party’s platform and actions for the principles of freedom and democracy, respect for human rights, the fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the EU is founded. These are not particularly restrictive conditions and, even if the statute prohibits the financing of national parties with European funds, few will renounce the financial opportunities offered by the new regime. This has already led to an increase in the number of Europarties. The Party of the European United Left was founded in Rome in May 2004; others could follow suit. That such a large share of resources—85% of the total—is allotted to parties with representatives elected to the EP should lead to the consolidation of links to parliamentary groups. Greater integration of the various components should foster greater institutionalisation. This undoubtedly positive picture is counterbalanced by two provisions, one contained directly in the statute, the other in its implementation rules, which keep the federations in a subordinate position with respect to their national components and the parliamentary groups. In fact, the latter have been made directly responsible for the management of the funds for party financing. This was done at the insistence of the EP since the funds are taken from the budget of the EP rather than that of the EU, as the federations would have preferred (this would have given them greater financial autonomy). Furthermore, the provision of the statute that makes the allocation of public funds conditional on 25% co-financing from other sources makes national parties, above all the stronger and richer ones, decisive in constituting and maintaining Europarties. These resources can only be found at the national level, either directly through contributions from member parties—up to a ceiling of 40% of the total, which is in any case more than the amount needed for co-financing— or through the party’s contacts among the public and in the business sector. These are in general very weak, a situation not likely to improve in the near future. The biggest shortcoming of the
statute is that it does not address the issue of how to effectively link Europarties to European citizens and their societies, beyond the general statement that such linkage is the main reason for the existence of the federations. This function is still performed exclusively through the national parties, who therefore remain the principal gatekeepers of EU-level representation. It is therefore unlikely that the federations, even if more integrated, will play a primary role in the Europarties in the near future. In conclusion, both EU enlargement and the statute for European political parties seem to favour a further expansion of Europarties and of the number of transnational federations. While this would be a positive outcome, fostering greater integration among the various components of the Europarties, it is unlikely that this would challenge the primacy and reduce significantly the autonomy of national political parties, even at the European level. This is destined to be the state of affairs as long as national parties are able to reap the rewards of the direct representation of the interests of citizens through the intergovernmental institutional circuit and to take the place of federations in linking civil society to European institutions.
Luciano Bardi is Professor of Political Science at the University of Pisa. He is the author of several articles on European Parties. Recently he has been co-author of ‘Il parlamento europeo’ (2004) and editor of ‘Partiti e sistemi di partito’ (2006).
Volume 3 - Spring 2006
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy