European Party Statute: Filling the Half-full Glass?
have pushed the adoption into the second half of the year. While this common interest of the legislative parties was clearly a key factor in making substantial progress on the issue a decade after the article on political parties had been adopted in Maastricht, it also gave the Council substantial bargaining power over the Parliament, which was clearly more concerned with solving the issue before the elections. It is therefore not surprising that the result was a statute which addresses only the question of party financing, and contains merely an interim solution on the touchy question of a legal personality for political parties.7 The first draft of the European Parliament’s report on the Commission proposal by Jo Leinen (PSE), member of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, clearly indicated disappointment with this limited approach by the Commission and set out the more ambitious approach of the European Parliament (which it had also pursued in 2001) in favour of a comprehensive statute on the definition, legal status, modus operandi and financing of political parties in the EU. As noted previously, however, the Greek presidency intimated very clearly that there was no chance of getting the agreement of a qualified majority in the Council on such far-reaching proposals, let alone achieving this within the tight time-frame of the Greek presidency. The focus of discussion consequently shifted to the financing aspect, as a crucial concern for the Parliament. This was at least a first step towards a more independent standing for European political parties. Yet it also became clear that in order to administer subsidies from the EU budget in a transparent way, and in order to decide which associations or groups would be eligible for such support, some criteria for defining a European party would be necessary. Therefore, the question of clarifying what a European party actually is had to be tackled, even though the proposed legislation was
trying to avoid the issue as much as possible. Not surprisingly, it was precisely on these questions of definition that negotiations proved most tricky. The main bone of contention was the threshold of representation, that is to say, how widely a party has to be represented throughout the EU—and in what way—for it to be considered a ‘European’ party. This question touched on a number of separate and equally sensitive issues: on the one hand, it pitted small or minority parties, who feared that it would be difficult for them to find like-minded allies in many Member States, against the larger party families (especially the European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists), who were already present in virtually all current and future Member States. On the other hand, it raised the question of whether, for the purposes of European party financing, representation should only be based on presence in national parliaments, or whether other political forums (i.e. regional parliaments and the European Parliament) should also be taken into account—and if so, how. Of course, this latter question involved regionalist parties in some sub-national parliaments, who might find it difficult to join forces with regionalists from other Member States with whom they share nothing but a regionalist focus. It also tied in with the wider debate on the standing of regions and regional representative bodies in the overall struggle over the sharing of areas of competence between the EU and its constituent parts. The formula found in the end (parties have to be represented in one quarter of the Member States in regional or national parliaments, or have to have won at least 3% of the votes in one quarter of the Member States during the last European elections)8 represents a hard-won battle from the point of view of the larger groups in the European Parliament, who wanted to set the threshold of representation at one third of
See also Jo Leinen & Justus Schönlau, ‘Auf dem Weg zur Europäischen Demokratie – Politische Parteien auf EU-Ebene: neueste Entwicklungen’ in Integration 03/2003, pp. 218–27. Regulation (EC) No. 2004/2003.
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy