Party funding reform aims to boost turnout in 2009 EU elections

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The EU institutions yesterday adopted a new regulation designed to raise the profile of European political parties, with a view to raising public awareness of European issues and improving voter turnout ahead of the next European Parliament elections in 2009.

The regulation on European political parties, signed by the presidents of the Commission and Parliament on 18 December, aims to improve the financial stability and flexibility of European parties and paves the way for the creation of European ‘political foundations’ to better communicate EU issues to citizens and foster pan-European debate. 

The regulation builds upon the “Plan D” initiative on democracy, dialogue and debate launched by Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström in 2005, which aims to improve the communication of EU affairs to citizens. 

Wallström, responsible for institutional affairs and communication strategy, said the regulation would “strengthen communication, dialogue and active involvement of the citizens”, allowing the Union to “achieve its objectives and deliver the right policies”. 

Voter participation in elections to the European Parliament, which take place every five years, has been falling since their introduction in 1979 and fell below 30% in some member states in 2004. In keeping with this downward trend, the first-ever election of Romanian MEPS this November attracted just 29% of voters (EURACTIV 23/11/07). 

The reforms set aside €10.6 million of EU funding for the election campaigns of ten different European-level political parties in 2008. An additional €5 million will be allocated to the new political foundations envisaged by the regulation. 

The foundations, affiliated to EU-level political parties, are expected to contribute to the ideological debate over EU issues by engaging with civil society and academia. “European political foundations will play an important role in involving citizens in a permanent, genuine and informed political dialogue”, Wallström said. 

European People’s Party (EPP) President Wilfried Martens described the signing of the regulation as a “turning point for the democratisation” of the EU, putting European political parties “at the centre of the […] political process” in a “new era of European politics”. 

Meanwhile, the establishment of European political foundations “offers endless opportunities for the development of the political debate” and the funding for European election campaigns “allows for the competition of programmes and ideology at European level,” Martens added. 

Upon the adoption of the reforms by MEPs on 29 November (EURACTIV 30/11/07), German Socialist MEP and rapporteur on the issue Jo Leinen said they would give European political parties “more flexibility in managing their funds and financing their electoral activities”. 

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