In September 2012, when Jose Manuel Barroso presented a proposal for changes in the legislation related to the European political parties, euinside asked: Will the European political parties create European politics? Three months later, when the Constitutional Affairs Committee in the European Parliament discussed the draft regulation for the first time, the question again remained without an answer. The European Commission chief's proposal from the autumn of last year, from an image point of view, aims for creation of a genuine supranational political space that would be effective and transparent. The changes in the regulation, however, in operational sense, concern the registration of political parties and foundations, their funding and control over their activities.
The first test for the proposal was during the meeting of the constitutional committee of the Europarliament on December 18th last year, when the report on the proposal regulation of Marietta Giannakou MEP (EPP, Greece) was discussed. The main issues that were raised concerned raising the ceiling for private donations from 12 000 euros to 25 000 euros, as well as a change of the proportion for financing parties from the EU budget and own resources - from 85%/15% to 90%/10%. Regarding the other proposed changes, however, some issues need to be clarified first, as it became clear during the debate. Some of the controversial aspects of the overall reform are:
- Registration criteria - Will only national and regional parties have the right to establish a European party?
- Principles and conditions for financial assistance - How fair is the principle "only parties represented in the European Parliament" to have enhanced representation compared with the others and therefore, should they be allowed to benefit from bigger funding?
- Purposes of financing - Will parties be allowed to spend money on referenda when they are dedicated to issues related to the EU?
- Controlling body - Will the EP, a council of elders or a court be tasked to check the registrations of European parties and whether they stick to the democratic principles and European values?
Another case, brought up by the British liberal Andrew Duff (ALDE), who is also a renown federalist and initiator of an overall electoral reform in the EU, is the need to wait for the opinion of the Belgian authorities regarding the registration of parties because currently the European political families are registered in Brussels as foundations. It is difficult to draw the conclusion from the debate that all groups share the moving forward of the changes in the legislation. In his statement, Helmut Scholz (Germany, Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left) pointed out that may be we should stick to the existing rules because otherwise the big parties will be favoured for the sake of smaller parties.
The various parties need to have equal conditions when competing and most of all in terms of funding and the way these funds are spent, he said and added that the group he represents would introduce proposals for amendments. When it comes to equal conditions, in Marietta Giannakou's report, one of the most frequent proposals for amendments are related to equality between women and men. British MEP John Stuart Agnew from Nigel Farage's group Europe of Freedom and Democracy, drew attention to the citizens and whether the changes in the legislation were dictated by the needs of the European voters.
In this sense, he asked his colleagues from the committee: Do we have a mandate to take these decisions? Mr Agnew added that if it is not fair the number of deputies to be a criterion, while MEPs are being elected under the system of proportional representation, then if a newly established party cannot gain sufficient support to send a MEP, would it be fair to say that this party should have paid representation in Europe? Although the draft report of the rapporteur, Marietta Giannakou, to a large extent got support among the members of the constitutional committee, there were some remarks as well.
The proposal for a controlling body (a group of three representatives - of the EP, the Commission and the Council, the so called elders) was not met with unanimous approval. According to Andrew Duff, a "judge" of the parties should be an electoral body that would be "a hand away" from the Commission and to follow for the implementation of party legislation. Anneli Jааtteenmaki (ALDE, Finland) recalled that the EP is a legislative body that should not have the obligation to assess the suitability of parties and foundations. Her proposal is that role to be granted to a court or the Commission.
Rainer Wieland (Germany, EPP) focused on what in fact should political parties be. According to him, in the Commission proposal on some issues there are a lot of details while elsewhere there are vague formulations. Mr Wieland expressed the opinion that the possibility of creating a European citizenship should be considered and that the status of a European party should no be defined only under the criteria members and funding but also whether citizens wish to vote for that party in elections. That is why, there must be a formal demand to check whether a party fits the requirements and whether it has a truly democratic structure.
Ms Giannakou, who put an end to the debate, said that the European parties should have a special status and develop and impose the European principles and values. If, however, there are political structures with anti-democratic activities, a competent assessment should be made and certain tools should be applied. Regarding the tax issues, she said that all the matters that are not dealt with in the draft regulation should be solved at national level. The deadline for proposals for changes is January 17th and the next discussion is a month later, which we will follow again.