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Will the European Political Parties Create European Politics?

Published on , , Zagreb

Finally, the moment of federalists in the EU has come, whose ideas have so far been repelled with disdain and the words "at the moment we have more important things to do than drawing a future federation". It was not that long ago (2011) when one of the outspoken members of the European Parliament and federalists, Andrew Duff, a liberal, proposed a brave electoral reform, aimed at raising the elections for European Parliament to the level that stems from the word 'European' before elections, deputies, parliament and parties. A little less than a year after the Briton presented his ideas 25 of the MEPs to be elected from a pan-European list, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made a clear commitment for the start of a debate about the creation of a European federation, starting as early as the elections in 2014.

According to Andrew Duff himself, Barroso's proposal is in the right direction, although a bit belated. "Unless we move to fiscal union, the eurozone will fall apart. Fiscal union needs federal economic government", the MEP said in an interview with euinside via e-mail. Vladimir Shopov, a Bulgarian political analyst, is of the opinion that the need of such debates stems from the fact that temporary solutions are on the edge of the law - for example the programme for bond purchases by the European Central Bank (ECB). Another reason why Mr Shopov thinks that the time is ripe for such a debate is that the next step envisages giving away of sovereignty. "This can no longer stay away from the citizens - a direct conversation is needed and a clear mandate. It will take a lot of time, there will be a lot of drama, twists, etc., but solutions 'in the dark' are no longer an option".

In the day of his annual state of the union address on September 12th, was presented also the proposal to amend the regulation for establishment and funding of political parties at European level. Barroso emphasises specifically in his address on that proposal, precisely because of the very clearly stated reform horizon - the elections in 2014. The biggest change in the regulation is its ambition to create genuine European, supranational political parties to fight to reach out to the European citizens and to provide a much stronger connection between the European civil society and the European institutions and the European Parliament in particular.

Andrew Duff called the proposal "a small step but an important one. It will allow European political parties to actually campaign at the elections in 2014 as they never have done before". Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission chief, spoke specifically about the need of creating a European public space. "The creation of such a space has been so far an intellectual exercise but it is now turning into one of the conditions for a conversation with the Europeans. Parties are a compulsory mechanism for this but this has not been happening for now, not because the regulation was bad but simply because national players had no consent for such a strategy even within their own European structures. For example, their programmes were brief and general, no one included in their campaigns politicians from other states, the big europarties had no clear nominations, etc. This will gradually change and a better regulation after all is a necessary condition", believes Vladimir Shopov.

A big novelty with the proposed changes to the regulation is the proposal to create a European legal statute. It will create a possibility a European political party or a foundation to register on the basis of EU legislation. As Vladimir Shopov recalls, until now the parties had a statute of foundations, not European institutions. The registered at European level political parties will be able to receive funding from the EU, although it is explicitly pointed out that only those that have at least one member in the European Parliament will be eligible for funding. In terms of funding, certain limitations are set, like for example that financing from the European budget should not exceed 90% of the annual spending of a European political party. Financing through the European budget for European political parties will be allocated as follows: 15% in equal shares and the other 85% according to the number of members in the European Parliament.

Besides, the ceilings for receiving donations are raised from individuals or legal entities to 25 000 euros annually per donor. Single donors, who donate more than 12 000 euros, will have to be reported in written to the European Parliament. The European political parties are not allowed to take anonymous donations; donations from the budgets of the political groups in the Europarliament; donations from any kind of organisation on which the public authorities can exercise influence directly or indirectly; from a public authority from a third country. The members of a European political party can also support its funding but their contribution cannot exceed 40 per cent of its annual budget, is stipulated in the regulation.

The parties are not allowed to directly or indirectly finance European or national political parties or candidates, as well as to finance campaigns for national referenda. In order to be equally positioned in financial terms, the European political parties have to be granted equal tax alleviations over donations as for the national political parties, which must be done for the donors too.

As the purpose of the amendments of the regulation is to support the creation of a European public space that Barroso dreams of, the European political parties will have to respond to several conditions in order to receive a European legal statute. Those conditions include defending the values which the European Union is founded on, to satisfy the minimum rules of internal party democracy, which Vladimir Shopov noted as an important novelty. With the new rules for financing and with the enhancing of the possibilities for raising own funding, the European political parties are given the possibility to finance their own campaigns for election of MEPs.

The parties are expected to work for increasing the European political activity of citizens, whatever that means, as well as to fight for transparency of the European electoral process. For the purpose, it is recommended the European political parties to inform citizens during European elections about the connections between them and their national parties and candidates. The parties have to have a European agenda and activities with a special focus on human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and human rights, including minority rights. Will they handle such a task, according to Andrew Duff, depends on the type of campaigns and how successful they will be.

In order for a political party to receive a European legal statute, it has to be registered in a member state, to be represented in at least a quarter of the member states through members in the European, national or regional parliaments, or to have received in at least one quarter of the member states at least 3% of the votes in each of these member states at the most recent elections for European Parliament.

According to European Commission data, this year 13 European political parties have received funding from the budget of the European Parliament, the size of which this year is 31 million euros. The biggest parties are well known - those are the European People's Party, which is the biggest in Europe, followed by the Party of the European Socialists, the European Liberal Party, the European Party of the Greens, the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, which is actually a breakaway fraction from the EPP.

On September 12, Jose Manuel Barroso made a very clear appeal for the elections for European Parliament in 2014, underpinning that the European political parties have to propose a nomination for the position of a European Commission president. This brave appeal raised the question to what extent is this feasible and can it respond to the criticism that European institutions (except the European Parliament) are not democratically elected. Vladimir Shopov believes that "a clash of preliminary selected candidates for European Commission chief would give a face to the European political dimension and would bring more conflict and debate into national campaigns. We are far from an overall single campaign with a European scale, but it suffices parties to 'bring more Europe' into their own national campaigns so that there is more 'Europeanisation' of the process. This will happen nonetheless because Europe is already domestically politicised issue. At least in a large part of western and central Europe. In the same time, this is far from a sufficient response to the question about democracy in the Union. But we should not look for any. For me the radical ideas for new Parliaments, Chambers, etc., are not realistic, they do not bring democratic added value and will not raise its legitimacy".

Andrew Duff, however, believes that the moment is appropriate for bold experiments. He recalled that the idea for election of Commission president is not Barroso's. "Some of us have been advocating this for years - but he is very welcome to appropriate it. Whatever happens in 2014, the Treaty of Lisbon makes clear that the next president of the Commission will effectively be elected by the European Parliament. The European Council will have to nominate a person who can command a majority of MEPs to support him or her".

During his address, Barroso spoke extensively about European democracy. Lately, however, this phrase sounds empty of content because it does not give an answer to the main question - how does European democracy look like given that there is till no federation of national states. Vladimir Shopov disagrees here. "The democratic legitimacy of the EU is double: direct, through Parliament, and mediated through the Council. These are two subjects that take decisions. There is no way that we can look for automatic imposition of the standards of the national state over the EU, even if it is going even more convincingly toward federation. Moreover, it will always be partial because you will never have a single political community, stemming from one demos. I am conservative in this regard - for me the current balance is adequate. More important is to sustain legitimacy in the eyes of Europeans through effectiveness rather than making institutional experiments".

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