The EU Parliament has put new rules in the pipeline on Tuesday (18 March) aimed at increasing funding transparency of pan-European political parties. The rules bar parties from receiving funding if they don’t respect EU values.
The European Parliament’s committee on constitutional affairs passed a report which lays down the basis of what European parties will look like in the future.
EU parties will face greater monitoring of their spending and obey stricter rules on how to use the money they receive from the European Parliament.
“We have improved transparency,” said Marietta Giannakou, a centre-right MEP from Greece who is rapporteur on the proposal. “The text also provides EU-wide political parties with an EU legal personality that ensures greater transparency and accountability," she said in a statement.
"We are not asking for more funds for EU political parties, but quite the contrary,” she stressed.
Parties will be allowed to increase the sum they raise themselves, as the ceiling on donations rises from €12,000 to €18,000 per donor per year. All donations above €3,000 will also have to be disclosed to the public.
Andrew Duff, a British liberal MEP and member of the constitutional affairs committee, told EURACTIV that “the new statute will give the political parties more flexibility to shift spending from one year to the next, and save up for the important election years’ campaigning.”
The new rules will be monitored by an independent ‘Authority’, which is empowered to hand out fines and even decide on retracting a party’s statute when spending rules are broken. The European Parliament itself can still impose penalties when parties don’t report their spending of EU funding properly, or in the case of a criminal conviction. Until now, the parties’ spending was monitored – rather loosely – by the European Parliament only.
Respecting EU values
The new status also stipulates that European political parties have to “respect EU values”.
This has stirred controversy in the constitutional affairs committee, with some MEPs voicing concern that funding rules shouldn’t bar parties with critical opinions on the EU from receiving funds.
Daniel Hannan, a British MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) group, was one of four who voted against the proposal. He told EURACTIV: “The single most obnoxious element of this proposal is that it allows the party in effect to be closed down by a vote in [the EU Parliament] plenary session – and so by a vote of its opponents.”
But proponents of the new rules point out that the EU values are clearly stated in the EU treaties (Article 2, TEU). Only parties engaging in clear racist, discriminatory or undemocratic actions risk being excluded from funding, they say.
According to the democracy watchdog Transparency International, there are plenty of safeguards in the procedure ensuring this will not happen, including a check by a committee of "independent eminent persons" that ensures a balance of power in the decision.
“We feared the rules could be used against unwanted parties in its first draft,” said Ronny Patz, a policy officer at Transparency International. But in the final report that was voted on Tuesday, "there are various kinds of safeguards against misusing this, and finally the possibility to go to court over a scrapping of funding,” he said.
These new rules are likely to have an impact on the next European Parliament, with the latest opinion polls predicting a surge in far-right parties following the May European elections.
But insiders argue that an infringement of EU values will be hard to police. “A party that is somewhat smart doesn’t mention in its statutes that it is racist,” said one source involved in drafting the new rules.
According to the latest opinion polls, France's Front National could get 18 seats, the Hungarian Jobbik 4 seats, the Greek Golden Dawn 3 seats, and the Belgian Vlaams Belang 1 seat. All of these parties have faced charges for inciting hatred and racism, and some of their individual members have been convicted in the past.
The rise of political parties
The report will be voted on by MEPs during the Parliament's last plenary session before the EU elections, on 14-17 April. Final approval from member states is expected the same month.
European political parties have attracted media attention over the past months with an initiative to put forward candidates for the EU Commission presidency in the run-up to the EU elections on 22-25 May. By doing so, the parties have politicised the campaign.
In the run-up to the elections, parties have also attempted to streamline the national elections campaigns of their members by adopting a common programme and sharing campaign material.
There are currently 13 official European political parties. Most of Europe’s political parties have related "foundations" acting as a think-tank and operating under the same budget. The main parties are also closely related to the political factions, or "groups" of MEPs in the European Parliament.