The Future of European Union Political Parties
now been given by its Member States demand that Presidents of the Commission should have a direct democratic mandate of their own. The political elite may imagine that information or more professional communication with citizens will suffice to close this gap between the public and the EU institutions. This, I fear, will not be the case. There has to be a radical change in the relationship between voters and the EU institutions. This process of change can only be begun if the embryo European Union political parties develop the self-confidence to offer voters a genuine choice, not only about strategic policy but also about the political leadership of the Commission—hopefully by the time of the next elections to the European Parliament in June 2009. The evolution of European parties At present we cannot say with confidence that European political parties really exist. Until very recently the most that could be said about those political groups in the European Parliament that described themselves as “parties” was that they were loose confederations of national parties with (a greater or lesser) ambition to become fully fledged transnational parties. There are indications that at least some of the major EP political groups are at last serious about achieving full party status—a development that the Constitutional Treaty would encourage by giving European parties their own legal identities and by providing funding.4 Indeed in a major development agreed on by the European Parliament in March of 2006, voters in all 25 countries would in future choose from the same lists of candidates put forward by European political parties. Individuals would be able to join the European parties—which would have a central role in European referenda and in the election of the Commission President. The Parliament called for EU legislation and
endorsed financial reforms to assist the parties in developing beyond umbrella organisations for national parties. MEPs called for an increase in the €8.4 million shared between European parties last year, to take account of EU enlargement and increased operational costs. Other measures approved by the European Parliament include the development of European political foundations and support for European parties’ youth organisations. It is true that—on paper—European political parties have existed for a long time, albeit in the shadow of the European Parliament political groups. Today, there are eight political parties that receive public support on the basis of current EU legislation. But they all fall well short of being a ‘European party federation’ or a ‘fully fledged party’. It remains to be seen now whether the Council of Ministers—representing Member State governments—will agree to these modest but vital reforms. There are obstacles in the way of European parties becoming serious players in the political life of the EU. It is not clear whether or how individual membership of such parties should best be constituted. National parties have already had to confront a similar issue in the context of regional devolution. This led to the creation of specifically ‘regional’ parties—linked to their political family at the national level but with a considerable degree of autonomy. Catalonia and Scotland are cases in point. There appears to be no valid reason why individual members joining parties that are simultaneously active at the regional, national and European levels should not enjoy specified rights at all levels. More important is the need for European parties to establish their autonomy and their own identity—vis-à-vis their constituent national parties—in those policy areas that are properly the business of the European Union. Again, the experience of Member States with constitutional
The positive proposals for strengthening the role of the European Parliament, and its parties, are well set out in The Struggle for Europe’s Constitution by Andrew Duff, MEP, published Federal Trust, London.
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy