditions laid down in these Rules. He shall enjoy all the powers necessary to preside over the proceedings of Parliament and to ensure that they are properly conducted.
These powers include the power to put texts to the vote in an order other than that set out in the document to be voted on. By analogy with the provisions of Rule 155(7), the President may seek the agreement of Parliament before doing so.
2. The duties of the President shall be to open, suspend and close sittings; to rule on the admissibility of amendments, on questions to the Council and Commission, and on the conformity of reports with these Rules; to ensure observance of these Rules, maintain order, call upon speakers, close debates, put matters to the vote and announce the results of votes; and to refer to committees any communications that concern them.
3. The President may speak in a debate only to sum up or to call speakers to order. Should he wish to take part in a debate, he shall vacate the Chair and shall not reoccupy it until the debate is over.
4. Parliament shall be represented in international relations, on ceremonial occasions and in administrative, legal or financial matters by the President, who may delegate these powers.’
The President of the European Parliament is assisted by Vice-Presidents
Presidents of the European Parliament
Since 1979, there have been 13 Presidents of the European Parliament :
- Simone Veil: LDR-FR 1979–1982
- Pieter Dankert: PSE-NL 1982–1984
- Pierre Pflimlin: EPP-FR 1984–1987
- Henry Plumb (Lord): ED-UK 1987–1989
- Enrique Barón Crespo: PSE-ES 1989–1992
- Egon A Klepsch: EPP-DE 1992–1994
- Klaus Hänsch: PSE-DE 1994–1997
- Gil Robles–Gil Delgado: EPP-ES 1997–1999
- Nicole Fontaine: EPP/ED-FR 1999–2002
- Pat Cox: ELDR-IE 2002–2004
- Josep Borrell Fontelles: PSE-ES 2004–2006
- Hans-Gert Pöttering: EPP-ED 2007–2009
Socialist Presidents of the European Parliament:
PIETER DANKERT Legislative term 1979-1984 : President 19.01.1982 / 23.07.1984
Vice-President 10.12.1979 / 18.01.1982 and 21.01.1987 / 24.07.1989
Piet Dankert was a Member of the European Parliament from 1977 to July 1987, and from 1994 to 1999. Piet Dankert was the second President of the European Parliament after its election by universal suffrage for the legislative term 1979-1984.
Born in January 1934, he died in France at the age of 69 on 21 June 2003. Piet Dankert played a dynamic role in the parliamentary assembly. He was a strong supporter of European federalism. He also played an important part in defending and enhancing Parliament’s powers. In that respect, he was the first President to use the budgetary instrument to strengthen Parliament and to make the European Union’s budget more transparent.
Robin Cook, (born 26.04.1946, died 06.08.2005 aged 59.), former Foreign Minister under the Blair government ( Labour) from 1997 to 1999 and leader of the European Socialist Party from 2001 to 2005, paid tribute to Piet Dankert in the following terms:
Piet Dankert fought tirelessly to reform the European institutions. He battled to make the European Union’s budget open and transparent. Later, as Dutch State Secretary for Europe, he led a historic European challenge to make the Council of Ministers of the European Union less secretive. He also set guidelines for the Treaty of Amsterdam, which opened the door to real action at European level in the field of employment .
He was convinced of the importance of strong relations between Europe and the United States and played a paramount role in developing links between the European Parliament and the US Congress. He took part in the Irish Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in the 1990s and, as Vice-Chairman of the EP’s Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, supported relations with Turkey and the rights of unions and minorities in that country. The political world in the Netherlands and in Europe has lost one of its most energetic and talented players.
Klaus HÄNSCH Legislative term 1994-1997: July 1994 / January 1997
Klaus Hänsch was born on 15 December 1938 in the town of Sprottau ( Silesia), which was German at the time. Today, Szprotawa is a Polish town. In 1945 his family fled to Flensburg near the German-Danish border. That is where he spent his childhood and school years and did his military service. He holds a degree in politics, for which he studied in Cologne, Paris and Berlin, and a PhD in philosophy. A journalist and political analyst, he began his working life as assistant at the Free University of Berlin, (1966-1968), then became editor-in-chief of ‘Dokumente’, a journal of international cooperation (1968-1970). He joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1964 and then entered political life as adviser to the delegate of the Federal Republic of Germany responsible for cultural affairs under the Treaty on Franco-German Cooperation. Between 1970 and 1979 he was press attaché and from 1977 worked as spokesman and special advisor of Johannes Rau, Minister for Science and Research of the Land of North-Rhine-Westphalia.
In 1979, the date of the first election by universal suffrage of the European Parliament, like Willy Brandt Klaus Hänsch became an MEP and entered the European Parliament. Within the Socialist Group , he served twice as Vice-Chairman and as coordinator for foreign and security policy and then, after 1989, made the strategic decision to take on responsibilities relating to the future of Europe and enlargement. He has always played a decisive part in determining our Group’s policy positions, especially during the pivotal year of German unification (1989) and the formation of the new Europe. Since his first legislative term, Klaus Hänsch has been a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security, Chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the United States and a member first of the Committee on Institutional Affairs and then of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. His main interest has always been the development of the European Union since the time of Altiero Spinelli, both from an institutional point of view and in terms of its role in the world. He also held office as a member of the Praesidium of the Convention on the future of Europe (2002-2003) and representative of the European Parliament at the Intergovernmental Conference on the Constitutional Treaty.
He served as President of the European Parliament from 1994 to 1997. In his opening address on 22 July 1997, he firmly advocated rationalising and strengthening the powers of the European Parliament, declaring: ‘it is not just a question of obtaining more powers for Parliament (...) but of using those we already have in an effective manner’, stressing that ‘the European Union does not need more competences, it needs more parliamentary democracy’. The entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union during his presidency led him to embark on internal reforms from the very start of his term, to ensure that ‘the European Parliament becomes more transparent, more efficient, more lively and more concentrated.’ His main innovations concerned, for example, giving the President of the European Commission the option, during part-sessions, of replying immediately to each question instead of replying to them all at the end of the sitting, holding the parliamentary committee meetings needed to ensure the smooth running of the part-session, and setting aside adequate time for major political debates. He signed the first European laws under the new procedure of co-decision with the Council. He strengthened the European Parliament’s role by ensuring, against strong reservations, that on the investiture of the European Commission, and prior to the vote of confidence, the nominated Commissioners must submit to hearings before Parliament’s parliamentary committees. Klaus Hänsch saw himself as a President in the European Union and visited the European regions to learn more about the ‘multiplicity’ of the Union. By the end of his term, Parliament’s image had been improved and his activities were in fact saluted by the then Chairman of the EPP Group (European People’s Party) Wilfried Martens.
Klaus Hänsch is currently a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs , substitute member of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs , substitute member of the Delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China, and member of the Delegation for relations with Australia and New Zealand.
Klaus Hänsch has written many books and articles on politics and society in France, on Franco-German relations, on European unification and on European Union policy.
Klaus Hänsch has received several medals and decorations, including that of ‘honorary citizen’ of his home town of Szprotawa, the title most dear to him.
Enrique BARÓN CRESPO Legislative Term 1989-1994: July 1989 / January 1992
Enrique BARÓN CRESPO was born in Madrid on 27 March 1944. He obtained an MA in law and an MA in business administration from the Instituto Católico de Administraciòn y Dirección de Empresas (ICADE) in Spain. He is also a graduate of the Ecole Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) in Paris.
Before embarking on a political career, Enrique BARON CRESPO, a lawyer and economist by training, specialising in labour law, first acted as a defendant for persons accused on political and trade union grounds. He was also a professor of agricultural economics at the national institute of agricultural studies at Valladolid (INEA) and professor of economic structure at the University of Madrid in Spain.
A member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE: Partido Socialista Obrero Español) from 1977, his political career gradually took him from national to European level. At the June 1977 elections, he was first elected to the Congress of Deputies, the Lower Chamber of the Cortes, to which he was re-elected in March 1979. From 1977 to 1982, Enrique BARON Crespo was the spokesman of the parliamentary group of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. From 1982 to 1985 he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Communications in the government of Felipe Gonzáles Márquez.
In 1986 Enrique Barón Crespo entered the European arena and held various European and international posts. MEP and then Vice-President of the European Parliament (1987-1989), in 1989 he was elected President of the European Parliament . He played an active part in strengthening the European Parliament’s powers during the negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty with the Interinstitutional Conference and the national parliamentary conferences. He chaired the EP Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security (1992-1994), then became a member of that committee during the 1994-1999 term. From 1999 to 2004 he chaired the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, which, for the first time since direct elections, was no longer the largest political group in the European Parliament. From 2004 to mid-January 2007 he chaired the parliamentary Committee on International Trade.
His commitment to Europe was an integral inspiration for his work from the start of his political activity at university. When the draft Constitutional Treaty was ratified, for example, he supported the Constitution in the following terms: ‘This Constitution is a supranational structure built by the states and the citizens. From a democratic point of view it is the first time MPs from all the states, even Turkey, have debated in public, and on the internet, a founding text of Europe.
So that was not a debate behind closed doors like the other intergovernmental conferences. In regard to fundamental rights, this text gives more protection than national constitutions. For example, in the context of the challenge of developing biotechnology, it refers explicitly to the right to protection of the person. Similarly, it provides for the protection of personal data and to the right to sound administration (a real revolution for some countries).’
Publications: Since 1965 he has published numerous articles on economic, political and social affairs in major Spanish journals. He is also the author of several books: ‘"Población y Hambre en el Mundo’, ‘El final del Campesinado’, ‘La Civilización del Automóvil’, ‘ Europe 1992: le Rapt du Futur’, published in several languages, ‘L’Europe à l’Aube du Millénaire’ (1996), published in several languages, and ‘Europea: Pasión y Razón’, published in 2004. ‘La Constitucionalización del Poder Legislativo en la Unión Europea’, his doctoral thesis, was published in 2005. His most recent publication is ‘El Error del Milenio’, 2007 .
JOSEP BORRELL FONTELLES Legislative Term 2004-2009: July 2004 / January 2007
Born on 24 April 1947 in Pobla de Segur, Josep Borell Fontelles prepared for his baccalaureate while also going to work. His results enabled him to go to university. After obtaining a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, he gained a PhD in economics from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, then a Master's in oil economics from the Institut français du Pétrole à Paris, followed by a Master's in applied mathematics from the University of Stanford. He began his working career as an engineer in the Spanish Oil Company (1972-1981).
In 1974, Josep Borrell Fontelles joined the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party, the PSOE. In 1979 he became municipal councillor of Majadahonda (suburb of Madrid), then from 1979 to 1982 he was responsible for finance in the Regional Parliament for Madrid. When the PSOE won the elections in Spain in 1982, he became a member of Felipe González’s government, where he held various offices: 1982-1984 Secretary of State for the Budget, 1984-1991 Secretary of State for Finance and finally, 1991-1996, Minister for Public Works, Transport, the Environment and Telecommunications.
Apart from government offices, he held various offices within his Barcelona district. He was deputy for Barcelona at the Cortes, the House of Deputies (1986-2004), member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Catalonia (1992-2004), and member of the Federal Committee of the PSOE (1997-2000) . From 1999 to 2004, he chaired the parliamentary Committee on European Affairs. In that capacity, Josep BORRELL FONTELLES represented the Spanish Parliament (‘Cortes’) from 2002 to 2004 during the work on the Convention on the future of Europe.
After heading the list of socialists and winning the 2004 European elections, on 20 July he became President of the European Parliament.
From the moment of his opening address , Josep BORELL FONTELLES , inspired by his European convictions, focused his mandate on the importance of enlarging the European Union with a view to effectively uniting Europe. In his view, ‘...from Vilnius to Lisbon, Edinburgh to Athens, we are all part of the same Europe.’
Accordingly, on 29 October 2006, when Georgi Parvanov was re-elected President of the Republic of Bulgaria, he congratulated him on his major victory, ‘which implies recognition of his commitment to ensure that Bulgaria becomes part of the European family.’ ‘That success unequivocally reflects the support of the Bulgarian people for accession on 1 January 2007.’
At a time when the internal organisation of the European Parliament had become more complex, he managed to conclude the ’30-year-old’ dossier on the statute of Members of the European Parliament, relaunched the efforts to ratify the Constitutional Treaty and helped promote the role of the European Parliament, in particular during the formation of the first team of the President of the European Commission, the conservative José Manuel Durao Barroso.
During the budget debates, he gave impetus to the creation of an ad hoc committee on the financial perspective for 2007-2013, which he had the honour of chairing, something which much of the right wing held against him. Incidentally, Lord Plumb (EPP/ED) did the same in 1987 when he was President of the European Parliament.
In the context of the European Union’s external relations, among others, on 22 October 2006, at the energy summit of the 25 and Russia in Lahti ( Finland), Josep Borrell Fontelles addressed President Putin and said that ‘human rights must not be exchanged for energy production.’
In fact, that summit occurred just after the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaïa, at a time when the Russian President’s regime was regarded as veering towards authoritarianism, during the dispute between Russia and Georgia on the question of how Georgia could restore its sovereignty over its entire territory.
In 2006 Josep Borrell Fontelles was declared MEP of the year for his ‘serious attempt to reform Parliament and create a more focused, lively and political assembly.’
Since January 2007 he has been Chairman of the Committee on Development of the European Parliament and President of the Global Progressive Forum.
From January 2007 to July 2009 he chaired the Committee on Development of the European Parliament Currently he is President of the Global Progressive Forum.