European Party Statute: Filling the Half-full Glass?
the EU budget in 2004—of the first concrete steps towards establishing party structures which can fulfil a distinct role at Union level. Even now, however, one key problem remains the fact that the existing European parties still have no sound legal foundation in the shape of a European party statute appropriate to their European vocation. The present article attempts to critically assess the current situation with regard to the legal and political position of the Europarties. After briefly retracing the developments since the Maastricht debate on an article dealing with European parties, it will focus in particular on the 2004 regulation on financing and how this has influenced the political role of the European parties since it came into force two years ago. The article will then sketch out some of the issues under debate at the moment and try to give some indications of where the current phase of reflection might offer new openings for the development of an EU-level party system. It concludes by stressing that political parties will have to be one of the key ingredients if the European Union hopes to improve its democratic credibility—something which can only happen through an increased awareness at national level of the significance of the EU’s political processes and the opportunities that they offer. The institutional, historical and legal background After the introduction of a general article on European political parties in the Maastricht Treaty, the main question remained how this recognition of the role of political parties was to be made effective. Following pressure from the European Parliament3 and a lively debate in the Convention on the Charter of Fundamental Rights on the role of political parties4, the Intergovernmental Conference of Nice introduced an important addition to the party article, giving
a clear mandate to the European Commission to make a proposal for the necessary regulations to govern political parties at European level, in particular to regulate their financing. In response, the European Commission proposed a regulation for the “statute and financing of political parties at European level”, on the basis of article 308, without even waiting for the Treaty of Nice to come into effect. The attempt failed, however, because of disagreement among the Member States on the necessity and desirability of political parties beyond the nation state, and because of the requirement for unanimity under the rules of the chosen legal basis. Despite the efforts of the Belgian presidency in the second half of 2001, no common position was agreed in the Council, so the Commission proposal fell through. The European Parliament continued to call for a clear legal basis for the work of European political parties and their financing—especially since the European Court of Auditors had criticised the practice by which the political parties at EU level were cross-financed by their respective party groups in the Parliament itself.5 This was the only realistic way of organising the political work of the parties at European level in the absence of direct subsidies for their operation and of a firm legal basis for their status as multinational non-profit organisations that could raise funds from membership fees or sponsorship. Yet the matter had come increasingly under public scrutiny, and the parties concerned agreed that it was urgently necessary to clean up their image and achieve a solution that was legally and politically ‘sound’. The proposal for a statute for European political parties therefore aimed at solving two problems at once: to give political parties which operate within more than one national jurisdiction an independent legal personality with some special features to take account of the political nature of their work, and to ensure a transparent and
European Parliament report on the constitutional role of European Political Parties, rapporteur D. Tsatsos, A4-0342/96. See J. Schönlau, Drafting the EU Charter: Rights, Legitimacy and Process (Palgrave-Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2005) pp. 95-6. Special Report of the European Court of Auditors No. 13/2000 (OJ of the EU, C181, 28.06.2000).
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European View_Transnational parties and european democracy