Partis politiques européens – Des objets politiques mal identifiés?
In this study published by the European Parliament Political Observatory of the Jacques Delors Institute, Nathalie Brack (ULB) and Wouter Wolfs (KU Leuven) take a deep dive into the evolution of European political parties, their financing, their status and the place they occupy within the European architecture.
“These days consolidated and enjoying both legal recognition and long-term financing, the European parties are still central to a paradox: on the one hand, they play an increasing role, particularly in the coordination of their members and the preparation of the meetings of the European Council and the Council, while on the other, they remain largely invisible to most European citizens and do not play the anticipated role of a bridge between the citizens and politics in Europe”, is the authors’ introductory comment (our translation throughout).
The first European parties came into being some half a century ago, with the Confederation of Socialist Parties of the European Community in 1973, followed by the EPP and the Federation of Liberal and Democratic Parties in Europe in 1976. Even so, the authors point out, it would not be until 1992 and the Maastricht Treaty that they would receive “institutional recognition” and not until 2004 that they would begin to receive public funding. This funding, the terms and conditions of which would go on to change over time, would contribute to the increased spread of political parties, rising in number in the space of just a few years from five to sixteen (2017).
And yet, although one of the vital functions of political parties in any democracy is the “setting of objectives, principally through their electoral manifesto (…), the European institutional context does not allow European political parties to enter fully into this logic”, Brack and Wolfs state, going on to point out that “although they have become increasingly organised and politicised, the European elections continue to be national ballots: although manifesto efforts are made and the leaders of associated parties are invited (…), the national parties continue to be the principal players in the composition of the lists and in the election campaign”. Furthermore, as Camille Kelbel and Clément Jadot state, “the European political system itself, in that it is not based on the responsibility of a unified executive towards a legislative, weakens the existence of the Europarties outside election times. Basically, not only are the proposals of the Europarties not followed up during the elections, they also lack any object between elections. These deficiencies logically call the relevance of European political manifestoes into question”.
These last comments do, however, come with nuances. “Recent research shows that the election promises of the European political parties during elections for the European Parliament did indeed have an effect, as they were taken into account in the working programme of the European Commission, particularly those of the EPP and ALDE, also the PVE and, to a lesser event, the PES”, the authors note, also recalling that in November 2022, Renew Europe announced its intentions to focus its election campaign on a small number of key ideas that unite its members and will then be used as a basis for negotiation when forming coalitions and voting on the presidency of the Commission.
“The Europarties do not have the material and financial resources to organise pan-European election campaigns and the national rules prevent any close link between the national party and the European party of the same political family. This means that in ten member states, parties are not allowed to accept contributions, either in the form of campaign material or resources, from their European party during elections (…). But most importantly, the national parties often fail to highlight their membership of a European political family and the logo of their European family is not included in their campaign material”, Brack and Wolfs observe.
Looking ahead to the European elections of 2024 and 2029, “European parties need to continue to demonstrate their relevance to their members in order to combat the (relative) lack of interest of the national parties in their activities and what they have to offer them”, the authors stress, going on to recommend three tools to allow them to gain visibility: - transnational lists; - the Spitzenkandidaten; - systematically including their logo and manifesto in all the campaign material of their member parties. But although this inclusion is possible in the very short term, it is also true that in a number of cases at least, creating transnational lists and an effective selection process to promote the Spitzenkandidaten will not be possible until the 2020 elections at the earliest. (Olivier Jehin)
Nathalie Brack & Wouter Wolfs. Partis politiques européens – Des objets politiques mal identifiés? (Available in French only). Notre Europe – Institut Jacques Delors, May 2023. 73 pages. This study is available to download free of charge from the website of the Institute: https://aeur.eu/f/8mk
Quelles représentations pour quelles démocraties ?
The output of a colloquium which was held at the European Parliament in Luxembourg in September 2019, this work brings together fascinating contributions drawing from history, philosophy and law to document the evolution of representative systems and explain the challenges of our democratic systems under tension, increasingly challenged, even to the point of exhaustion.
Chief curator of the heritage collection of the French National Archives, Amable Sablon du Corail, goes in to bat first with an extensive article on the major representative traditions in Europe between the 14th and 18th centuries. “The 14th and 15th centuries emerge as a vital moment in the construction of European political identities. The English representative regime, the Flemish and Catalan particularities, the triumph of the sovereign state in France all date from this period. In a certain way, the English revolutions of the 17th century, the absolutism of Louis XIV and Jacobinism are simply extensions and ultimately fairly modest variations of amplitude”, he writes.
Jacques de Saint-Victor (Université Paris XII) retraces the journey of the rise of anti-politics in Italy, embodied by Beppe Grillo and the Movimento Cinque Stelle, which, during the government crisis of 2019, would use the Rousseau to ask its voters whether or not they would give their agreement to the approval of a new coalition with the Partito Democratico (PD). The author argues that “in accepting this process of direct democracy despite its technical shortcomings, the most senior authorities of the Italian state, including the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, took the gamble of crowning the logic of direct democracy”, by allowing it to take precedence over the logic of representative democracy.
Anne-Marie Le Pourhet (Université Rennes I) examines the emergence of the concept of popular sovereignty and national sovereignty in the 18th century, as well as the demands of popular sovereignty in the Gilets jaunes crisis in France, before going on to consider the relevance of the coexistence of representative systems and direct democracy. She points out that “as initially organised by the Constitution of 1958, direct democracy (specifically, the referendum: Ed) is more vertical than horizontal and in no way corresponds to the systems seen in Switzerland the USA, where the referendum procedure starts off from the bottom, the citizens themselves, or what is these days known as ‘civil society’ “. “The result is that if the executive powers allow the referendum to fall into obsolescence (as has been the case since the referendum on the constitutional treaty of 2005: Ed), the French citizens are deprived of the power to evoke decision-making power and this frustration obviously ends up being channelled into demands for ‘extra democratic soul’ in our institutions”, she continues, adding that “as practised in Switzerland, the USA, Italy, Denmark, Ireland or elsewhere, direct democracy seems to plunge a large section of the French elite into irrational paranoia”.
