Who is Leading Europe?

Jaanika Erne |

T. Ferguson. Source: Amazon


I recently posted an article to the thematic elections blog of the Institute of Political Science and Governance of the Tallinn University in an Estonian leading newspaper “Postimees”. I have posted here the translated version of this posting:

Thomas Ferguson’s Investment Theory of Politics and the Europarties

According to Thomas Ferguson’s investment theory of party competition (or investment theory of politics), the results of elections are not determined by voters, but by business elites and investors who finance elections, and whose interests will later allegedly be carried out by the political parties with the aim to control the state. For that reason, Ferguson even compares political financing with nuclear race.

The same investment theory of politics applies toward the political parties at European level who can up to 40% be funded by the Member States’ political parties according to Regulation (EC) No 2004/2003 of the European Parliament and the Council of 4 November 2003 on the regulations governing political parties at European level and the rules regarding their funding (OJ 2003 L 297, pp. 1-4) (and also the political foundations on European level may receive 40% of their annual contributions from their national member political foundations).

As the political parties at European level participate in the European Parliament’s elections and work, as well as in the EU institutions’ work; as the roots of the proceedings in the EU institutions lie in the national political parties members to the Europarties who present both the candidates to the European Parliament, as well as state representatives to the EU institutions – and at the same time it is alleged that even the European Security and Defence Policy is growingly becoming politicized – the questions who finances and determines European politics arise. It has even been asked, whether the EU may lose its leadership deciding its own political questions under the influence of capital flows from the Third States.

Hearing of 26 January 2011 of the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament

Related to the previous, the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee discussed on 26 January 2011 the perspectives for the development of political parties at European level. The Parliament was presented a study: “How to Create a Transnational Party System”  , prepared by the Observatory on Political Parties and Representation (OPPR), which forms part of the European Democracy Observatory (EUDO) at the European University Institute (EUI). The study covers four aspects: 1) An analysis of the political doctrine and programme of major political parties in several Member States; 2) An examination of current procedures applied to political parties to choose leaders for European Office; 3) The development of proposals on how to help a European political party system evolve from national structures strongly influenced by historical traditions and cultural factors; 4) Suggestions regarding the extent to which the European electoral system and different systems of party financing would have to be revised in order to facilitate the above objectives.

The part of the study concerning national elections bases on the data collected under the project of the University of Mannheim, where during the post-World War II period have systematically been collected the political manifestos issued by national political parties. Composing European political chart, the EUI mapped the goals of political parties.

The study allows the conclusions that national laws governing the activities of national political parties (as well as the political culture) differ – in some states, political parties are understood as private gatherings of individuals; in other states as state actors; in third states parties may be understood as mix of public and private.

The political parties at European level operate on two legal basis – on EU law (e.g. Regulation 2004/2003), and on the national laws of the Member States, where the concrete political party has been established. – The EU Democrats (EUD) are established under Danish law and the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) is governed by Dutch law, but all the remaining European political parties have their legal seat in Brussels. Thus, they have based their legal activities under the Belgian law and adapted to the norms governing Belgian parties (where the political parties exist as voluntary associations of citizens, and are non‐profit associations (i.e. Association Sans But Lucratif, ASBL)). Thus, their financial activities are on the one hand controlled by the European Parliament (under Regulation 2004/2003), but on the other hand by Belgian authorities, In addition, they depend on their internal members.

Dangers Related to Transnational Party System

The study concluded that an obstacle for the dependent on the one hand on the national political parties EU party system’s uniformity may constitute of states’ historical and cultural factors, and national representatives of the economic elite, but also of the variety in the numbers of political parties at national level and the differences between national legal regulations. On the other hand, an obstacle to the dependent on the European Parliament’s political formation EU party system’s uniformity may constitute of presence of two or even more national political parties within the same EP group, tendency by many national parties to treat their membership in EP groups only in technical terms, and conferring by some states to the elections to the European Parliament secondary status compared to the internal elections.

The Perspectives for the Development of Political Parties at European Level

Proposed is consolidation into a single European party system of the three levels of political parties in Europe (the national political parties, political parties at the European level, and location of political parties in the European Parliament) by minimizing the impact of national historical and cultural factors, and by harmonizing the legislation regulating funding of political parties. Concerning the latter is emphasized the importance of ensuring transparency pursuant to Article 7(3) of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) (ratified by the EU), as well as pursuant to the Recommendation (2003)4 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on common rules against corruption in the funding of political parties and electoral campaigns, the latter monitored by the “Group of States against Corruption” – GRECO.