The Emergence of a Transnational European Party System
chairman allows for many different possibilities. He or she can be managing director, moderator, cheerleader, president or party boss. The role of the secretary-general also varies. In some parties this person is an official, an administrator or a supervisor, in other parties a political leader. For these reasons ‘actually existing’ European parties cannot conform to the ideal imagined by some. The parties develop in an open force field and are subject to a kaleidoscope of different influences. An element of all these different kinds of national party will leave a trace in the European parties. Eventually, they must be something essentially different. Yet to a greater or lesser extent, member parties expect the European parties to conform to the preconceptions they have brought from home. So there is often an inclination to adjust their image and achievements according to domestic criteria. This explains the tendency to exploit the European parties to advance national party interests, or to measure their value by their direct usefulness in particular situations. These reflexes are typical during the transition to a new political system, a phase when new kinds of behaviour are still unfamiliar and old experiences remain the model. One of the principal problems for the European parties is the difficulty of communicating between the European and national levels. This is a fact, and it is also determined by their different structures. It affects the parties’ political effectiveness and their possibilities for organisational development. The number of politicians and officials working at European level is still fairly small. National party headquarters have many times the personnel, operational capacity and financial resources available to the European party secretariats. Inadequate equipment makes regularly supplying comprehensive information and communication with member parties in the various languages impossible. As for spreading the word to the wider public, this is not yet feasible.
The number of journalists reporting on what is going on in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg is unhealthily small compared to the number of radio, television and print correspondents in national capitals. This numerical imbalance has direct consequences both for how European politics is perceived, and the extent to which it is accepted. Public opinion is still shaped by national perspectives. Procedures on the EU political stage are extraordinarily complex. To understand, to gain insight, to be able to make judgements—all these require knowledge and experience which, as a rule, are not acquired by politicians working in a national context. Moreover, those politicians and officials working at European level inevitably develop other priorities than those whose area of responsibility is either national or regional—and vice versa. The European sense of responsibility, which must take into consideration situations in several countries at the same time, means that European politicians often take positions that put them into real or apparent conflict with party friends in their own country. The willingness to compromise, necessary for any serious or effective European political work, is often greeted with incomprehension. And it is only very gradually becoming natural for national parliamentarians and politicians to take into account the European dimension of the problems with which they are engaged and on which they have to make decisions. The reason for this is simply that national and European politics are more and more interwoven. The European parties often feel they have been left in the lurch by their member parties. The fact that they are scarcely mentioned in the national media means that the contribution of ‘the Europeans’ is often ignored and therefore unrecognised. That in turn encourages the tendency on the part of some national politicians to dismiss any commitment to a European party and its activities as a kind of luxury and the transnational party structures as merely decorative.
European View_Transnational parties and european democracy