Among the wealth of other interesting articles, that by Éric Oliva (Université d’Aix-Marseille) on the initiative and budgetary control of the parliament also particularly merits a mention. Although the history of great democracies is littered by the conquest of budgetary power, between the 13th and 17th centuries in England, then in the United States and France at the end of the 18th century, executives began to succeed in regaining the upper hand and drastically reducing the budgetary prerogatives of the parliaments. Although many parliaments have been stripped of their powers of budgetary initiative and the faculty to amend the budget, the author considers that their role in budgetary control could be bolstered. (OJ)
Anne Levade, Nadim Farhat and Philippe Poirier (edited by). Res publica et parlement - Quelles représentations pour quelles démocraties? (Available in French only) Bruylant. Collection Études parlementaires. ISBN: 978-2-8027-6749-7. 196 pages. €62,00
Europe 2023, retour à la case départ ?
Federico Santopinto signs off the introduction of the chapter on Europe in the 2024 edition of the strategic directory of French Institut des relations internationales et stratégiques (IRIS) by stating that for Europeans and for the European Union in particular, the strategic year 2023 is virtually identical to 1999. He points out that back then, the member states decided to transform their Union into a major strategic player by conferring upon it a common defence policy, for which we are still waiting. Yet “the 12 months that have just ended seem even to indicate Europe has become even more dependent on Washington and it was 20 years ago”, the author observes (our translation throughout).
Following on from the work of Jana Puglierin and Jeremy Shapiro (ECFR), he points out that in 2008, EU GDP was higher than that of the United States – 16,200 billion dollars compared to 14,700 – while in 2022, the situation had reversed – 25,000 billion dollars in the United States compared to 19,800 billion for the Union plus the United Kingdom. Furthermore, this “economic weakening of Europe has inevitably had repercussions at a military and technological level”, with an even greater gap between the defence spending of the EU and that of the United States, which stood at 801 billion dollars in 2021. Technologically, Federico Grimes gap between the two sides of the Atlantic in the field of ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) as “abyssal”, as demonstrated by the enormous dependence of the French operation Barkhane, in the Sahel, on American assistance.
“Europe’s strategic centre of gravity has continued to migrate East. The accession of Finland and, very soon, Sweden to NATO, the status of EU accession candidate acquired by Ukraine and Moldova and the rise in of Poland, which has doubled its defence budget and now aspires to possess the most powerful land army in Europe, have increased (…) this tendency”, Federico stresses. At the same time, “France finds itself isolated at European level”. “Distanced from its historic German partner, accused of complacency towards Russia by Poland and the Baltic states” – to which one might add its modest military support to Ukraine (not unrelated to the state of its stocks), the internal political situation and its challenges in Africa – “its capacity of initiative both in the EU and NATO has seen a curtailment”, the author points out.
“The war in Ukraine has (…) proven once again that the European Union is not the strategic player it set out to become in 1999”, Federico stresses, adding that “it has nonetheless allowed it to carve out a new role, which the member states seem inclined to allow it: that of financing military matters. Indeed, the EU currently has a defence industrial policy that it previously lacked. The turning-point for this took place in 2016, but it has risen in power in this area over the last year, white setting new financial instruments in place to support military and industrial production. The dynamic undertaken by the EU in this field is considerable and its role seems likely to increase in the future”. This is unquestionably true, but one might reasonably ask until when? And where is it going?
The funding of an inter-governmental nature, put in place through the ‘European Peace Facility’, has a shelf life that is entirely relative and continues to depend on the goodwill of the member states. The same is also true of the funding of the European Defence Fund, the increase in which in the framework of the revision of the multi-annual financial framework is by no means assured. The community instruments (EDIRPA and ASAP), meanwhile, are temporary in nature and the block rejection by the member states of the regulatory plank of the ASAP regulation aiming to support the increase of munition production capabilities underpins the extreme fragility of this progress. At this stage, one might therefore reasonably doubt that much will come of the proposed European defence investment programme (EDIP), awaited or the end of the year and aiming precisely to anchor this new role in permanency by extending it beyond munitions or even, in the words of Commissioner Thierry Breton, to “make it irreversible”. Falling short of excessive optimism, let us hope that reason will win the day. (OJ)
Pascal Boniface (edited by). L’année stratégique 2024 (available in French only). Armand Colin. ISBN: 978-2-2006-3556-5. 368 pages. €25,00
European Security, Eurasian Crossroads?
Zachary Paikin and Christos Katsioulis stress the strategic importance currently represented by Eurasia, as a zone of tension, cooperation and competition, of major importance to the European Union, Russia and China. Against this backdrop, they argue that the EU should: (1) do all in its power to keep the OSCE operational, while it risks starting the year 2024 with neither a presidency nor a budget; (2) entering into limited dialogue with Belarus on arms control; (3) considering a place in the future for Russia within the European Political Community (EPC). On the last of these points, they suggest that once the structures of the EPC have been consolidated, the European leaders should identify the conditions and potential timetable to admit Russia. (OJ)
Zachary Paikin, Christos Katsioulis. European Security, Eurasian Crossroads? Keeping rules-based cooperation afloat on a war-torn continent. Centre for European Political Studies (CEPS). 13 pages. This analysis is available to download free of charge from the website of the think tank: https://aeur.eu/f/8mj