The Emergence of a Transnational European Party System
The European Parliament’s Institutional Affairs Committee felt these issues were its business and in May 1996 requested the MEP Dimitros Th. Tsatsos to prepare a report. By the summer it was ready, and after debate and amendment in committee, it was approved by a large majority in the December 1996 plenary session. The resolution accompanying the report calls for directives about both the legal status and the financial circumstances of the European parties. 21 This demand was in vain, at least for the time being. However, the report did encourage more rational debate in the European Parliament between the political groups and parties. This in turn contributed significantly to the agreement reached a few years later, when discussion about the future European Union Constitution had become both more lively and more profound. In December 2000, at the instigation of the European Commission, EU heads of state and government decided, within the framework of the Nice Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) and on the basis of a Commission proposal, to introduce a clause in Article 191, Paragraph 2 of the EU Treaty with the following regulation, which could serve as the basis for agreement on a statute for European parties: In accordance with the procedures set out in Article 251, the Council is setting out the regulations for political parties at European level, and in particular rules about their financing. An explanatory statement appended to the final act of the IGC states that this regulation does not justify the transfer of any competencies whatsoever to the European Community; that it does not compromise the validity of rules deriving from national constitutions; that the direct or indirect use of funds from the Community budget for national political parties is prohibited; and finally, that the financial
regulations should apply equally to all political forces represented in the European Parliament. The origin of this proposal was a joint effort by the transnational party families represented in the European Parliament. From the sidelines of the European Council summit in Feira, Portugal, in June 2000, they agreed to call for the following passage to be inserted into the Treaty: On a proposal by the Commission, European Parliament and Council decide on regulations on recognising political parties, on a statute for them, on their financing.
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It was generally supposed that the heads of state and government had given their blessing to the party leaders’ agreement, and so there were good grounds for supposing that the IGC would accept a proposal from the Commission along these lines. Exactly why were the party leaders able to reach agreement and act together? They ranged from the European People’s Party (EPP), the Party of European Socialists (PES) and the European Liberals and Democratic Reform Party (ELDR) to the European Federation of Green parties and the European Free Alliance/Democratic Party of the Peoples of Europe, along with their parliamentary groups. The reason was simply that they all found themselves in the same quandary: all had received a warning from the European Court of Auditors. The court had stated in a report that the parties were being financially supported, in part directly, from the parliamentary groups’ budgets, i.e. out of the budget of the European Parliament. This was out of order and had to stop. Suddenly the question of rules on European party finances became very urgent. But first the legal status of the parties within the European
Commission proposal, 21 June 2000 on the institution IGC. COM (2001) 343 final. See also EP resolution A5-0167/2001 (Schleicher report).
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy