2009 European party manifestos at a glance

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EURACTIV provides an overview of the four main European parties’ electoral manifestos, analysing their content and asking experts how they compare with previous efforts.

Background

The electoral manifestos of the European parties are often dismissed as bland, lowest-common-denominator texts that lose all meaning in their efforts to cater to all their national member parties. 

Moreover, the extent to which the national parties use the manifestos in their own campaigning has traditionally been minimal. 

Attitudes are changing, however. The European Greens, by common consent, were the first political family to attempt an embryonic pan-European campaign, when at the 2004 European elections their national parties agreed to use common campaign visuals and messages from a centralised manifesto (EURACTIV 31/07/08). 

This year, the other parties are following suit, with slicker, more inclusive manifestos from the European LiberalsSocialists  and Conservatives. Social media tools – including blogs, videos, Facebook and Twitter, among others – have begun to feature prominently in the creation and structuring of these campaigns. 

Issues

Theoretically, the four main parties occupy very different positions on the political spectrum. Using this year's dominant political issues – fighting the financial and economic crisis, climate change and the Union's role on the world stage – as a framework, EURACTIV compares the four biggest parties' manifestos to see how the EU's big hitters are setting out their stalls. 

Tackling the financial and economic crisis

The European Parliament's largest party, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), promises to "create new jobs and green the economy" (EURACTIV 02/02/09). Under the banner 'Creating Prosperity for Everyone', the EPP reaffirms its belief in the European social market economy, and calls for tighter control and regulation of the global financial system without resorting to "socialism". 

Using strong conservative rhetoric, the EPP says "our positions are distinctly different from the ideological leftist approach of the Socialists, but they also differ fundamentally from the position of market fundamentalists, who believe that markets alone should rule the world". This latter statement is presumably a reference to the traditionally pro-market European liberals. 

The central planks of the EPP's economic strategy include: 

  • "Green investments": Boosting employment, entrepreneurship and investment in renewable resources;
  • Large-scale infrastructure projects, especially trans-European transport networks;
  • Increased spending on research and innovation in all EU countries and the achievement of a Community patent;
  • SMEs: Reversing Europe's "lack of pioneering entrepreneurs";
  • Financial regulation: Developing mechanisms for the creation of a Europe-wide and rule-based regulatory system in the financial sector, and; 
  • Reducing taxes and contributions across the EU. 

The European Socialists (PES) view the financial crisis as a construct of the centre-right, which has governed a majority of EU countries as well as the EU institutions over the last five years. "The conservatives often talk about economic and social crises as if they are unavoidable, a law of nature. But there is nothing inevitable about them," says the PES manifesto (EURACTIV 03/12/08). 

It goes on to claim that "conservatives have pursued a policy of blind faith in the market – serving the interests of the few rather than the general public – and we are now seeing the damage that badly regulated markets can do". 

To tackle the crisis, the PES proposes to: 

  • End tax havens, tax avoidance scams and tax evasion; 
  • Reform the financial markets through rigorous capital requirements for all financial players, and limits on excessive borrowing and bad loans to prevent excessive risk-taking and debt; 
  • Limit top executive pay and bonuses, so earnings reflect losses as well as profits; 
  • A European strategy for smart green growth and jobs to create 10 million new jobs by 2020 (two million in the renewable energies sector alone); 
  • A European initiative to expand energy and broadband infrastructure for the purposes of economic modernisation, and; 
  • A 'European Pact for the Future of Employment', to see how employability and employment opportunities can be safeguarded and improved. 

Sticking to their guns, the pro-market Liberals (ELDR) would welcome "steps to reform the financial system," but argue that "a relapse into policies of nationa­lisation, over-regulation and protectionism would be a major mistake" (EURACTIV 05/11/08). 

The Liberals prescribe a number of steps to restore economic growth. According to the 2009 Liberal manifesto, "cross-border competition, knowledge sharing and free trade in goods and services are essential for increas­ing the EU's international economic competitiveness". 

In particular, they call for: 

  • A single market for intellectual property; 
  • The single market to be reinforced and extended in energy, postal services, fi­nancial services, railways and health care; 
  • Intensified international cooperation among financial regulators and strengthening international stan­dards, with a reformed IMF at its centre; 
  • The introduction of an EU 'Blue Card' sys­tem, administered by each member state, to ensure measu­red economic migration for the benefit of EU citizens, and;
  • The EU to be the driving force within the WTO for the abolition of customs duties and non-tariff barriers, and for opening Europe's single market to the wider world. 

The European Greens view the crisis as an opportunity to "transform our economic and social system into one that will offer generations to come a future based on stability, sufficiency and sustainability". 

Their 'Green New Deal' manifesto (EURACTIV 01/04/09) argues that "shifting to a greener economy and combating climate change will boost employment and make us more self-sufficient, reducing our damaging reliance on energy imports". 

Attacking "the dominant neoliberal ideology in Europe," the Greens argue the EU should "defend social systems and labour conditions from the pressures of fierce and unfettered competition". 

The 'Green alternative' argues for: 

  • The transformation of the EU agricultural policy in a way that supports and encourages farmers to produce quality food in a sustainable way (organic farming and fair trade); 
  • Putting financial markets "on a leash", with an EU-level watchdog to scrutinise and regulate financial markets and services; 
  • Massive investment in education, science and research in green, future-oriented technologies to put Europe at the forefront of a global economic revolution, and; 
  • The reinforcement of social and labour rights, with equal pay for equal work for men and women alike, as well as for posted, immigrant or temporary workers. 

Climate change and energy policy 

The centre-right EPP wants the European Union to be the frontrunner in low-carbon and carbon-free technologies, and calls for a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels). 

It also favours the immediate introduction of energy-saving measures, such as programmes for the energy-efficient renovation of existing residential and public buildings. 

It supports diversifying the EU's energy mix, including the development of nuclear power "in some countries". 

The centre-left PES wants EU support – including "massive technology transfers" - to help developing countries to fight as well as adapt to climate change. It also calls for the EU to "take the lead in establishing a global energy and development forum". 

The Socialists want to develop a 'European Common Energy Policy' based on sustainability, energy security and independence, diversity of energy sources and "solidarity between member states in the event of energy crises". 

They call for sustainable reform of both the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the EU's Biofuels Directive, as well as the introduction of a "comprehensive EU climate directive that would ensure that targets and actions in all those sectors not already covered by existing law – energy, agriculture, food, building and transport – are combined to enable the Union to reach its overall emission targets". 

The  European Liberals emphasise that in the EU climate package, "bu­siness needs reduced administrative burdens and in­centives to stimulate investment in techniques to en­hance a strong low-carbon economy". 

The ELDR also wants to "unbundle Europe's energy industry to ensure transparency and serve consumer interests," and invest in innovative technologies "providing solu­tions, efficiency and increased security of energy supply". 

They, too, call for wholesale reform of the CAP, enabling EU farmers to "compete in a free global market" and "better meet increasing glo­bal demand for food in an environmentally responsible way". They are in favour of second-generation biofuels. 

The Greens call for a "resource revolution," committing the EU to emission reductions of 40% by 2020 and 80-95% by 2050, based on 1990 levels. They want the EU to set itself the target of creating five million green collar jobs over the coming five years. 

Resolutely against any future development of nuclear power (described in their manifesto as a "dead-end technology"), the Greens instead favour the creation of a European Renewables Community (ERENE) to support the long-term goal of 100% energy from renewable sources, as well as a "concerted investment drive in green technologies in which the European Investment Bank must play a role". 

Another priority is ending the EU's "damaging dependence on oil" through the creation of a sustainable transport system, with "investment in trans-European railroad connections and networks" and affordable public transport in cities. 

EU on the world stage 

All four parties agree that the EU must increase its influence on the global stage, and believe the Lisbon Treaty to be the right vehicle with which to achieve this aim. 

Interesting divergences begin to appear, however, when the different parties outline what specific steps should be taken towards this goal. 

The EPP wants to "intensify action so as to put an end to all forms of global terrorism," and, in the next five years, "consolidate the European peace area" to encompass Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. 

In security and defence, the EPP accuses member states of acting as if the EU "still has twenty years to prepare for the complex military challenges of today's world". Their manifesto proposes to update the 2003 European Security Strategy and commit member states to "pool future research on weapons and military technologies," under the umbrella of the European Defence Agency and with strong cooperation between the EU and NATO. 

The centre-left PES favours comprehensive reform of global governance, namely the UN (particularly the Security Council), WTO, World Bank and IMF, to better reflect the interests of developing countries, particularly the poorest among these. 

Socialists also propose to ensure that the EU establishes coherent disaster prevention tools, works towards international nuclear disarmament, and creates an 'Alliance of Civilisations' through the United Nations, strengthening dialogue and partnership between peoples and cultures. 

The PES favours "decentralised cooperation" in European development policy and the establishment of a 'European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps'. 

The ELDR believes the EU should play "an important role in contribu­ting effectively to global security, where appropriate in coo­peration with NATO structures," and calls for "major new efforts to strengthen and extend the European Security and Defence Policy by bringing together European defence-related resources and capabilities". 

The Greens, meanwhile, want the EU to "lead by example in its engagement with the rest of the world," employing a "new style" of foreign policy. 

They favour the strengthening of multilateral bodies and international law, arguing that the EU should "devote more energy and resources to support the international community (particularly the UN) in addressing conflicts that have been long overlooked". 

They place an emphasis on international cooperation and humanitarian aid, calling for the establishment of a 'European Civil Peace Corps' ready to make non-military interventions for humanitarian purposes. 

Positions

Having compared the manifestos of the 'big four' thematically, EURACTIV asked EU experts to assess whether they are an improvement on previous efforts. 

Dr. Hermann Schmitt of the University of Mannheim has provided in-depth analysis of every European election since 1979, looking at the electoral platforms and manifestos of national 'sister' parties across the EU to gauge the coherence of their message. 

He offered tentative praise of this year's manifestos: 

"I think these European parties are doing pretty well. They are grandiose integrators of newcomers [i.e new member parties joining their pan-European umbrella]; they are increasingly homogenous in ideological and policy terms; they are coherent as regards the behaviour of their members, and if they then at the national level recruit candidates to their parties and produce platforms which can be shown to fit quite well with the common European party's 'umbrella message', then the whole thing is a very democratic endeavour." 

"I'm not just comparing the EU level manifestos – I'm looking at the national member party platforms and seeing whether they fit well together and empirically - it has been proven that they do," he added. 

"For the four big parties, there is a high degree of compatibility between the message that is produced in the European manifestos and the one that emerges on the national level in election campaigns," he said. 

"This is a necessary – though still not sufficient – precondition for the further democratisation of electoral democracy at the EU level," Schmitt concluded. 

David Earnshaw, the British co-author of the comprehensive 'The European Parliamentguide, is less impressed with the efforts of European parties. 

"For the last 20 years – and this year is no exception – European party manifestos have been lowest-common-denominator political constructions. They're a hell of a lot better now than they used to be. Some of us look back to the days when we used to count the footnotes! Nowadays, there aren't any, which is progress, but they're still lowest-common-denominator efforts." 

"They're disappointing. On the other hand, Europe is sometimes its own worst enemy when it comes to translating what is done in Brussels into language which can be used outside Brussels. Europe does highly politically sensitive things, and yet it often comes across in a very technocratic kind of way." 

Sebastian Kurpas, a former analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels, believes the effectiveness of the manifestos will depend on how member parties present them in concrete terms at the national level in the June elections. 

"I see, with these manifestos, a clear attempt by the European parties to present genuine policy alternatives to voters in 2009. The problem is that structurally it's difficult to do so at the European level, compared to the national level," he said. 

"The success or failure of these manifestos depends on how credibly they are presented. All of them have the themes of economy and prosperity in their manifestos: EPP: 'Creating prosperity for everyone'; PES: 'Relaunching the economy and preventing a new financial crisis'; ELDR: 'EU single market growth and employment'. All these sound very similar, so the real question is whether they will they be able to develop them beyond slogans, to underpin them with something concrete at the national level," Kurpas added. 

Timeline

  • 4-7 June 2009: European Parliament elections.

Further Reading

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