An MEP bids farewell after nearly 30 years in Parliament

The EU has made Europe a better place, but after nearly 30 years as an MEP, it’s clear that maintaining those gains requires ongoing vigilance, writes Evelyne Gebhardt in her letter bidding farewell to European Parliament
Evelyn Gebhardt | Photos provided by Evelyn Gebhardt's office

By Evelyne Gebhardt

Evelyne Gebhardt (DE, S&D) was a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 2022

23 Feb 2022

Early in my life, I experienced the benefits offered by a peaceful Europe. I grew up in Paris, learning German as my first foreign language. After studying in Tübingen and Stuttgart, I finally moved to Germany in 1975, where I joined the SPD (German Social Democratic Party). At that time, I was strongly concerned with the difficulties of mutual recognition of educational qualifications.

Another focus was the issue of equality. Then, the image of women in Germany was much less progressive than in France. In 1982, I co-founded the ASF (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sozialdemokratischer Frauen / Working Group of Social Democratic Women) in the Hohenlohe district, in order to pursue these issues more actively. Ultimately, however, I was focused on creating a social, united and citizen-oriented Europe. 

At the same time, I was aware that the direction of my main areas of interest was set at European level. So, to be able to make a direct impact here, I decided to stand for election to the European Parliament and was elected as an MEP on 12 June 1994. With the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty in November 1993 - a milestone in European integration and the democratisation - the Parliament received many new powers.

I have been a member of the Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) since its initiation in 2004. From 2004 to 2017, I also served as the spokesperson for the Socialist Group. A well-regulated internal market is the key to prosperity, innovation and competitiveness. This requires enforcement and the continuous adaptation of EU consumer protection rules; it is the only way to protect the rights and wellbeing of consumers.

In recent years, digitalisation has seen completely new challenges and fields of action emerge. A major project for me in committee was my rapporteurship on the European Services Directive from 2004 to 2006. The directive was intended to enable the freedom for cross-border provision of services in order to ease access in other EU Member States.

“With the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty in November 1993 - a milestone in European integration and the democratisation - the Parliament received many new powers”

In principle, this was welcome. However, the Commission’s proposal contained demands for liberalisation that I found unacceptable. Nevertheless, the framework conditions were unfavourable towards my position; the majorities in the Council and in Parliament supported the Commission proposal. However, through hard persuasion and protracted negotiations, we succeeded in turning around the parliamentary majority. 

Ultimately, the Parliament was able to assert its position and the decision on the Services Directive differed significantly from the Commission proposal. For example, the controversial country-of-origin principle was deleted, and Member States were guaranteed the right to impose restrictions to protect public goods.

The vote in February 2006 for a significantly revised directive represented both a personal success for supporters and was a milestone in the history of the Parliament. As the representative of the EU’s citizens, it had confidently assumed its place in the European legislative process and thereby strengthened its long-term position. The history of this directive clearly showed that even an individual MEP has the power to shape legislation.

Being a Member of Parliament also means working in the international delegations. Since 2019, I have been vice-chair of the delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China (I had already been a member from 1997 to 2014, serving as vice-chair from 2000 to 2002). In the past two decades, relations with China have developed to become one of the global political conflict lines of the 21st century.

During my first visits with the China delegation, we had always been able to push human rights and the rule of law on the agenda of our bilateral meetings. However, this has changed in recent years. China has chosen a communication of denial and conflict. While it had been difficult in the past to criticise the human rights situation, it has now become impossible to even get our Chinese counterparts to the table to discuss these topics.

“The history of the European Services Directive clearly showed that even an individual MEP has the power to shape legislation”

During the second half of the last parliamentary term, I served as vice-president of the European Parliament. I felt honoured that my colleagues had placed this trust in me. My work in this role focused, among other things, on chairing the Digital Working Group, on the European Parliament’s political dialogue with Latin America and on the LUX Prize, which is awarded annually by the European Parliament to promote cultural diversity and creativity in European cinema.

The European Parliament is also a popular destination for the public. Prior to the pandemic, I used to receive over 2000 visitors a year as an MEP. In particular, I always find the discussions with schools extremely valuable, both during their visits to the Parliament and during my visits to them (sadly only via video conference recently, due to the pandemic).

It is hard to imagine the coming generation’s daily life without Europe. This makes it all the more important to promote the vision of a united Europe and to draw attention to the fact that European unification cannot be taken for granted. 

Read the most recent articles written by Evelyne Gebhardt - eCommerce rules should be simplified