European political parties to get higher profile
The Commission will propose today (12 September) an initiative giving European political parties and foundations new EU legal status aimed at boosting their visibility across member states ahead of the next European elections.
The proposal, to be agreed by the college of commissioners through the written procedure, provides a new legal and financial framework for European political parties which should be in place before the June 2014 elections.
The move was initiated by the European Parliament which approved an own-initiative report in April 2011. It will allow parties to have full legal capacity in all member states, a change from the current regime. Eight of the 13 European political parties are registered as NGOs in Belgium and struggle to undertake activities in member states.
“At the moment we’re in a strange situation, both a part of and not a part of the EU institutions. We exist but do not exist,” said Graham Watson, president of the European Liberal Democrats. “I am not pushing for this change but it does makes the lives of EU political parties easier.”
A European Commission spokesman cautioned that the state of play of the new legislation will very much depend on how member states intend to implement it. But it might improve voter turnout.
The change puts the European political parties on equal footing with the European institutions and can strengthen the links between the European Parliament and citizens. “Of course changes will not happen overnight, but it creates a platform for truly European election campaigns,” said the spokesman.
The proposal replaces the 2003 regulation governing political parties, and paves the way to amend the financial regulation when it come comes into force next year. But it does come with strings attached.
The Commission is demanding more transparency. “There has to be more financial control to make sure that the money is spent correctly,” the spokesman told EurActiv.
Under the Commission’s proposal, European political parties will receive direct financial contributions and cease to get grants, which they have received up to now because they are considered NGOs, EurActiv has learned.
In 2011, Transparency International called on members of the European Parliament to step up transparency of political finance of Europarties and their foundations, in particular the timely publishing of private donations and in-kind support. Transparency International also called for rules on reporting campaign income and expenses during and after European Parliament elections.
Corruption risks persist in 25 European countries and the transparency watchdog recommended that national laws regulating political party finance ensure that corporate and individual donations are limited and published.
The Commission draft proposal raises the current donations limit of €12,000 to €25,000 per year, requesting that the identity of donors should be disclosed for donations above €1,000, instead of the current €500, EurActiv has learned. Breaching the rules would result on sanctions, going as far as removing the European status.
“We would like to see political finance rules at European level that allow fair and clean European Parliament elections in 2014,” said Jana Mittermaier, director of the Transparency International EU Office. “We welcome a revision of the current rules as these are not adequate when it comes to reporting obligations, monitoring and sanctions, in particular during EP election campaigns.”
European political parties are umbrella organisations made up of national political parties in the EU states.
A regulation passed in 2003 lays down the criteria they need to meet as well as the funding rules. Parliament was required by the current law on European political parties to draft a report on how it is functioning.
The Party of European Socialists' General Secretary, Philip Cordery stated that:
"This proposal finally allows European political parties to have European status. It is a step forward in creating a ‘European political space."
He added that: “European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič is to be complimented on this proposal. He has followed through on his commitment to give genuine recognition to the role of European Political Parties.”
Sir Graham Watson, President of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, said:
“I welcome the fact that for the first time in the history of European integration, European political parties and European political foundations will have a true European legal statute.”
“The proposal goes much further than the simple recognition of the role of European political parties in European integration as in the Maastricht Treaty,” Watson said.
The President of the European People's Party (EPP), Wilfried Martens welcomed President José Manuel Barroso's and the European Commission's proposal for a statute on European political parties:
"The Commission's proposal for a statute for European political parties, which was announced today by President José Manuel Barroso, is a significant step forward for the democratisation of the European Union and its institutions. So indeed, as President Barroso said: 'globalisation demands more European unity, more unity demands more integration, and more integration demands more democracy'. The Commission's call to European political parties to put forward a candidate for President of the European Commission in the upcoming European Parliament elections of 2014, has already been answered in the past by the EPP, since we were the only party to have the courage to put forward our candidate at the 2004 and 2009 elections," Martens said.
"Funding Europe-wide political parties should never include groups of parties that foster racial hatred," said David Martin MEP, British Labour spokesperson on Constitutional Affairs.
"Earlier this year, there was a proposal to give funding to a Europe-wide federation of far right political groups, and we led an alliance of political parties to oppose this. If we're going to have state-funding for Europe-wide political parties, obviously it should include funding for all streaks of democratic opinion, whether it's right, left, green or anti-European," Martin added.