ECPR Joint Sessions
University of Nottingham, Nottingham
25 - 30 April 2017

Intra-Party-Group Cohesion in the European Parliament prior to its First Direct Elections in 1979

Political Parties
Party Members
Decision Making
Mechthild Roos
University of Luxembourg
Mechthild Roos
University of Luxembourg

Prior to its first direct elections in 1979, the European Parliament (EP) adopted many resolutions by unanimity. Yet, its members (MEPs) represented national parties from the entire political right-to-left spectrum, sternly opposing each other in their home parliaments. The unity on Community level, allowing the EP to develop a clear stance on many political issues from the 1950s onwards, was based not only on negotiations in the EP’s committees or between party group leaders, but within the EP’s party groups. This paper examines the inner cohesion of these party groups at a time when such cohesion was technically not necessary – given the EP’s weak role, according to the Treaties. That cohesion existed, and increased, shows not least the strong conviction shared by most MEPs to make the EP a ‘real’ parliament, working not as an assembly of national parliamentarians, but of Euro-parliamentarians.

Based notably on semi-structured interviews with former MEPs from all EP party groups existing prior to 1979, as well as on EP plenary debates, this paper assesses the varying levels of cohesion within the different party groups. As there was no possibility to encourage party discipline in the EP other than through the awarding of positions such as committee chairman or rapporteur, the paper focuses on the MEPs’ socialisation and ideas rather than on formally measurable behaviour, such as voting. The Paper furthermore shows the historical development of intra-party-group cohesion, with a focus not least on the entry of French and Italian Communist MEPs in the late 1960s/early 1970s and the first enlargement of the Communities in 1973, bringing new national parties to the EP, and with them a new level of confrontation. The increase of opposing attitudes to European integration as a whole, and specific policies in particular, led to a stronger need of internal cohesion.
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