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09/12/2016

Parliament agrees on new rules to beef up EU parties

Future EU

Parliament agrees on new rules to beef up EU parties

Delegates of the European People's Party at the electoral congress in Dublin, March 2014 [EPP]

A reform of the European political parties, adopted by Parliament on Wednesday (16 April), will allow for more flexible funding and ‘enhance their European character’.

The regulation, which awaits the formal endorsement of EU member states, will oblige European parties to register as organisations under EU law. It should enter into force on 1 January 2017.

This new statute “sets up a legal regime and a legal identity for the political parties, which is valid in all member states,” Greek MEP Marietta Giannakou (European People’s Party), who was responsible for the bill, explained earlier.

Until now, European political parties were still most commonly registered as non-profit organisations with the Belgian state.

“This is a major innovation,” said Maroš Šef?ovi?, the European Commission vice-president responsible for administrative matters, when he presented the agreement in March. “We see this as an important element in connecting [European political parties] to the EU citizen.”

Parliament also agreed on measures concerning the funding of European parties. In the future, they will be able to bump up their budget due to more flexible rules on spending and donations.

The parties “don’t ask for more funding”, stressed Marietta Giannakou, saying that the percentage of funding by the EU Parliament “remains stable”.

But parties will be allowed to carry over a part of their budget from one year to another. Also, the limit on individual donations from third parties rises from €12,000 to €18,000 per donor per year. Parties are required to report any donation above €3,000.

An independent ‘authority’ will police the rules and is empowered to hand out fines or even retract a party’s statute when spending rules are broken.

‘EU values’ bar racist and anti-democratic parties

Parties registering with the EU will also have to respect EU values, the new rules state.

The values refer to article 2 in the EU treaty, which mentions “human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights”.

The adoption of this phrase in Parliament’s bill caused controversy among MEPs, some of which saw it as an attempt to block organisations that are critical of the EU institutions.

A complaint based on a breach of these values will have to pass an inter-institutional committee. It can also be overruled by the EU’s Court of Justice.

Insiders argue that it will most likely never come to that stage, as an infringement of EU values will be hard to police or prove.

European political parties are umbrella organisations that gather ideologically allied national member parties across EU member states. The parties have received considerable attention over the past few months, following their initiative to put forward candidates for the next European Commission presidency.

There are currently 13 official European political parties. Many have related ‘foundations’ acting as ideologically allied think-tanks. The main political parties are also related to the political factions, or “groups” of MEPs, in the European Parliament.

Background

European political parties are umbrella organisations made up of national political parties in the EU states. They do not match political factions in parliament (called ‘Groups’) but, in many cases, are related to one another.

According to the EU Treaties, "political parties at European level are important as a factor for integration within the Union. They contribute to forming a European awareness and to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union."

A regulation passed in 2003 lays down the criteria they need to meet as well as the funding rules. The new rules are part of a report prepared in the committee on constitutional affairs of the EP, evaluating these rules.

Timeline

  • 1 Jan. 2017: Regulation enters into force
  • 2018: Target date for new rules to be fully effective
  • Mid-2018: EU Commission to table a proposal on improving the rules

Further Reading