The Emergence of a Transnational European Party System
than transnational European level. National governments acting as constitution and lawmakers in the European Council have been fairly adept at preventing the European Parliament from being able to exercise much influence or control. This has essentially been achieved by exploiting the fact that European affairs have remained a matter for foreign ministries, and European policy has therefore been conducted by the governments like foreign policy. What has changed is that the political parties are now developing their structures and deploying resources in line with the Constitution. Their efforts are therefore confined to building up their own joint, transnational structures and their own capacity to act effectively at Union level. All this takes place within a framework progressively defined by what is required of them by European integration and its institutionalisation. Yet looking back over the process of Europeanisation to which national political parties in the EU were subject during the 1990s, it is nevertheless clear that the rhythm of their development and what resulted was in fact largely something that they—the parties or their political alliances—determined themselves: • by the degree to which they accepted or rejected the process of Europeanisation, in itself a measure of their capacity to shape this process; • by the role of their political groups in the European Parliament and how vigorously they articulated a common political will; • by their political programmes and their ability to shape a supranational consensus while including specifically national social forces. The gradual emergence of a European political culture and the sensibility that goes with it helped accelerate the Europeanisation of the party system. The transnational cooperation institutionalised in the European parties, had its effect, too, on the mentality and behaviour
of the leading figures in national party politics. To political parties operating at Union level, it became obvious that political parties needed to be present if they were to look after their interests there, have an influence or actively help shape the political architecture of Europe. 12 The result is the blending of parties that had formerly been exclusively national organisations and their political work as European parties. Bodies are created that operate in much the same way as most of their member parties. A congress of delegates decides on the political programme; an executive committee deals with current issues and day-to-day business; a chairman (supported by a party presidium or board) speaks for the party and represents it; a secretary-general (supported by a secretariat) is in charge of internal communication and the technical and organisational work necessary to ensure the party bodies can operate properly; this individual is also responsible for implementing what these bodies decide. 13 Following the example of similar structures adopted by some of their member parties, the European parties have gone on to establish transnational cooperative associations for certain categories of members. These include youth associations and organisations for women and for workers. The aim is to give the European parties a broader social base and to root themselves among their memberships by disseminating their political programmes within the various milieux of the national parties. The European parties do not only have political groups in the European Parliament. They are also present in the Committee of the Regions and in the Council of Europe Assembly, endeavouring in each case to promote the programmes of their respective parties. This was also the case at the European Convention (2002/2003). Members that belonged to the different European parties or were politically close to them developed
Cf. Oscar Niedermayer: Europäische Parteien? Zur grenzüberschreitenden Interaktion politischer Parteien im Rahmen der Europäischen Gemeinschaft, Frankfurt am Main and New York 1983. On the activities and development of European parties, see the contribution on party alliances and/or European parties in: Werner Weidenfeld & Wolfgang Wessels (Eds.): Yearbook of European Integration, Bonn. Published regularly since 1980.
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy