The political landscape of Europe is to dramatically change as new rules are about to be introduced for the financing of pan-European political parties and their associated foundations or think tanks.
In 2012, 13 Europe wide groups of political parties received €31 million from the European Parliament.
One small change with far reaching effects is providing a European level legal status for the bodies, which will allow them to get involved in campaigns and elections alongside their national member parties. Currently most are registered in Belgium as associations and all employees are subject to Belgian tax.
Other changes force parties to publish the names of donors contributing more than €1,000 a year, while the annual limit on individual donations would rise from €12,000 to €25,000.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said, "Truly transnational European political parties and foundations are key to articulating the voices of citizens at European level, and generating Europe-wide public debates. They have a central role to play in shaping the debate on European issues, which in view of the 2014 European elections, promises to be lively in the years to come. This ambitious proposal is an important step towards consolidating European democracy".
However, the most significant section of the new rules doesn’t look important, but it is why the proposals have been launched. Parties and foundations must observe the values of the European Union “namely respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”. The last part, on minority rights, is a new addition.
The MEP revolt
In February 2012, the Bureau of the European Parliament, responsible for managing the parliament, met to disperse the funding for the parties and foundations. The Alliance of European Nationalist Movements was awarded €289,266, and includes the British National Party, Hungarian Jobbik, Sweden’s National Democrats, Italy’s Fiamma Tricolore, Belgium’s National Front and Ukraine’s Svoboda, amongst others.
The news of the financing was broken by New Europe and UK anti-extremism campaigners, Hope Not Hate.
MEPs responded to the news with fury. The funding set the Bureau against the Parliament’s long record of opposing racism and xenophobia – how can the Parliament be against racism, yet fund parties that spread it, members asked.
They were also furious at Parliamentary officials whose report stated the new far right party met the criteria, leaving Bureau members to believe they had no choice other than to approve the funding.
However, a solution was quickly found, in the form of the ‘Giannakou Report’, which proposed reforms to the now unpopular funding system. Produced by Greek centre-right MEP, Marrieta Giannakou, the report was overwhelmingly adopted by the European Parliament in April 2011. This was dusted off and European Commissioner for Inter-institutional relations and administration, Maroš Šefčovič set to work. In June he said it was being finalised and should be adopted right after the summer break” when it duly arrived, with few changes.
Hannes Swoboda, President of the Socialists and Democrats group in the parliament said, "It is time to stop to keep giving EU money to rightist and xenophobic parties that are systematically rallying against EU values and principles." He added, “"This move is a good answer to those who blame the EU for lack of democracy or for leaving too much power to the technocrats. European political parties are key actors in fostering citizens' participation and involvement into the EU decision making. Their role is crucial.”
Speaking for Hope Not Hate, Matthew Collins a former member of a violent far right party turned anti-racism campaigner told New Europe, "This is very pleasing, a step we hope, in the right direction. The European Parliament has a duty to recognise and protect people's rights, even when there are those among its number who do not. Tighter and stricter regulations on funding of those who use the European Parliament as a way to fund their domestic hate campaigns should ensure that Europe becomes a safer place for all of its citizens.”
“I am very proud that we were able in some way to remind people that this is fundamental to the EU statues and indeed democracy as a whole," he added.