The Emergence of a Transnational European Party System1 By Thomas Jansen
Public political debate and decision-making are basic to a democracy, a system that enshrines the citizen’s right to become personally involved if he or she so wishes. It is fundamental that people see the community in which they live as their business and feel comfortable with that fact. The same goes for the European Union, whose success depends on its citizens’ participation and consent. There are arguments about what shape the Union should take and competition for power in and between EU institutions. It is therefore essential that these debates take place out in the open. This public debate is carried on by the rival political parties. As European integration deepens, such parties represent a vital social force. But if they are to be effective they need to organise themselves to represent the will and the interests of their constituents among Union citizens. What are European parties? Article 191 of the Treaty on European Union states: “Political parties at European level are important factors of integration in the Union. They contribute to developing a European consciousness, and to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.” Formulations along these lines can be found in the draft European Constitution solemnly signed in Rome on 28 October 2004 by the European Union heads of state and government. Under the rubric ‘Democratic Life of the Union’, Article 46/4 reads: “Political parties at European level contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the 1
will of Union citizens.” Article II-72/2 (in the Charter of Fundamental Rights) develops the idea by stating: “Political parties at Union level contribute to expressing the political will of the Union’s citizens.” But what are these political parties at European level, or as we call them, ‘European parties’? Any definition must be based on observing the political structures that have called themselves European parties since their appearance during the final decade of the twentieth century, though in fact their origins go back to the 1970s. We are speaking about federal associations of national or regional parties from several Member States of the European Union. They are in agreement about their orientation and objectives, and are committed to permanent cooperation on the basis of an agreed statute and to a political programme decided by the relevant political bodies. Their terrain is the political system of the Union, and their deputies belong to the same groups in the European Parliament. This definition of European parties covers the federations of traditional political families organised at Union level: the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats, the European Greens, and the European Alliance Party. In terms of their structure and modus operandi, as well as their ambition and field of operations, they are transnational. How they see themselves and also how they behave is an indication of their importance as actors in the Union’s political system—a system they take responsibility to shape and develop. Other political forces represented in the European Parliament have not been able to organise
This contribution is based on the introduction of the author’s book The European People’s Party: Origins and Development (Brussels 2006). Published by the EPP; also available in German, French, Italian and Spanish.
Volume 3 - Spring 2006
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy