EU-level political parties
Commission to propose legal status after summer
By Gaspard Sebag | Friday 13 July 2012
The European Commission will propose shortly after the summer to create a European legal status for EU-level political parties. This status could be extended to their affiliated foundations. Changes to the funding rules - moving away from grant-based financing - and penalties are foreseen in the draft proposals included in a non-paper seen by
Responding to an April 2011 EP own-initiative report drafted by Marietta Giannakou (EPP, Greece), the Commission will issue a package of two proposals: one replacing Regulation (EC) No 2003/2004 on the regulations governing political parties at EU level and another to amend the rules regarding their funding in the Financial Regulation. “The new legal and financial framework should be in place well before the 2014 elections to the European Parliament,” said Commission President José Manuel Barroso after a meeting with the leaders of the main European political parties, on 12 July.
Granting EU-level political parties a legal status and personality based on EU law is the centrepiece of the Commission’s proposal. The European People’s Party welcomes this move. Philipp Hansen, head of political unit at the ELDR Secretariat, hopes this symbolic and political signal will reinforce European political parties vis-à-vis the EU institutions, placing them on a more level playing field. The new European legal status will also enable political parties to move away from the NGO status that most currently have: eight out of 13 European political parties that received Community funding in 2010 were registered as ASBLs (association sans but lucratif) in Belgium.
TAX AND LABOUR LAW
In most other instances, the draft proposals stick to what was requested by Parliament. A notable exception is that staffers in the EU-level political parties will remain subject to national law concerning taxation and labour. Several parties had requested to have the same advantages as EU civil servants but for the Commission this is a no-go seeing as political parties are private entities. The EU executive’s concern was also that a precedent could be set that might encourage NGOs or other organisations working on EU affairs to request similar tax advantages.
Another point of slight concern for political parties is the co-financing rate. Currently, EU funding can cover 85% of the expenditure of a party, forcing EU-level political parties to find the remaining 15% themselves. The Commission is set to go beyond the EP’s call to reduce the latter figure to 10% to help small or recently established parties by taking away the co-financing requirement altogether. While a reduction of the rate is welcomed, several European political parties want to keep a minimum formal co-financing requirement. “Politically we consider it very important to have member parties at national level contributing,” Hansen says, explaining that it is necessary for these national parties to have a sense of ownership of the EU dimension. The co-financing issue is not set in stone, indicates a source at the Commission.
The Commission proposal should put an end to the grant system used for funding these political parties, which is more suitable for NGOs with specific targets. EU-level political parties will therefore no longer have to present annual work programmes as a precondition for financing. Instead, they will receive financial contributions, the details of which will be inserted in the Financial Regulation under a specific title. In line with EP demands, the Commission should raise the present donations limit of €12,000 per year to €25,000, requesting that the identity of the donors should be disclosed for donations above a certain level (not yet fixed). Carrying over unused EU funds will not be permitted. The non-paper indicates that the EU executive will probably allow parties represented in the EP by at least one of its members to be eligible for funding, allowing for an exemption for first-time parties. Funding national referendum campaigns will remain prohibited for EU-level political parties.
Relaxing the funding rules would be counterbalanced by providing for sanctions, ranging from removal of the European legal status to financial penalties. In addition, certain criteria, such as signing up to the European Parliament’s registry, will have to be met to get access to EU funds. The EP would be in charge of assessing and imposing the penalties as well as verifying the criteria are met.
The Commission does not plan to fully abolish the self-funding requirement for foundations as requested by Parliament but indicates that the level set could be negligible.
Once the EU executive’s twin proposals are out, Council and Parliament will have to thrash out the details in this largely non-controversial dossier.