EU Commission publishes plans for European party funding

The Commission published a draft regulation outlining the guidelines and statute for European parties on 19 February. Party representatives call for a more realistic assessment of their situation.

The contentious issues discussed in Council meetings during the Swedish and Belgian Presidencies of the Union, centered on three aspects, on which no unanimous position could be found:

 

  • How to verify that a European Party is founded on respect for democratic principles and a proposed verification system
  • The height of threshold for financing in terms of the number of Member States in which a European party must be established
  • The prohibition/limitation of certain types of donation.

The new regulation, Commission officials said ahead of the adoption, reformulates a number of these disputed issues, but the spirit of the original proposal remains unaltered:

  • It outlines that European political parties should abide by the principles of freedom, democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, whereas the old plan only bound parties to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Questions of verification of a party’s adherence to these principles are still to be outlined.
  • The proposal reiterates its claim whereby only political groups represented in at least three Member States should be recognized as European political parties and be eligible for funding–the EP had previously asked for this number to be increased to four Member States.
  • Private donations of larger amounts and/or by single donors to European Parties should be declared The new report slightly increases proposed budget allocation to 8.4 million EURO, up from 7 million in the previous proposal

 

In negotiations in the Council on the previous Commission proposal Austria and Denmark had questioned the necessity to bind parties to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and defended the notion of European political parties having an exclusively national base. France was particularly concerned about the status of private donations in the proposal not conflicting with national law.

Representatives from the current five pan-European parties agreed on 18 February that this proposal was necessary and 'reasonable' in its scope. Most party representatives criticised that the Commission had not studied previous party budgets to give their budget allocation a realistic figure.

Antony Beumer, Gen. Secretary of the European Socialists(PES) said "we are disappointed that in outlining the financial budget for the parties, the Commission did not analyze current party budgets. The PES and other party groups want full independence and such an analysis would have been helpful."

Arnold Cassola, Gen. Secretary of the European Greensagreed, saying "the cost has not been qualified, the sum that is to be given has no motivation, no b asis and it is absolutely not possible for even the existing parties to survive outside parliament on these funds."

Lex Corijn, Gen.Secretary of the European Liberals(ELDR) did not want to comment on the details of the proposal but underlined that he hoped this new regulation could be a step toward full independence and transparency and noted that "it would be great if we could achieve that during the Greek Presidency."

Robert Fitzhenry, Press Secretary of the European People's Party Group(EPP-ED)stressed that "transparency is necessary and increased through this proposal."

Commission President Romano Prodiwelcomed the new proposal as essential for improving democracy in the European Union. Pan-European political parties "ensure that European elections are fought on truly European rather than national issues," Prodi concluded in a statement.

In response to the Commission's outline, the parties are drawing up a joint paper on their views for a realistic threshold for party funding, which is to be published at the end of the week.

 

The Commission first published a regulation on behalf of the Council on this issue in 2001, citing that European Parties were an 'important factor for integration' in the Union.

An inquiry by the European Court of Auditors in 2000 had raised questions as to how funds were being allocated between the EP's political groups and the actual corresponding parties. The political groups for a large part, gave subsidies to the corresponding parties and provided staff charged to their budget, therefore ultimately to the EP's budget, which was considered illegal by the Court of Auditors.

The Commission's report outlined how to give the five pan-European parties represented in the EP greater access to European funds, giving them greater independence and increasing overall transparency. Disagreements in the European Council and a shift in the legal base upon which the regulation is built through the Nice Treaty have prompted a renewed Commission report. The legal base, Article 191 of the Treaty, is now subject to qualified majority in the Council and the co-decision procedure with the European Parliament.

 

  • After adoption by the Commission, the regulation is transferred to EP and Council

 

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