The Future of European Union Political Parties
‘grand coalition’ between the PES and EPP gradually giving way to shifting centre-left or centre-right majority legislative coalitions. These developments are quite remarkable when one considers that voting in the other main EU legislative institution (the Council) is primarily along national lines, and that the parties in the European Parliament are not forced by a ‘government’ to ‘back them or sack them’, which is why parties in national parliaments are generally highly cohesive.” 6 There will be a price to be paid if European political parties are encouraged to develop a more coherent transnational European character. There will be painful adjustments to be made by the national constituent parties if the European parties are to espouse common European policies and strategies. Those bold enough to take the lead within the European parties may find they fall out of favour—in the short term at least—in the eyes of the national leaderships. But the incentive for parties to take this path is precisely to enable them to tap into the political legitimacy and influence within the EU institutions, which fighting and winning elections on a clear policy mandate would give them. Giving substance to European elections There are other substantive problems to be tackled. Voter turnout for the European Parliament elections has also shown a worrying decline. It may be worrying but it should not be surprising. A more relevant question might be: why do voters participate in the numbers they do when the consequences of voting in the EP elections appear so marginal? European elections are fought almost exclusively on second-hand domestic issues. In practice voters are asked to pass judgment about their national administrations, although European elections have no impact on who governs in any Member State.
European elections are simply not about enough at present to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of the electorate. A vote in the European Parliament election has no executive outcome. National and regional assembly voters can elect or dismiss governments. A vote in the EP election elects neither the President of the Commission (one key part of the European executive) nor the President of the Council of Ministers (the other part of the EU executive). The real wonder is that voting turnout in European elections has remained as high as it has. If there is to be any reworking of the agreed text of the Constitutional Treaty, it should include clearer wording about the election of future Commission Presidents through the European Parliament. The emerging European Union political parties (which are hopefully now evolving from being mere collections of national parties) should nominate their preferred candidate for the post of Commission President as part of their European Parliament election campaigns in 2009. The European Parliament would then take the final decision on who is made Commission President. The job of the European Council (the EU heads of government) should be to ensure that the process is carried through constitutionally and then ratify the decision of the Parliament. All of this will involve an unambiguous politicisation of the Commission. Understandably, some insist that the Commission has been most influential when it has acted consensually and above party politics. Historically this is true. But the European Union has now evolved to the extent that citizens must be able to make their strategic political choices knowing how this will affect the kind of leadership the Commission will seek to offer. The European Union has, without doubt, been built primarily through a process of cross-party
‘ The European Parliament – stocktaking and challenges’ by Professor Simon Hix in ‘After the annus horribilis – a review of the European institutions’, EPC Working Paper No.22 – January 2006 (www.theepc.be).
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy