Full text 
Procedure : 2005/2224(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0042/2006

Texts tabled :


Debates :

PV 22/03/2006 - 17
CRE 22/03/2006 - 17

Votes :

PV 23/03/2006 - 11.13
CRE 23/03/2006 - 11.13
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :


Verbatim report of proceedings
Wednesday, 22 March 2006 - Brussels OJ edition

17. European political parties (debate)

  President. The next item is the report by Jo Leinen, on behalf of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, on European political parties (2005/2224(INI)) (A6-0042/2006).


  Jo Leinen (PSE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Madam Vice-President, ladies and gentlemen, the regulation on the financing of the European political parties that we adopted in 2004, has been a resounding success. The separation between Parliament and its political groups on the one hand and the political parties on the other has been a success. This was something that the Court of Auditors had been demanding for many years, a demand that this regulation responded to.

In the meantime, 10 party families have registered; they also receive support from the relevant budget line. This demonstrates that political culture at European level is still diverse and thriving. To have 10 party families is quite an achievement – before there were only four, so their number has more than doubled.

Our experience with the financing of the political parties has been good. Nevertheless, there is a short wish list enumerated in the new report, wishes for planning certainty and wishes for flexibility in the way the European parties function. There is also the desire that the Committee on Budgets and the Bureau should, at the beginning of the parliamentary term, create planning certainty for that entire parliamentary term. This does not make the annual budget that we adopt superfluous, but I believe that it would be advisable to ensure that this budget line is preserved and can develop in line with enlargement or an increase in the number of political parties.

The parties do have their own resources: donations and membership subscriptions. It cannot of course be the intention of the EU funding regulations that these own resources should be forfeited if they are not spent within the same year. That is why I am grateful that in Strasbourg we have already complied with one requirement found in the report, that is to say that the parties should be able to use up to 25% of their own resources to build up reserves. It is after all their own money and the EU funding regulations should not place disproportionate restrictions on the parties.

Another wish, however, is that it should also be possible to carry forward up to 25% of contributions into the first quarter of the following year. Politics is an unpredictable business and in the case of unforeseeable events it must be possible to spend a certain amount in the next quarter, so that the parties do not have to embark on an end-of-year spending spree in December.

The report also includes some other proposals. I would, however, now like to move on to the second stage that we are introducing with this report. We need a genuine European party statute. It is not acceptable for the European parties to have to register themselves in accordance with and be governed by the law prevailing in a Member State. All the parties are in favour of identical rights and obligations applying in all the Member States, and that is only possible if there is a single statute. The Committee on Constitutional Affairs is willing to lead the way here. Madam Vice-President, I would be delighted if the Commission took our proposal on board and used its right of initiative to bring forward a new legislative proposal.

The second idea that we should give expression to is the importance of cross-border political communication. In many countries political foundations exist for that purpose. We believe that political foundations should also be created at European level. In this area too we are calling on the Commission to bring forward either a legislative proposal or a budgetary proposal.

We should consider whether in future European elections there should not also be European lists, so that our citizens would virtually have two votes: one for the national or regional list and one for a common European list for the parties, because only with a list of that kind would a common electoral campaign be possible. At present we have 25 different election campaigns during the European elections, and European lists would bring them together.

In conclusion, I would like to mention the youth wings of the parties. Our young people represent our future. We need to pay special attention to promoting political youth organisations and movements, which represent the future of the parties, and the parties are part of the democratic process. The report take us a significant step further forward. I would like to thank the secretaries-general of the parties and also Parliament's administration for their effective management of resources. I would also like to thank the secretaries-general for the excellent proposals which have been incorporated into this report.


  Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to thank Mr Leinen for this important report, which provides a good opportunity to both look back at what has been accomplished in the area of European political parties and what could be done in the future.

It was only three years ago, in 2003, that the regulation governing the political parties at European level was adopted by this House and the Council, on the basis of a proposal put forward by the Commission. The institutions were thus translating into practice the objective set by the Treaty of Amsterdam and the new legal basis offered by the Treaty of Nice. As the European Community Treaty acknowledges, political parties at European level are an important factor for integration within the Union. They contribute to forming a European awareness, to expressing the political will of the citizens and to promoting political debate at European level. It is a fact that since the entry into force of the regulation, ten European political parties at European level have been established.

We could take this as an indication that the European public sphere is being gradually built, where citizens can expect their voices to be increasingly heard by the institutions. I have great sympathy for this, as it is also one of the thoughts in our White Paper on communication. We need a European political culture and we need help to promote that. However, there is still a long way to go to connect the European project and the European institutions to the citizens. Again, this is one of the key issues that the Commission addresses in the White Paper on European communication policy.

I am convinced that not only governments and parliaments, but also political parties and public bodies have to place the issue of Europe at the forefront of public consciousness. We should also reflect on the low turnout for European elections and jointly look into ways of increasing voter participation, as the Commission has already proposed in Plan D. It is not always easy to see exactly how we could play that role, but I think the institutions would have a common interest in ensuring that there is also a high voter turnout and high participation in the discussion on these elections.

Mr Leinen’s report emphasises that political parties have to work for citizens’ involvement, not only through European elections but in all other aspects of European political life. We fully share this view.

There are a number of important issues that are raised in paragraph 12 of the report. They concern the role of the European Foundation. As Mr Leinen mentioned, this concerns the role that European parties can play in European referenda and the enhancement of youth organisations. The Commission would welcome a broad and in-depth discussion of these issues. They are all part of our gradual move towards the real European public sphere. Again, we have a great deal of sympathy for these proposals.

Political parties are an essential part of the democratic structure of the Union and it is therefore appropriate that they receive some support from the Community budget.

We take note of the suggestions advanced in the report as regards injecting more flexibility into the public funding system. Many of the ideas outlined in the report could be made concrete by an adjustment of the internal rules supplied by Parliament.

As regards other suggestions, which would imply amendments of the regulation covering European political parties or of the Financial Regulation, we have to look at those in a broader context. You will notice the careful language that I am using on this point. As you know, we are currently revising the Financial Regulation and its implementing rules. We should assess the situation in the light of this exercise, as, again, one has to balance the need to look at other financing, or at NGOs for example, with a view to finding the best tools to improve the current situation.

Finally, we take note with interest of the idea underlined in paragraph 4 of the report, namely that the Committee on Constitutional Affairs should consider the question of a European statute for European political parties, which could go further than the existing regulation. Among the ideas that the committee should consider is the possibility of better defining rights and obligations for the European parties.

The Commission will certainly follow with interest and attention the work which will be carried out by the parliamentary committee in this area. I would like to express here my personal commitment to this important reflection. I repeat that this is fully in line with our ideas in the White Paper. This has to do with creating a European political public sphere where we can have debate and where the political parties will play a very important role.


  Klaus-Heiner Lehne (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs. – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I represent my honourable colleague Mr López-Istúriz White, who drafted the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs, and I shall make a few comments on that opinion on his behalf and on behalf of my group.

I agree with the view of the main rapporteur, Mr Leinen, that the existing statute must certainly be regarded in principle as a total success and that it was entirely right and proper for us to make a clear distinction between party funding and the financing of parliamentary groups. We also owed it to the public to make that amendment.

Political parties help to form the will of the people – in the European context, we should say ‘of the peoples’ – and that is why it is essential that the European institutions should establish the prerequisites and create the conditions for the proper functioning of these European parties. In this context, there are four things to which I attach particular importance.

Firstly, it is essential to create a sustainable permanent financial framework that enables parties to obtain long-term funding. The grants that are currently paid to the European parties do not provide an adequate basis for truly sustainable long-term planning of activities. Plans are tied at the present time to calendar years within the electoral term. Changes in party funding can also occur if new parties are created and the volume of funding then has to be adjusted. I am simply saying that the existing provisions do not let parties plan ahead with a sufficient degree of financial security and that, in these circumstances, changes are eminently desirable.

Secondly, we must allow European parties to create financial reserves that are not lost from one year to the next. Mr Leinen likewise addressed this subject, which also featured in our deliberations in the Committee on Legal Affairs. His reference to the notorious December rush hit the nail on the head. We want sustainable long-term planning of party funding; we do not want a situation in which, in the run-up to Christmas, so to speak, money is splashed about because of the pressure to ‘use it or lose it’.

In this context, it is also worth considering whether the 20% limit for transfers from one budgetary item to another should be rethought with a view to making it more flexible. European parties must have the freedom to respond to changing requirements that might stem, for example, from a crisis in the political arena by restructuring their resources more radically than the present statute permits.

Fourthly, against this background I believe that the statute for European political parties should be amended to enable the European parties to act more effectively for the benefit of the entire population and to perform their role as driving forces in the process of political decision-making. At the same time, however, I cannot deny that the parties could do more by their own efforts to achieve this aim of bringing Europe closer to the people and involving its citizens in what is happening here in Europe.

I personally do not believe that a European list of candidates, parallel to the national lists, would be a means of solving this problem. Party lists are an abstract concept, and seats are allocated to particular parties, and many people cannot identify with that. What we need is a far more personalised European electoral process, and there is a very simple way of doing that: if at least the two mass parties in Europe could each decide to campaign in the European elections with a chosen leader who would subsequently be their candidate for election as President of the Commission, the elections would become strongly personalised within a fairly short time, and people would identify far more closely with individual candidates and with political statements of intent, which alone could probably lead to a considerable increase in turnout at European elections.

I hope that the political parties will have the courage to take this step.


  Jean-Luc Dehaene, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (NL) Mr President, I, too, rejoice in the way in which this report makes it possible for us to take a significant step further towards the consolidation of the European political party.

The fact is that I do believe that, if we really do want to develop a real European parliamentary democracy, truly European political parties will play an important part in it. The resolution adopted several years ago in favour of funding parties quite separately from the groups strikes me as a very important step in this direction. It will not necessarily, however, play well with the public, who do not believe that it is necessary.

I believe, though, that we are obliged to describe political parties as being, in a sound parliamentary democracy, an important link between the public and the decision-making process and that this is not to be had for free. To put it another way, we must have the courage to tell the outside world that there is a price to be paid for democracy, that there is nothing abnormal about this, and that it is better that funding should be transparent and from public sources rather than through all manner of dark channels.

As I have already said, an important step in this area was taken a number of years ago. I believe that the time has come to make a few improvements, the most structurally important aspect of which will be, without a doubt, that the political parties can plan ahead over greater periods of time instead of having to work with one-year budgets and without any certainty as to what is going to happen the year after that.

There are also two significant technical amendments, which have to do with the flexibility of managing the budget.

I now want, in a sense, to misuse this platform to point out that the problem of the carrying-over to a subsequent year of anything on the credit side accumulated in a given year is not one faced by political parties alone. This rule appears to have crept into the set of rules generally imposed by the Commission. I have the same problem to contend with as chairman of the management council of the College of Europe, which is also required to spend money in a given year, or else a problem results and the upshot is poor management. It is better that there should be more flexibility in this respect, just as we are here proposing for political parties. I would like to bring to the Commissioner’s attention the fact that this problem does not exist only in political parties. This appears to be a general rule that the Commission applies even though it is an obstacle to good management and has been thought up by accountants, whose thinking I do not follow very well.

I also want to stress, by way of conclusion, that we can now, together with the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, do a considerable amount of important work towards a proper statute for political parties, which will include – disadvantageous though it may be to the state coffers of my own country – a fiscal statute that ties in better with the fiscal statute for the European institutions, so that it is made perfectly clear that the political parties are part of that specific management level and that they are integral parts of Europe’s institutional framework.


  Richard Corbett, on behalf of the PSE Group. Mr President, thank you for giving me the floor in what seems, at this stage in the evening, more like an open meeting of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, with some other Members very welcome to join us.

My group supports the report that has been put forward by our rapporteur, the Chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee. As we have heard, it concerns adjustments to the system that we adopted over a year ago now. These adjustments are necessary because of the teething problems that we have discovered in operating the system. They are sensible and pragmatic and I would urge the Commission – for that parts of the report which are addressed to the Commission, such as those pertaining to the Financial Regulation – to take them up. Political parties are not NGOs, they are fulfilling a different role and they are vital for the functioning of our democratic system.

What we have set up and what we are hoping to improve is a system where we have – and the public can see that we have – a clear, transparent and fair system for funding the European level of work of political parties. This is something that recent events have shown is not always the case at national level. We should be proud that we are putting in place a sound structure at European level to finance the work of European political parties. It is important that we do so, because what political parties offer is choice to the voter, different visions, different programmes, different ideas, different proposals. It is that choice which gives life to political debate at European level.

It does one more thing: it shows that the choices we face at European level are really choices of policy, not choices between national viewpoints and national visions. All too often, the press, in focusing on European Council meetings, gives the impression of some gladiatorial combat between national interests. But the real choices we face are policy choices. Do you want higher environmental standards but at a greater cost or not? Do you want our markets to be a totally liberal free-for-all or to be regulated with protection for vulnerable people? These are all political decisions, political choices that are highlighted by political parties; they are often hidden away in the Council. That is essential for our Union to work effectively.

We already have ten parties registering. That shows that this system is working. There were some who claimed that this would only be financing the big parties. Well, some would say that ten parties is a very wide range of parties being financed.

There were those who are not here tonight – including Mr Hannan from the PPE-DE Group – who said that this was going to finance only pro-European parties, as if there were a rule that we could bias the funding towards a particular political viewpoint. This of course is not the case.

What we have seen and achieved and what we hope to improve is a sound system, one that is necessary and one that will enhance the quality of democratic debate at European level.


  Jules Maaten, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (NL) Mr President, at this stage of European development – which some would describe as a ‘lack of European development’ – the significance of this report cannot be over-emphasised. The fact is that it is not just about political parties, and I think that is the good thing about it and about what the rapporteur is trying to do.

He could indeed have said that, yes, there are ten political parties: he could have a look at how they work and what we do with them. But no: he opted for a much broader philosophical approach, and I think he was right to do so, for it has everything to do with the European political area that the Commissioner himself highlighted. After all, what is it that we constantly hear, not only during election campaigns but also in the interim? We hear people asking, ‘What is this European parliament thing for, when there is no European political area?’ They are right: there is not one. There is no such thing as European public opinion. It does not exist; it is not even possible.

Nor will it be if people do their utmost to ensure that no such European political area ever comes into being, of the kind that we need if there is to be European political debate without regard to frontiers.

Let us take a look at the situation as it stands now. There are twenty-five commissioners, chosen primarily on the basis of their nationality. The Council is, of course, composed on the basis of nationalities. Not even this Parliament is elected through a European election, but through 25 national ones, which approximately coincide in time, but are not precisely one. You will not, of course, end up with a European political area that way.

It is that European political area that we will indeed be in need of if we are ever to see an elected President of the Commission, whether he is to be elected by this House or, as I would prefer, by the European electorate. It is that that will usher in a cross-border, European political debate. Or, if there is to be a European referendum, then let there be, instead of 25 national referenda, one single European referendum, for example on whether to have a new constitution or stick with the old one.

What I am in favour of is, in one way or another, giving European elections a European element, at least to some extent. Then you will have a European political debate, for which a European political area which be needed – as, too, will political parties, if you want a representative democracy, which we do, because we want politicians such as ourselves to be monitored, and the only way they will be is if you have strong political parties, certainly stronger than they are at present.

They will then have to be well run, and that means that their specific financial needs will have to be met. I am glad that this report gives consideration to this, for example by creating the flexibility to carry over funds from one year to the next.

At the European level, political parties operate to a five-year cycle, rather than from one year to the next. It is of course worthy of note that other NGOs are now very tightly regulated, in ways that some of them find highly inconvenient, and perhaps we ought to take a look at them too. With that in mind, Mr Dehaene put it very well when he said that there is nothing crazy about giving to others too the flexibility that we want our political parties to enjoy.

Let me turn, finally, to the call for a single statute. This is something of which I am very much in favour, and on that point too, I am at one with the rapporteur. We need to give serious consideration to European foundations, and I would prefer to opt for party political ones; I think the German system is the most civilised in the world in this regard and if we were to be able to have the same thing at European level, we would be able to count ourselves rich.

I also – and, yes, I really am finishing now – ask you to bear in mind the amendments tabled in the name of my group by Mr Guardans, on participation by women in political parties.


  Gérard Onesta, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FR) Mr President, Madam Vice-President, Mr Leinen, ladies and gentlemen, I think that, as Parliament, we have amply contributed to creating this baby that is the European political parties. Now, however, perhaps we need to feed it in order to help it to grow stronger. The Leinen report is, in this respect, very important, as it highlights all the imperfections still present in this offspring that we are bringing to be baptised.

A European political party is, first of all, a political party. Is it conceivable, ladies and gentlemen, for a party to exist without taking part in elections? That is why Mr Leinen’s comment is so important: the European political parties should be able to take part as such in European elections. The only way that they can take part in elections is by having, one day, at last, a part of our Parliament elected transnationally. Only then would the parties be understood in practical terms by our citizens. They would also be understood by our citizens if it were possible for individuals to be members. I know that some parties allow it, but not all, and I think that it would be a good way of giving our citizens more involvement.

I am a little more sceptical about the proposal from the Committee on Constitutional Affairs that the statute go so far as to include provisions on the organisation of party congresses and the nomination of candidates. Regarding individual membership, however, I think that is something that we ought to pursue, just as we should pursue the fact that these parties have to be subject to Community law. It is somewhat absurd to see that these parties are sometimes non-profit making associations, although I have every respect for non-profit making organisations. I believe that Community law must support the emergence of these new legal bodies.

Where the budget is concerned, the proposed distribution over three months at the end of the year is also very important. I believe that some political parties have already found themselves in a tight corner in December with money unused, and it was up to whoever had the best idea to spend this money in a rush, to make a few pens, a few tee-shirts; in short, things that were not at all in the immediate interest of the political party in question. Hence, a ruling that makes it possible to spread the surplus over several months is a rule of good stewardship that we should support.

The last point is that the European parties are young parties, but not yet parties for young people. I think that we shall have to make an effort at this level to find a proper legal framework and the funding necessary to enable European political organisations for young people to join in this great debate. I have made a few amendments to that effect. Nevertheless, in general terms, this is an excellent report.


  Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (DE) Mr President, Madam Vice-President, as a member of the Party of the European Left, which was founded in May 2004, I firmly believe that, as the integration process advances, European political parties can play an important part in ensuring that our continent continues to converge and, above all, that a sense of European identity is able to develop more and more across all our countries.

Political parties are certainly not the only players in our democracy, and they are far from being the best players, but they are a key element, and so the inclusion of a clause on the role of political parties in the ‘democratic life of the Union’ title of the Constitutional Treaty. Unlike the other European political parties, the Party of the European Left is a young European party. To a certain extent, therefore, it is still engaged in the process of its own development as a party. But if I reflect on the heated debates of recent times, and particularly the debate on the crucial issue of the Services Directive, I must conclude that it has demonstrated its readiness and ability to act and has established a profile of its own.

Paragraph 12 of the report calls on all political parties to discuss specific ways in which they can play a more active role in public debates on the future of the European Union, and that is something I wholeheartedly endorse. The current pause for reflection on the European constitution must not degenerate into a break from reflection. I personally believe it is high time to venture into new territory, for example in the domain of European elections. It is several years now since Parliament proposed amendments to electoral legislation, and why indeed should the people of Europe not have the long-overdue opportunity to choose between various European lists of candidates put forward by European parties at the next elections? If I may return to Mr Lehne’s remarks, I do not regard that as an ‘abstract concept’ but as a new political departure. There is nothing, of course, to prevent anyone from combining European lists with more personalised campaigning.

Allow me finally to thank Mr Leinen for his report. His proposals on financial arrangements are balanced, and the Party of the European Left supports them. More financial security for long-term planning and more flexible administration of allocated resources will make it easier for every party to go on developing its political activities.


  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (DA) Mr President, I have voted against the report and, together with 22 other Members of the last Parliament, I tried in vain to take legal proceedings against the notion of taxpayers contributing to European political parties. The parties are never anything other than artificial. There is nothing that can be voted on, there is nothing of which to become a member and there is nothing over which to obtain influence. The exception, curiously enough, is the EU Democrats, the new alliance for European parties and movements founded by critics of the EU. It is possible to log onto our home page, and, in that way, join right off the street, free of charge, and be informed, as well as take part in the various events.

The rules applicable to the political parties discriminate against smaller movements, smaller parties and, for example, national minorities. These will never be able to achieve the status of European parties and obtain funding for activities that may be identical in every respect to the activities for which the larger political parties - in many cases the smaller groups’ competitors - obtain funding from EU coffers. The regulation on European political parties is discriminatory and thus unlawful in the ordinary course of things. Moreover, it is something that we cannot even have tested in the EU's supreme court. The regulation was adopted by majority decision in the Council of Ministers by people who all have financial interests in the outcome of the vote. What is more, the decision-makers are themselves members of the political parties that now take money from voters who vote for their political competitors in connection with decisions from which those competitors are excluded. The regulation is supported by a majority of the European Parliament, the majority of whose Members also, of course, have a financial interest in discriminating against troublesome minorities. None of the decision-makers perceives any problem in relation to competence. Nor do the decision-makers appreciate that they are offending against EU law’s principle of equality and the ban on discrimination.

My group wants to see the regulation abolished or at least modified so that everyone is placed on an equal footing when they, for example, carry out a cross-border activity for the purpose of disseminating information. Why should international conferences arranged by Social Democrats and Christian Democrats or, for that matter, EU Democrats be funded by EU taxpayers while 21 national minorities cannot obtain grants for debating perhaps exactly the same subjects at their own equivalent conferences. That is indefensible. It is clearly unlawful discrimination, and there should be equality for Loki as well as for Thor, as we say in Denmark.


  James Hugh Allister (NI). – Mr President, this resolution speaks of the gulf between the public and the European institutions. Those who think that more Europe with Europe-wide political parties is the answer are, I believe, missing the point. It is the institutions, not the people, which are at fault. Their expressions of disdain are clear enough: witness the lamentable turnout in European elections. Indeed, most MEPs in this House come to this House with an embarrassingly low mandate. I do not see the citizens of Europe out on the streets demanding the right to vote for European political parties, but I do find them demonstrably rejecting an ever-increasingly centralised Europe such as in France and Holland last year.

European political parties, that it is hoped might eclipse national parties, may fit the template of European integration, but the rock upon which they will perish is that of democratic rejection when they have to face the harsh reality of seeking a popular mandate from real people on real issues. It is one thing to play at superstatehood in this rarefied House; it is quite another to face the real issues of our electorate.

The narrow political vision of this venture is evident from recitals A and B. It is seen as the next step towards European integration and as building a European political area. Clearly these parties are seen as part of the machinery of a federal Europe. Federalist parties for federalist politicians might make some intellectual sense, but I would welcome a fight with them any day in my constituency.

I should also say that it is not right to try and buy success by throwing endless supplies of taxpayers’ money at European parties. Do not kid yourselves! Our electorate does not think that much of us that it wants the privilege of paying to have us as European political parties. I thought that maybe Mr Corbett, drawing on the experience of his own party back in the United Kingdom, was going to suggest that we could fund this endeavour by creating an upper House and then selling the membership to the highest bidder, it would not be totally out of place with some of the things that go on in this place.


  Íñigo Méndez de Vigo (PPE-DE). – Mr President, I am a real person who is going to talk about real issues!

(ES) I address this to Mr Allister and Mr Bonde.

The difference between the last speakers and the majority of this House is that what we – the majority of this House – want is to build, we want to do things together, we want Europe to move forward, because we believe that Europe provides a good solution to the people’s problems. In other words, we are not entrenched in defensive positions, we are not being critical and saying that everything is discriminatory. No: we simply want to bring together the enthusiasm of the different parties in this House, of the different political families in this House, in order to seek solutions to the people’s problems.

That is the fundamental difference between us, Mr President; let us not deceive ourselves. In this regard, the political parties play a fundamental role: political parties that, in reality, have emerged from the parliamentary groups in this House, just as they originally did in the different national States as well. The origin of the political parties lies in the parliamentary groups in this House.

I believe that, if the European political parties have one problem, it is that, in reality, they are still federations, associations, of national political parties. That is the reality. It is true that we have made progress over recent years, but not enough. We have to do much more.

Why? Because I believe that the political parties at European level may be able to encourage the European debate and prevent any debate on European issues at national level being turned into a debate on domestic issues, which is what we see happening time and time again.

I believe, for example, that if the European Council had heeded Parliament’s request that any referendums on the European Constitution be held on the same day, we would have been able to ensure that European issues were discussed rather than domestic issues.

Looking towards the future, however, Mr President, I believe that, at a time when more and more of us are feeling the need for the provisions of the European Constitution, the European political parties, during this reflection phase — and I am delighted that Vice-President Wallström, who is responsible for these initiatives within the Commission, is here — have to play a very important role.

On 8 and 9 May, we are going to hold the first Interparliamentary Forum here. I believe that the role of the European political parties is going to be key to uniting the synergies of the Members of the European Parliament and the members of national parliaments and to moving in the direction that the majority of us who believe that the European Constitution is necessary in order to move Europe forward want to see.

We therefore have some great challenges here, and it is clear that these great challenges — Mr Onesta was right — at the end of the day require not just fine words, but they also need proper funding. I believe that this report by Mr Leinen, whom I would like expressly to congratulate, highlights the difficulties of the Regulation and the formulae we must use in order to overcome them more effectively.

The Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, therefore, Mr President, is going to back Mr Leinen’s report and is also going to vote in favour of the amendments presented by the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, by Mr Onesta on behalf of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance — which relates to young people’s associations — and by Mr Maaten and Mrs De Sarnez.

I believe that this would demonstrate that what we want is to build, Mr President, in the face of those who merely want to destroy.


  Javier Moreno Sánchez (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, Madam Vice-President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like firstly to congratulate the rapporteur on his report, which I support fully, and on all the work he has been doing in relation to the European political parties.

Mr Leinen is a tireless defender of the European political parties and of their development and is also one of the fathers of the current Regulation. In my capacity as Deputy Secretary-General of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, I fought hard together with him and some of the Members here today to have it approved.

This Regulation cut the financial and administrative umbilical cord that joined these parties to the political groups in the European Parliament. Its objective was to make these parties financially and administratively transparent and achieve clear and transparent rules that would regulate their activities and funding.

This Regulation is just a first step, however, a temporary solution until the adoption of a genuine statute for the European parties and their funding, as laid down in Article 191 of the Union Treaty.

We would therefore call upon the Commission to present a proposal so that this statute can enter into force before the next European elections, in order to guarantee a competitive electoral process at European level. It is also necessary to give these parties a legal personality, on the basis of Community law, which ensures that they operate transparently and efficiently in all of the member countries.

The role of the political parties is essential to bringing the Union closer to the citizens and to providing them with the incentive to participate politically, so that they may feel that they are participants and protagonists in a common political project and destiny. These parties also provide a basis for the trans-national dimension of the Union’s political process of integration.

Furthermore, we must open up and explore ways to create European political foundations funded from the Union's budget and under this Parliament’s democratic control. These foundations will be an essential instrument for extending the action of the European political parties and to reinforce the link with the citizens and will play an important role in terms of information and political training.

Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, carry on with your work and you can count on my total support.


  Andrew Duff (ALDE). – Mr President, I greatly support the reforms which will provide for a fair, buoyant and transparent system of public funding of political parties, something which, regrettably, does not exist in Great Britain at present.

The growth of truly European political parties is the vital key to solving the crisis of European democracy. Why? Because national political parties are clearly failing to respond to the challenge of European integration. They are failing to develop a fluent discourse about European affairs, or to act as a conduit between the European national, regional and local levels.

I trust that European political parties, including the representatives of Mr Bonde’s party, will be galvanised during the period of reflection to contribute to a resolution of the crisis, and especially to publish European papers about those fundamental questions concerning the future of Europe.


  Eva-Britt Svensson (GUE/NGL). – (SV) Mr President, despite the success of ten European parties that has been described, the democratic legitimacy of, for example, this Parliament has declined in election after election. The report states that there is a gulf between members of the public and the European institutions, which is true, but the solution to this problem is not financial support for European parties. Instead, there should, for example, be an increase in democracy through the return of power to the national parliaments.

The report also states that an EU that is close to its citizens is a precondition for public support for the next steps towards European integration. In order to convince people to accept the rejected Constitution, grants must, in other words, be awarded to European parties. Any democratic forces may, of course, form parties, but to act on the belief that, through the award of large grants, the public would be induced to accept the draft Constitution would not only be an attempt to obtain acceptance of the Constitution in return for money, but would also be very dubious in democratic terms.


  Patrick Louis (IND/DEM). – (FR) Mr President, since the only natural place for political and democratic debate is at national level, coherent parties with a global programme have a place only within Member States. The democratic deficit of the European Union will only be made good through the representation of national parties having their own particular identity, parties that are accountable to the citizens who know them and understand them.

The European political parties, virtually funded by the European Union, must be able to preserve their independence and not become yet another means of addressing European propaganda and communication to the electors. Thus, the European political parties must remain simply a means of cooperation between national political parties, an open forum in which each member is respected. On no account should they reflect, or become the means of conveying, some supposed European public opinion which does not exist and will not exist, because language differences are a fact and the European Union is a means and not an end in itself.


  Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Mr President, while cross-border cooperation between political parties in Europe is nothing new, even parties from the same ideological stable often represent different political cultures. Regardless of the planned injection of millions of euros to support them, they will never be able to agree politically on any more than the lowest common denominator, which has hitherto been confined to the content of election manifestos and electoral appeals. Not even European parties, to be sure, will be able to extricate us from this dilemma.

Although it is agreed that the European Union is in crisis, its institutions have chosen once again to pump in vast sums of money – the recipients this time being the European political parties – instead of finally tackling the causes of this crisis. The reasons for the all-too-familiar lack of trust in the EU leaders are manifold: unrealistic promises made at the time of accession of various Member States, over-hasty eastward enlargement of the EU against the will of most of its citizens, a European constitution dictated from above, increased contributions and now the idea of European taxes.

It is always fascinating to observe just how credulous the political establishment of the European Union actually believes its citizens to be. Plummeting turnout figures, ‘no’ votes in referendums and growing exasperation with the EU are not interpreted for a moment as criticism of the Union but are dismissed as sharp reminders to national governments. We shall not be able to change this mindset, however, through new European political parties; whether it suits us or not, the only way to build trust is through a good record of achievement.

The EU has somehow managed not only to squander goodwill but also to sleepwalk through decisive developments or even to guide them in the wrong direction, and the public impact of these blunders can be seen not least in the form of rising unemployment figures and huge increases in euro prices. Even if we invest the planned annual amount of EUR 8.4 million in the party project, there is little chance that this will do anything to create a sense of European identity. We can only achieve that sense of identity if we give our critical citizenry the opportunity at long last to play a genuine direct part in major decisions such as enlargement and the constitution.


   Othmar Karas (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Madam Vice-President, ladies and gentlemen, while none of us has ever claimed to have all the answers, it is indeed depressing to see how the opponents of the EU who have seats in the European Parliament try to crush every measure with which we seek to advance the development of the European Union, with which we try to give our citizens a stake in this project, how they trample underfoot every little seedling we plant instead of nurturing it.

Nobody here believes that political parties are an end in themselves. Every one of us believes that they are a potential means – a necessary means in a parliamentary democracy – of involving our citizens in the legislative process and adequately representing their views. None of us has said here that a party statute alone would make political parties adopt the right course of action.

He who pays the piper calls the tune or, as we say in my part of the world, ‘No money, no music’. Music, however, is not the product of money but results from the work of an orchestra of critical, trained and qualified musicians. They need instruments, they need scores, they need people who choose their repertoire, and they need a conductor. I therefore appeal to all political parties to use this money and this party statute to create something worthwhile, to become involved and help ensure that the integration of national parties into European structures actually takes place. There is too little progress for my liking in the development of a European dimension to the political debate, even among the European parties. These are not mere adjuncts but parties with an internal as well as an external impact.

One thing is certainly clear in our view, namely that the EU must become more political, more democratic, more transparent and closer to the people. Most of us contribute constructively on an everyday basis to the attainment of that goal. We welcome the Commission’s initiative to support information and communication throughout Europe by means of Plan D. We lament the fact that the European debate is not being stimulated and that, sad to say, particularism, populism, nationalism and self-seeking are being practised shamelessly – I need only say ‘energy policy’, ‘Financial Perspective’ and ‘European foreign policy’. We want to strengthen the European Parliament, to support the independence of its Members and to loosen the bonds committing them to the pursuit of purely national interests. We lament the lack of a European public opinion. Many of us advocate Europe-wide referenda and a mechanism whereby public petitions can secure a European referendum.

We therefore see a party statute as the means whereby political parties can help to change the unhealthy situation I have described and to ensure that the opportunities created by such a change are grasped. A European party statute will help to make the political debate transparent, independent and European in its perspective. It will reinforce our efforts to give domestic policies a European dimension instead of renationalising European policies.

Let me say in conclusion that I am fully in favour of European electoral lists to supplement national lists, because a European list will serve to encourage European parties to campaign under a high-profile European leader. Yes, I favour the candidature of European parties rather than national parties as the basis for the allocation of top-up seats. Yes, we want European political parties to step up their training activities, to promote their own political foundations and to engage in youth work. It is for these reasons that we are backing the report.


  Carlos Carnero González (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, I believe that the rapporteur, Mr Leinen, has done an excellent job. I congratulate him. We must be honest with ourselves: the national parties that make up the European political parties are often the first not to believe in them.

How often have we heard our colleagues in our countries saying, ‘Yes, the party we belong to at European level is very important, it does many very good things, but the essential thing is what happens here’? We hear that everywhere. One simple phrase must be applied here: the function creates the body. When we have European laws in force ― beginning with the Constitution ― which make it obligatory for these political parties to exist, with specific roles, we will have won this battle in favour of European construction.

For example, the European Constitution says that, when the Council makes its proposal on the election by this House of the President of the Commission, it must take account of the results of the European elections. And if that is the case, the European parties will have to think hard about who heads their lists and also what their programmes are; and then European lists will make full sense, rather than transnational lists – a term that we must forget – and that is the most correct definition: European lists.

We are now naturally facing a period of reflection and debate. We must provide the backbone for this debate: this House and the European political parties. The European Convention was a success because it worked on the basis of European political families, and the interparliamentary meetings and the period of reflection will also be a success if we are able to work as political families, to understand each other and to reach agreements.

To this end, the role of the European political parties is essential, and it will also be essential when we have European referendums and when we put an end to the spectacle of national referendums hijacked by the problems of each individual country.

In this case, this report represents a further step, and it is good step.


  Hans-Peter Martin (NI). – (DE) Mr President, the careers of the rapporteur, Jo Leinen, and of the political parties in Europe have followed a very similar pattern over these past decades: having started in a fairly lofty position, they are now plumbing the depths. Only two per cent of the population of Germany still trust political parties. These funding programmes, in the way they are actually being established now, surely cannot reverse this extreme loss of credibility.

What is the cause of this erosion? It is the fact that democracy has always been equated with political parties rather than people. In short, sovereignty in our system does not lie with the people but with political parties, whose supremacy is to be consolidated, bolstered and inflated by these prehistoric plans that you are presenting to us. They are doomed to failure; they will not bring Europe any further forward. The future truly belongs to verifiable personalised elections with candidates whose real convictions are immediately discernible: candidates, in other words, who, unlike the rapporteur, do not engage in electoral campaigning within the SPD and, once they have secured a firm place on their party’s list, abandon the electoral campaign and start canvassing support for fanciful European political parties.


  Maria da Assunção Esteves (PPE-DE).(PT) When Parliament gave the go-ahead, in the January resolution on the period of reflection, for a second debate on the European Constitution, it became clear that Europe was in need of political parties. The challenge is clear for all to see. Europe needs to be increasingly political and should not shy away from having a strong, proactive and responsible party structure.

The parties have a central role to play in achieving European ambitions and in improving the quality of European democracy. They act as a bridge between the citizens and the authorities, as a catalyst for European public opinion and as support for civil society to take action and for broader participation.

The function of political parties is – and should be – a long way from being merely parliamentary and representative. The European political parties have, inexplicably, failed to become stronger in proportion to, and at the same pace as, the European Parliament. This is due either to sheer ignorance of the system or to a lack of self-awareness on the part of European parties. Yet Europe has never, throughout the course of its development, asked the parties to be dynamic. The parties have been accused of glaring absence from the debate on the European Constitution, for example, a debate that has hitherto been strictly institutional. Because Europe is waiting for its political parties to fulfil their role, a single European statute for Europe's political parties must be created to strengthen party structures, as a matter of urgency. A statute of this nature would strengthen democratic control, foster political competition within Parliament, and free European parties from strictly parliamentary duties, in order to bring them up to speed with the various dynamics of the European public arena. Furthermore, it is clear that, if the parties are to be strengthened, then what is required is a single statute, a legal personality based on European law, capacity for independent responsibility, stronger party reflection structures and adequate financing for real power to define political priorities.

The Leinen report therefore suggests much more than an accounting reform of the life of Europe's political parties. It points the way forward for strategic understanding between parties, alongside recognition of their significance for structural solutions to persistent European democratic deficit.

In order to achieve structural solutions, the political market must be speeded up, there must be stronger links between Europe’s political parties and the national parties, and European politics – and the European electoral system – must be made more attractive. The report also contributes towards a certain European-level party awareness, whereby we – who become organised in an attempt to take responsibility for the world – can understand that these organisations have also acquired a new scale. This responsibility is growing, as Europe undergoes further landmark changes, for example the Constitution and the enlargement. As such, what is needed is new political practice and a fresh look at the roles of the institutions, the citizens and the parties.


  Marie-Line Reynaud (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, first of all I should like to thank the rapporteur for the quality of his work.

The European political parties are essential to the formation and expression of a genuine European public opinion. Indeed, it is mainly to them that the difficult task of working for effective participation for citizens falls, and that is not only every five years at the time of the European elections, but daily and in every aspect of European political life.

Mr Leinen’s report puts forward suggestions that would make it possible to give the European parties the means necessary to achieve this objective. I particularly welcome the following points: the improvement in the rules on funding through the introduction of greater clarity, flexibility, independence and financial security in the medium term; vital support for organisations and movements for young Europeans; finally, better representation of women on the electoral lists, and especially among the elected members.


  Andrzej Jan Szejna (PSE).(PL) Mr President, Article 191 of the Treaty establishing the European Community states that political parties at European level are an important factor for integration within the framework of the European Union. They help to establish a European consciousness and to express the political will of the EU’s citizens. This is of enormous importance today because we are engaged in far-reaching reflections on the future of Europe, which call for broad dialogue with its citizens. Political parties at European level should play a key role here by promoting further integration and defending the Constitutional Treaty. The Socialist Group in the European Parliament has achieved much in this respect, and has a great deal of experience in the field.

European political parties undoubtedly have an important role to play in referenda on European issues, in elections to the European Parliament and in the election of the President of the Commission. Furthermore, the results of European elections must be reflected in the choice of candidate for the President of the Commission. In order to achieve these goals, regulations governing political parties are essential at European level. A statute for political parties is needed to define their rights and obligations, and to allow them to become legal entities.

Finally, I would like to congratulate Mr Leinen on his superb report and on the exceptional level of competence he has demonstrated.


  Aloyzas Sakalas (PSE). – (LT) Firstly, I would like to thank Mr Leinen for his very responsibly prepared report. I would like to stress that support for the work of European political parties at EU institution level is particularly relevant now. And this is why: some political scientists, in Lithuania at least, maintain that political parties have lost their ideological foundations and are becoming similar. If this really were to happen, then party decisions, without an ideological base, would be unpredictable. This would mean that it would no longer be clear to the voter what one party or another will do once they are in power. And this would mean that it will no longer be important to voters which party they vote for and some will wonder whether it is worth participating in elections at all. This is a particularly dangerous tendency; therefore, it is essential to strengthen Europe's local parties that each would have either left or right-wing ideology, which would become a landmark for parties of the left and right in different states, in every way possible, in a financial sense too. I therefore propose that we endorse the report.


  Józef Pinior (PSE). (PL) Mr President, political parties are rooted in the industrial revolution, the creation of nation states and the period following World War II. Globalisation, with the new challenges to civilisation it entails, and the democratisation of the EU's political system mean that European political parties must play a part in European public life. They must become true institutions of representative democracy, acting as intermediaries between citizens and the decision-making centres of the EU. To this end, a statute for European political parties is needed to set out their rights and obligations and to allow them to become legal entities on the basis of European law. Such a statute should function effectively in the Member States.

We in the European Union are currently faced with a crisis of the European systems of liberal democracy. The constitutional crisis in the EU is accompanied by racism and intolerance, prejudice against immigrants and the erection of barriers between the nation states. The EU must support European political foundations, and promote and strengthen European political organisations and youth movements. The European Union must respond to the present crisis with a real European policy, as proposed by the Leinen report tabled before Parliament.


  Zita Gurmai (PSE). – Mr President, political parties are a vital element in building and reinforcing a European political sphere. They play an important and crucial role in promoting democratic values such as freedom, tolerance, solidarity and gender equality. In parallel with this, we require a dialogue with citizens on the future of Europe and, in this context, political parties must play a key role.

Mr Leinen’s report is commendable in its support of European political parties and its recommendation to improve the current situation. However, Mr Leinen and our political family have been stopped by the PPE-DE Group from mentioning the vital role of European political parties in furthering the priority of gender equality. I should like to ask my colleagues to reconsider this, especially those in the PPE-DE Group, who voted against an amendment in the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. That amendment stated that European political parties should take into account the principle of equal opportunities when filling posts in party offices and on party lists for election. We should not forget that women form the majority of our population.

As President of the PSE’s women’s group, I am aware of the tremendous work that our political family does in this field throughout the European Parliament. Other political parties should be doing the same. I urge my colleagues from the PPE-DE Group to rethink their position and to uphold the values of the EU.


  Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the Commission. Mr President, this has very much been a debate about democracy: its strengths, its shortcomings and the challenges that come from a rapidly changing reality. Until now, the system we have for exercising and organising democracy goes through political parties. That is the way we do it in Europe, at national, local and regional level, and at European level. It is not perfect and it requires a constant effort to mobilise people, because we know that the biggest enemy is always ignorance and total apathy. That goes for the European level as well. We can state that it is no longer enough to leave the decision-making and the democracy to a small political elite; at least, that is my analysis of the situation. We also have to mobilise people at European level to allow for a democratic development also at European level. It is through political parties that we can make people accountable, that we can create openness and transparency, and that we can have effective decision-making.

It is still only embryonic: even if we have succeeded in creating ten European parties, we cannot say that we have succeeded totally. However, it has helped and it does not contradict that we also have to invest in making sure that the national parties integrate European affairs into their political agenda, discussions and decisions. We have to do both and we have to move on both fronts.

In addition it is necessary to make sure that there is European media that can cover what goes on. This also requires some efforts and promotion from our side, to make sure that the reporting is there as well – for citizens, for democracy, to be able to follow what goes on and to take a position on that. I would add that it is also necessary to create meeting places, citizen-to-citizen opportunities to discuss. Those three building blocks are necessary to develop democracy at European level. It can be virtual or geographical or real, but all three elements are necessary.

European political parties are a very important element. You can discuss the criteria; we have to discuss the things that have been mentioned here. I am very prudent in not promising what could come out of the review of the Financial Regulation now. I think it would be very unwise of me to promise that the Commission will come forward at such-and-such a time with a new proposal for this or that. It has to come in connection with and after the discussion we are having now on reviewing the Financial Regulation and the implementing rules. This can come as a result of that and after that. However, I think you have created and presented the elements and building blocks necessary to discuss what to do with European political parties.

As many have pointed out, however, there is a link to other organisations as well, and we have to take that into account so that it can be a balanced proposal one day. It is wise to also have a vision as to when this could be ready, but I cannot make a promise on that on behalf of the Commission today.

This is a very important debate. I welcome the amendments underlining the importance of promoting equality between men and women, and I would point out – as I see Mrs Gurmai there – I think this is absolutely evident. Had Mr Allister still been here I would have asked him who he would vote for. Would he vote for somebody and be willing to pay for somebody who says ‘I enter this room or this institution with ambitions and hopes and dreams and I promise to do my best and work for a future for the European Union’? Or would you vote for someone who says ‘I do not believe in this institution, I do not think it should exist, I think it deals with nonsense issues and I am not going to pay too much attention to what goes on here’? Who would you be willing to pay for as a normal taxpayer? I think it speaks for itself, but in the end this is really also a matter of the choice that you have to give to people, as Mr Corbett and others have pointed out. It is a choice to give to the European citizens and that is, in the end a matter of democracy.


  Paul Rübig (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, may I apologise to Commissioner Wallström for those Members who deliver their speeches but are not present for the debate. That is certainly not the custom in this House. I wish to apologise on behalf of my fellow Members.


  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11.00 a.m.

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