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.

More transparency

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.”