Brussels, 12 September 2012
Q's & A's: Commission proposal on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations
What is the objective of this proposal?
The Commission proposal aims to increase the visibility, recognition, effectiveness, transparency and accountability of European political parties and their affiliated political foundations. To this end, it improves the regulatory and funding framework in which they operate.
It has no implication for the EU budget, nor does it in any way influence future decisions on the overall amounts made available under the EU budget for funding of political parties and foundations.
What is the role of European political parties and affiliated political foundations?
The Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights recognise the fundamental role of political parties at European level, as they contribute to forming European political awareness and to expressing the political will of citizens of the Union (Article 10 TEU and Article 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights).
Political parties at the European level have, as members, national and regional parties from the Member States and, in most cases, also allow membership by individual citizens. They are key players to strengthen European democracy, as they are in a privileged position to establish links with citizens and bridge the gap that separates the national and European political levels. By promoting cross-border political dialogue, they contribute to the emergence of a European public sphere.
Are there any existing rules for European political parties?
A set of rules has been in place since 2003 (Regulation 2004/2003), mainly to deal with the funding of European political parties and, following an amendment in 2007, of their affiliated political foundations. In 2012, there are 13 political parties and 12 political foundations at European level, and between them they share a total of €31 million. Although the parties and the foundations are recognised at European level and receive funding from the EU budget, they are national legal entities.
They sometimes have similar names and membership, but European political parties are different from political groups in the European Parliament.
Why is there a need for a European legal statute for European political parties?
This has been a long-standing request of the Parliament, reiterated in a resolution drafted by Marietta Giannakou MEP and adopted in April last year.
European political parties have become key actors in the political life of the Union. However, for a range of reasons, including their legal status as NGOs in the legal system of a Member State, they have until now not been in a position to entirely fulfil the role conferred upon them by the Treaties.
The European legal statute will provide the European political parties with the recognition they require and help them to operate in a visible and efficient way across Europe and beyond. It is a substantial step forward in enhancing democracy in the European Union.
The Commission is hopeful that the new rules can be agreed quickly by the co-legislators, in time for the EP election campaigns in 2014.
Parliament has been requesting a European statute for political parties at European level for years. Why has the Commission waited until today to propose such a statute?
Creating a legal statute for European political parties is an ambitious and potentially far-reaching step, which has required careful analysis.
In 2007, when rule changes were last made, the Commission was under considerable time pressure and therefore opted instead to introduce limited changes to the existing legislation.
Today, all the conditions are in place for us to present an ambitious proposal, which establishes a whole new framework within which European political parties and foundations can develop, grow and adapt to today's and tomorrow's challenges.
What is the link between this proposal on European political parties and political foundations, and the Commission proposal of February 2012 on the European Foundation Statute?
The Commission adopted in February a legislative proposal on a general statute for European Foundations. This cross-cutting proposal aims to make much easier the pan-European activities of foundations active in areas of public benefit - such as health, education, science or fundamental rights. It responds to a long-standing demand from stakeholders and the European Parliament in the field of social economy and social innovation.
The proposal on European political parties and their affiliated European political foundations offers the latter a specific legal, financial and regulatory framework adapted to their needs.
A European statute is proposed both for European political parties and European political foundations. Why are they subject to different funding rules?
The nature of costs incurred by political parties and political foundations are different. The very nature of political parties, which need flexibility to adjust and react to unforeseen or pressing political developments, justifies a special regime for them.
European political foundations, however, carry out tasks and have types of expenditure similar to other non-political foundations or organisations funded by EU programmes. There is therefore no justification for lifting them out of the current operating grant system.
What exactly will the criteria be for access to the European legal status and to EU funding?
Political parties and foundations that wish to become European entities by registering at European level have to satisfy a range of conditions. These include representation in a sufficiently large number of EU Member States, respect for non-profit principles, and respect for the values on which the EU is founded. In addition, the Commission is proposing that European political parties and foundations must meet high standards of internal democracy, governance, transparency and accountability.
We hope and expect that these conditions, which can be readily met by organised and committed transnational alliances of political parties and individuals, will encourage the regular emergence of new European political parties.
In order to receive EU public funding, registration as a European political party or foundation is a first necessary step. However, given the limited amount of EU money available for these purposes, the Commission believes that a party must also demonstrate a sufficient degree of European ambition, and that it has the support, and therefore represents the views and opinions, of a sufficient portion of EU citizens. Therefore, and in recognition of the role the European Parliament has of directly representing the Union's citizens, access to EU funding is dependent on a European political party winning at least one seat in elections to the EP.
Electoral performance is an objective way of establishing both the European ambition and recognition of a European political party, and this additional requirement should be viewed as an incentive to fully participate in European democratic life at the highest level possible.
What does it mean to respect the values on which the EU is founded? Will eurosceptic political parties be penalised?
All European political parties and foundations must respect basic fundamental rights and principles. These include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and minorities.
In no way are the current or future rules intended to prevent healthy and democratic debate on the future of the EU.
Are European political parties allowed to participate in national referenda if these concern EU matters?
No. Financing national referenda, even those concerning EU matters, is a matter that must continue to be dealt with in accordance with national laws.
What steps have been taken to assure citizens that EU and private funding will be used for legitimate purposes?
The Commission is proposing to significantly raise the transparency, accounting and control framework. The new rules would, for example, oblige the European Parliament to make public detailed information related to the recognition and funding procedures, including annual financial statements, lists of donors, the members of parties, or documents and statutes submitted to the European Parliament as part of the registration process.
In addition, the proposal foresees a comprehensive system to monitor how both EU and private funds are received and spent. This will involve coordination and the exchange of information between relevant EU actors and competent national authorities.
The Commission also proposes to create a robust penalty regime, which, depending on the infringement, would provide for sanctions ranging from minor fines to loss of European status.
Furthermore, in order to prevent abuse of the funding rules, the proposal clarifies that MEPs will only be counted for the purpose of determining their party's amount of EU funding if they remain with the European political party to which their national or regional party is affiliated. This should also ensure greater accountability and transparency with regard to EU citizens and voters.
Does the European Statute for European political parties change the conditions under which the staff of parties are employed?
No. Neither labour law nor taxation laws fall within the scope of Article 224 TFEU.
However, in a bid to promote the self-financing of European political parties and foundations, the Commission is proposing that cross-border donations are granted the same beneficial tax treatment as those made within Member States.
Why is the Commission proposal on the statute completed by a Commission working document on the Financial Regulation? Why don't we have two formal legislative proposals?
The Financial Regulation is currently being revised. Although there is already formal agreement between the co-legislators, the amended Regulation is not yet in force and therefore cannot be further amended.
However, the working document attached to the proposal has been endorsed by the Commission. It will be formally turned into a legislative proposal once the revised Financial Regulation has been adopted.
These two documents should be seen as a package.