Treaties and the European Parliament
The first Treaty signed in 1951 set up the Parliamentary Assembly, which was later renamed the European Parliament. The purpose of the original Treaty was for six countries that were previously at war to work together to achieve common aims. Subsequent Treaties have agreed new areas in which to work together or have been designed to improve the working of the EU institutions as membership has grown from six to 28. For example, agriculture policy was introduced in the EEC Treaty and the Nice Treaty reformed the institutional structure of the EU.
The European Parliament, Council, Commission, Court of Justice and Court of Auditors exercise their powers in accordance with the Treaties. The Commission is considered «the Guardian of the Treaties». When a new Treaty is to be created, or an existing Treaty amended, an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) is set up in which the governments of the member states meet. Parliament is consulted and gives its opinion on the Treaty as it is shaped and developed. Parliament has acquired ever more democratic, supervisory and legislative powers with each new Treaty. With the Treaty of Brussels (signed in 1975), the Parliament acquired the right to scrutinise the EU accounts at the end of each year, and assess whether the Commission has wisely and correctly spent the EU budget. New additions with the Single European Act (Treaty signed in 1986) ensured that Parliament’s assent is mandatory before a new country can join the EU. The Amsterdam Treaty (signed in 1997) gave a much stronger position to the Parliament in co-legislating with the Council on a whole range of areas that are subject to EU law (consumer protection, ability to work legally in another country and environmental issues, to name a few).
The latest Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty, entered into force on 1 December 2009. It strengthens the European Parliament, gives national parliaments more responsibility in determining the course of European policy, as well as allowing EU citizens the power of initiative. The Lisbon Treaty enhances European Parliament’s powers as a fully recognised co-legislator with increased budgetary powers. It also gives Parliament a key role in the election of the European Commission President.