Lawmakers in the European Parliament have backed a new law designed to strengthen the role of European political parties and make it easier for them to secure funding, including from parties outside the EU.
The draft law, adopted on Thursday (15 September) by 392 votes to 119, with 56 abstentions, “strengthens European political families,” said Rainer Wieland, a German EPP deputy who is co-rapporteur on the text.
“European political parties and foundations must be able to make a better contribution to a truly European public sphere and European political awareness,” he added.
European political parties became independent in July 2004, when new EU regulations allowed them to receive annual funding from the European Parliament. The main political groups bring together centre-right, conservative, socialist, leftist, and green parties from across the bloc.
The total amount of EU funding available for European political parties has increased from €6.5 million in 2004 to €46 million in 2021.
However, the parties have often struggled to find their voice outside Brussels, with strict rules over their funding, activities and the branding they can use limiting their effectiveness as campaigning organisations.
In a bid to remove some of these campaigning restraints, MEPs want to allow EU funding to be used for national referendum campaigns to cover “issues directly related to the EU”, going beyond the European Commission’s initial proposal that funding could only be used for campaigns concerning “the implementation of the Treaties”.
That provision could make it easier for European parties to take part in national campaigns and have a more visible role in the European elections.
This issue is likely to prove controversial in negotiations with national ministers, however.
A report by the European Court of Auditors in April warned that “it would not be advisable to enable financing national referendum campaigns by European political parties” on the grounds that it would be too difficult to determine whether campaigns had been funded by national or EU money.
The bill also changes the definition of a ‘political party’ to be “an association of citizens recognised by the legal order of at least one member state or of a third country”, potentially allowing parties outside the EU to obtain funding.
It also includes provisions to allow parties to receive donations from member parties or organisations located in some of the 46 countries belonging to the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based organisation promoting democracy and human rights, worth up to 40% of its annual budget.
The bill “provides a strong basis for the creation of a truly European demos, while making European political parties and foundations more financially transparent,” said Luxembourgish liberal Charles Georens, one of two MEPs piloting the text through Parliament.
“Citizens need to have a stronger connection to European parties if we want to guarantee increased political participation at EU-level,” he said.
Meanwhile, registration as a European political party and receiving EU funding would require member parties from outside the EU to “observe equivalent values” as their counterparts in the bloc, such as the rule of law.
Three-way negotiations between MEPs, national governments and the Commission will begin in the coming weeks with a view to finalising the law by mid-2023, ahead of the 2024 European elections.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]