Two Steps to European Party Democracy
H. Klein proposed, on the basis of a statement of the European Commission from 2000,9 a far-reaching reform of the electoral system, which would involve a marked departure from the current system of party federations. He proposed that, in addition to the national party systems, an autonomous European party system should develop with representation from as many Member States as possible.10 However, it is unlikely that this model will ever be implemented. Furthermore, each citizen of a European Union member country possesses, since the Maastricht treaty took effect, EU citizenship in addition to national citizenship; this “citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.”11 Since the citizenship of the Community was coupled to that of a member state, no separate European party system could be created. It would correspond more to the logic of the European Union if a European-wide system developed along the lines of the national party systems— which is exactly what is happening with the present party federations. Preference is to be given to the existing model for another reason. The question that arises is to what extent parties that exist only on the European level would have legitimacy. The already low level of participation in political parties would certainly not increase if there were parties whose sole preoccupation was with issues on a European level. It is moreover questionable whether local and regional groupings of European parties could be organised all over the continent. The situation of the European parties The European parties are not comparable with national parties because, on the one hand, they
lack a clear role in the political system of the EU and, on the other hand, they have not yet done their ‘homework’. If one compares the role played by the European parties with that played by national parties, then, taking into consideration the specific characteristics of European politics, the following is worth noting. If we look at the membership of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the requirements for joining, it is obvious that a union of all larger centre-right parties in the EU is seen to be a priority. Even though it underlines its intention by its self-designation as a “people’s party”, the danger remains of a break-up due to unbridgeable policy differences. However, the EPP has prevented paralysis by the fact that it makes decisions by a majority vote; its form of organisation also corresponds to national standards regarding the structure and functions of party bodies. All in all, the EPP has implemented all the characteristics of national parties that would authorise it to participate in a European party democracy. The internal structure of the Party of European Socialists (PES), however, is shaped by the desire of its member parties to surrender no sovereignty to the party federation. This desire finds expression in the high hurdles to voting, the functions that the various committees are assigned and above all in the fact that the PES cannot pass resolutions binding on its parliamentary group in the European Parliament or on its member parties. Thus, its members in the EP have—together with those of the EPP— quite substantial powers in the decision-making process; yet the ability of the PES to influence decisions on the European level is limited to the coordination of its member parties. This will remain the case so long as they will not transfer parts of their sovereignty to the PES.
“The Commission has also proposed looking at the possibility of electing a certain number of Members of Parliament on Union-wide lists.” European Commission 2000: Adapting the institutions to make a success of enlargement. Information note on the Intergovernmental Conference by Michel Barnier, Member of the European Commission. Brussels: 4. 10 Klein 2001: 57 (n. 105). 11 EC Treaty, Art. 17 (1). 9
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy