The EPP and the EPP-ED Group: Success through Synergy By Hans-Gert Pöttering
This year we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the European People’s Party (EPP). The undeniable political success of the EPP—the oldest Europe-wide political party—is rooted primarily in the close and fruitful cooperation throughout this period between the EPP and our political group in the European Parliament, the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (EPP-ED). In discussions, I am often asked whether, and to what extent, the existence of a transnational party influences the success and the dynamism of our MEPs’ political work. In reply, I draw attention to those political groups in the European Parliament—such as the Greens (Greens/ EFA), which operated for a considerable time without a counterpart in the European party landscape, and whose appeal and influence are thus undoubtedly less than that of the EPP-ED Group. The founding of the EPP in 1976 was the response to a need felt by the Christian Democratic parliamentarians appointed to Strasbourg. From the start of the European unification process, these politicians worked together as a political group, at first in the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1953 and later in the European Parliament. As the integration process intensified, they felt the need to draw upon the support of a European party organisation. Following the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, the national party leaderships also recognised the political and practical opportunities that such integration could afford.
The positive impact of the Party’s formation was not initially reflected in the number of parliamentary seats gained. After the first direct elections to the European Parliament, the Group lost ground to the Social Democrats. Between 1989 and 1994, with a 23% share of the seats (compared to 50% in 1950), the EPP Group held the lowest number of seats at any time in its history. This all-time low was, however, overcome in the 1990s when the EPP and the Group adopted a new direction and increased their joint efforts to include and integrate other European centre and centre-right parties. In 1999 the EPP-ED Group became the largest group in the European Parliament for the first time since the introduction of direct elections. Over the years, the EPP and the EPP-ED Group have undergone a transformation from a Christian family that was tailored to fit the ‘Europe of the Six’ into an open political family encompassing all of Europe and including moderate and lay parties. This transformation process clearly demonstrates that our key strength lies in our ability to adapt to social change and to new circumstances, whilst maintaining our core values and principles based on the Christian vision of humankind. In this respect the cooperation between the EPP-ED Group, which concentrates on practical policy-based or legislative work, and the EPP itself, whose mission and activities are more long-term in focus and address key strategic issues relating to the development of the Union and society as a whole, is of fundamental importance. In many respects, thirty years after the founding of the EPP, the expectations of this cooperation have been fulfilled and synergies greatly increased. In the 2004 European elections —the culmination of our continent’s historic reunification process—our political family was
Volume 3 - Spring 2006
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy