Contextualizing Political Accountability in the European Union

Jaanika Erne |

On the 21th of May 2015, I presented for the first time in my life my research paper as a Panelist at the VIII International Student Conference “Politics & Society in Central and Eastern Europe” at the University of Wroclaw, Poland. The heading of my Paper was “Transformation of Politics in Estonia – Contextualizing Political Accountability in the European Union” and it was built on my presentation held at the CBEES Annual Conference at Södertörn University in December 2014.

The Conferece took place in the framework of the 21-22 May Dni Politologa: , and hosted relevant research results from the University of Wroclaw, University of Warsaw, University of Bucharest, Vytautas Magnus University Lithuania, Masaryk University in Brno Czech Republic, Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca Romania, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iasi Romania, University of Donja Gorica in Podgorica Montenegro, also an independent researcher was representing Iran.

Not to talk about managing technical problems (and this time, in addition to the problems with the computer, I had myself been too focused on the text and concepts of the presentation – to the extent that I completely forgot that it usually is an advantage to have a clear structure in the beginning of one’s presentation), I was talking about the scientific and normative concepts of political party and political party operating at European level (Europarty), the political history of Europe, comparatively about the Europarties and political parties of the EU Member States, political representation in the European Parliament. I mentioned political foundation at European level as different from Europarties and gave an overview about Europarties and Estonia’s representation in those. The overall aim was to better understand governance and accountability in the European Union (by demonstrating those through political and historical contexts).

The presentation distinguished between party competition / political competition (incl. duopolism as an example of party competition) and political opposition as known from the Cold War era / understood very generally as East-West opposition (not connected with a State government solely but as applicable toward World governance). These are different phenomena and the relevance of the difference can be explained followingly: while one can see continuity in party competition, one can see discontinuity in such political opposition / conflict as referred afore, maybe similarly to continuity and discontinuity in human rights history – continuity marking the more permanent values, and discontinuity marking political trends in human rights history. Being a lawyer with human rights research background, I would claim that although human rights are political rights because, firstly, existence of political mechanisms is required for their validation and implementation, secondly, for example in the sense that the real “career” of human rights for Europe  developed after the II World War, and thirdly, that politicians have used and use human rights for achieving political aims (marking discontinuity), human rights are emanating from something more continuous than political processes, being connected with human nature and “inner” rules of societal co-existing (marking continuity).

Concerning the research methods, I have tried to apply scientific and normative concepts and understandings of political party toward political parties at European level, in order to understand how do the features that are characteristic to political parties show with the political parties at European level. While conducting the research underlying the presentation, I used several Internet sources, because not all of the manifests and other documents of all the Europarties have been published on paper. – The method also seems justified in the rapidly developing information-dependent world, where traditional, even highly ranked publications cannot adequately reflect the most recent everyday developments.

The presentation concentrated on the registered political parties at European level, whereas one also should be aware of other political movements and groups as also a source of direct legitimacy (these do not constitute an object of this research).

The analysis of manifests and other documents at European level allowed the following general findings: the European People’s Party (EPP) determines itself as representing centre-right and the idea of federal Europe; the Party of European Socialists (PES) determines itself as a left-wing party, bringing together in the EU the socialist, social-democrat and labour parties; the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) supports liberal democrat values; the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) determines itself as a conservative, non-federalist political entity; the Party of the European Left (EL) claims to represent non-socialist left-wing; the European Democratic Party (EDP) determines itself as a transnational political movement combining federalist and social aspiration; the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF) does not define itself on the left-right political scale, allowing members with wide political spectrum, but at the same time, looking at the content of its activities, it opposes centralized, supranational control; the Alliance of European National Movements (AEMN) determines itself as a Christian confederalist party; the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) determines itself as a Christian-democrat political party, representing Christian socialists, embracing European Christian-democrat and Christian-social parties, NGOs and think tanks; the EU Democrats (EUD) does not take a position on left-right policy issues, although it considers itself a pan-European EU-critical alliance; etc.

These findings, in turn, allow further conclusions, indicating that: sometimes the ideological borders of the Europarties are blurred, allowing talks about mixed parties. One should rather look at the content of the manifests / actual practice / impact of a political party than how does the party define itself – a good example could be the European Alliance for Freedom. Sometimes the names of the Europarties do not clearly demonstrate the Party’s reliance on a basic ideology, but it is still possible to distinguish between liberals, radicals, social-democrats, conservatives.

I did not choose to repeat in my this presentation the general definitions by political scientists of political parties that I have referred to in my previous presentations, instead I tried to present the conclusions that could be made about the Europarties based on those definitions: – One trend characteristic to Europe is that the known as right-wing parties use for populist aims left-wing arguments and vice versa; also there are some general “new” issues that most of the political parties would address, such as environment, women’s rights, etc. – Such conclusions refer to party competition. When one thinks in terms of continuity, party competition as political antagonism remains until one utopian hegemonic consensus could be possible (like Christianity or Communism). Whereas what concerns party opposition understood as conflict related to socialist and liberal values understood in the Cold War context, such opposition marks discontinuity, being for example relevant in the context of politicization of the European security and defence policy. Here’s also where the importance of financing of political parties in the European context comes crucial as issue of whether the EU might loose its leadership position to Third States through political party influence (developments known from the history of Latin-America and Africa) or, in some of its dimensions, such could amount to spread of incomplete and distorted information.

Some more generalizations based on scientific definitions: the Europarty system can be characterized as multy-party system; with features of catch-all parties; features of mass party; global networking; etc. The Europarties can be considered rather constitutional than revolutionist parties. Some of the Europarties reflect more public concern as characteristic to representative parties, whereas some seem willing to mobilize, educate and inspire the electors as characteristic to integrative parties.

What concerns normative definitions of political parties, in this presentation I tried to stress some important fragments in some normative definitions, such as – “political will of citizens”; “participation in management of public affairs”, “free and democratic elections” in the Venice Commission‘s definition; “capacity to influence the whole of their States’ regime”, “difference” in the European Court of Human Rights definition based on Freedom of Association in Article 11 of the ECHR; “political awareness”, “will of EU citizens” in Article 10(4) of the Treaty on European Union; powers of the European Parliament and the Council to lay regulations governing political parties under ordinary legislative procedure in Article 224 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; “political will of the EU citizens”, “elections” in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. The importance / legal relevance of EU regulations with regard to political parties is seen in Regulation EC No. 2004/2003 as amended, which regulation gives also many powers to states. The importance of normative definitions has been explained by Chryssochou in this context – the normative definitions of Europarties separate them from national political parties, as the normatve definitions make Europarties less dependent from the national party structures; on the other hand, normative definitions increase Europarties’ capacity to act as representative agents of EU citizens.

A normative attempt (at governance) is also the European Parliament’s DG Internal Policies establishment that subjection of Europarties to the same legal regime may favour the development of the EU party system, which is an attempt to govern.

Concerning Europarties’ relation with the EU Member States, I brought out the conclusions that the Europarties’ names do not directly correspond to the names of the Member States’ political parties. For example, the list of the Estonia’s registered political parties: Reformierakond (the Estonian Reform Party), Keskerakond (the Estonian Centre Party), Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union), Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond (Estonian Social Democratic Party), Eesti Iseseisvuspartei (Party of Estonian Independence), Eesti Konservatiivne Rahvaerakond (Conservative People’s Party of Estonia), Eesti Vabaduspartei – Põllumeeste Kogu (Estonian Freedom Party – Farmers’ Assembly), Eestimaa Ühendatud Vasakpartei (Estonian Associated Left), Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised (Estonian Greens), Rahva Ühtsuse Erakond (Party of People’s Unity), Eesti Vabaerakond (Estonian Free Party), from which parties many belong to Europarties or other international political groups. – Some examples: Reformierakond (Estonian Reform Party) belongs to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, to which Alliance also belongs Keskerakond (Estonian Centre Party); Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union) is associated with European People’s Party; Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond (Estonian Social Democratic Party) is associated with the Party of European Socialists; Eestimaa Ühendatud Vasakpartei (Estonian Associated Left) is associated with the Party of European Left; Erakond Eestimaa Rohelised (Estonian Greens) is associated with European Greens; whereas some Estonian political parties have not been willing to join Europarties and Chryssochou infers (but not specifically about Estonia) that such may be connected with unacceptability of direct form of interference into the domestic public spheres.

With regard to the Europarties’ relation with the European Parliament – there are seven political groups in the European Parliament: Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats); Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament; European Conservatives and Reformists; Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe; European United Left; The Greens / European Free Alliance; Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group. Although the people working for the EU institutions are committed to independent serving of the EU interest, the Europarties and the groups in the European Parliament stress their political belonging. Thus, one may read at the European Parliament’s website that Tunne Kelam, who represents Estonia in the EP’s Group of the European People’s Party, comes from Isamaa ja Res Publica Liit (Pro Patria and Res Publica Union); Kaja Kallas and Urmas Paet, who in the EP belong to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, both come from Reformierakond (the Estonian Reform Party), whereas Yana Toom, who in the EP also belongs to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, comes from Keskerakond (the Estonian Centre Party); Marju Lauristin, who belongs to the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, comes from the Eesti Sotsiaaldemokraatlik Erakond (Estonian Social Democratic Party); and Indrek Tarand, who in the EP belongs to the group of The Greens / European Free Alliance, has in Estonia been an independent candidate.

That way, the presentation (again, but stressing different aspects) explained political parties as a source of legitimacy in the EU on three levels: first, the political parties of the EU Member States; second, the political parties at European level; and third, the political representation in the European Parliament.

Some comments and questions by the listeners as rection o the presentation as far as I remember, the comments: Europarties are not directly elected by citizens; cooperation through networks; organizing elections, thus shaping European political landscape as umbrella organizations for national politics / political competence. The questions sounded like: whether Third State or ideological influence could have impact through political parties under the label of political competition; and – a rather mocking one – how is it possible that Christians and socialists come together under the same EP fraction (as in this case, there exist certain shared basic values, not political conflict that could be present in the case of other ideologies being together).

Directly or indirectly connected issues raised in other presentations: party competition as determining factor of elections; political parties as accountable; consensual governance vs. overall polarity and atmosphere of conflict in politics; polarization index; “Western” dominance in the EU; will the Baltic States be left out from CEE developments; politicization of human rights (as Western discourse) vs. politicization of the NATO (probably referring to cooperation but to my mind, influenced by legacy of Cold War, the topic connects with Left coming in); multi-party system in the proportional voting system; dualism of the executive (I mention the executive in this political essay because I wanted to bring out dualism in the name: Wroclaw / Breslau). Also the question, whether to give more powers to Presidents of Member States, in order to reduce the powers of national Parliaments, was raised. One comment about methodology: whether qualitative methods work if a researcher wishes to explain certain problems.