Select Committee on European Scrutiny Tenth Report


STATUTE AND FINANCING OF EUROPEAN POLITICAL PARTIES


(22163)
6270/01
COM(00) 898

Draft Council Regulation on the statute and financing of European political parties.
Legal base: Article 308 EC; consultation; unanimity
Document originated: 13 February 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 15 February 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 7 March 2001
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 20 March 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (21432) 9712/00: HC 28-ii (2000-01), paragraph 2 (10 January 2001); HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (15 November 2000); and HC 23-xxvii (1999-2000), paragraph 3 (25 October 2000)
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

Background

  7.1  Article 190(5) of the EC Treaty, as amended by the Treaty of Amsterdam, provides for the European Parliament (EP) to lay down the regulations and general conditions governing the performance of the duties of its Members. In December 1998, the EP adopted a proposal for a Statute laying down these regulations and conditions. Members of the EP (MEPs) had hoped that it would be agreed before the European elections in June 1999. We cleared a Council draft on 21 April 1999.[9] However, agreement was not reached and in February 2000, after almost a year of deadlock, the EP decided to set up a group of eminent persons to make recommendations on the Statute.

  7.2  We considered the group's report on 25 October 2000, 15 November 2000 and 10 January 2001.[10] In our Report of 25 October 2000, we recommended it for debate in European Standing Committee together with Special Report No.13/2000 of the Court of Auditors on expenditure by the European Parliament's political groups.[11] This proposal is still under negotiation between the Council and the EP and is not expected to make much progress under the Swedish Presidency.

The Commission proposal

  7.3  The proposal we consider here is for a Statute on European political parties (EPPs) and on a contribution from the Community budget to their finances.

  7.4   The Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Keith Vaz) notes in his Explanatory Memorandum of 20 March that EPPs were first recognised in the Treaty of Maastricht. They operate as umbrella groups for like-minded national parties and, for example, organise political meetings before European Councils. The largest ones share the same name as their respective MEP Groups in the European Parliament (EP): the European People's Party (centre-right); the Party of European Socialists (centre-left); and the European Liberal, Democratic and Reformist Group (ELDR).

  7.5  The EPPs have close links with their respective groups in the EP. These close links, and an absence of regulation, have resulted in a blurring of resources so that staff and offices provided from Community funds for MEPs have "leaked" to the EPPs. The Minister recalls that this state of affairs was criticised last year in the European Court of Auditors report, which recommended this Statute to regulate European Political Parties and ensure transparency in their funding, a call supported by a majority in the EP and the EPPs themselves.

  7.6  The Treaty of Nice amends Article 191 EC to provide a legal base for such a Statute.[12] The Minister says that the UK supported this change, but secured a Declaration of the Conference to ensure that the provisions of the Statute would not conflict with the UK's Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, which bans foreign parties, or discriminate against EPPs on account of their attitudes to European integration.

  7.7  The Declaration on Article 191[13] states that:

  • the Statute does not imply any transfer of powers to the European Community and does not affect application of the relevant national constitutional rules;

  • funding for EPPs may not be used to fund, either directly or indirectly, political parties at national level; and

  • the provisions on funding shall apply, on the same basis, to all the political forces represented in the European Parliament.

  7.8  The draft Statute:

  • provides for any EPP or union of European political parties to register a Statute of an EPP, subject to criteria which it defines:

it must either be established in the EU as a political group in the EP, or intend to establish such a group, or to participate in an existing group; and

its programme and activities must respect the fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and establishment as a political group in the EP;

  • grants access to funding from the general budget of the EC to EPPs which have elected representatives in at least five Member States, or which have received at least 5% of the vote in the most recent European elections in at least five Member States. 85% of the funding would go to parties in the EP, in proportion to their numbers;

  • proposes that 15% of the annual amount should be distributed in equal shares among the parties that satisfy the conditions set out above and which make a "duly substantiated" request. A further condition is that an EPP may not receive funds unless it can prove that it receives at least 25% of its budget from sources other than the general budget of the EC; and

  • requires accounts to be published and submitted to the Court of Auditors.

  7.9  The Financial Statement attached to the proposal provides for 7 million euros to be made available. According to the Minister this sum would be shared between the five existing EPPs (Socialists, Christian Democrats/Conservative, Liberals, Greens and Communists, which correspond to the main groups in the EP). He says that this indicative sum is drawn from estimates of the cash and 'in kind' donations currently given to EPPs by the political groups in the EP.

Legal base

  7.10  The Minister says:

"The Commission are proposing to use Article 308, which allows the Council, acting by unanimity and after consulting the EP, to take measures to attain the objectives of the Community, but for which a specific power is not provided. This would permit action before the entry into force of the Nice Treaty which revises Article 191 and so allow a Statute to be in place well before the 2004 EP Elections. The Commission's proposal would then expire at the end of the second financial year following its entry into force, and be succeeded by a definitive Statute under Article 191. We are considering our position in response."

The Government's view

  7.11  The Minister says that the Government supports the principle of a Statute, provided that it respects the language in the Nice Declaration on Article 191. Transparency in funding arrangements for European Political Parties is the key benefit. He recalls that he commented on the proposal for the Statute we consider here in his letter of 6 November. In it, he said that the UK and most other Member States support this proposal.

Conclusion

  7.12  This proposal had not been adopted by the College of Commissioners at the time of the debate in European Standing Committee B on 29 January 2001. However, it was anticipated with the adoption of the relevant amendments to Article 191 at Nice, and the Minister commented on the principles at issue, such as definition of the political forces which would benefit, in the debate. He makes little further comment in his Explanatory Memorandum, apart from indicating that the Government may raise an objection to the legal base.

  7.13  As for this latter question, we have serious doubts as to whether Article 308 EC[14] provides the appropriate legal base. This proposal does not appear to us to conform to the requirements of that Article, in that it does not concern any of the objectives of the Community referred to in Article 2 EC, or any of its activities as set out in Article 3 EC. Neither does it appear to us to have any real connection with the operation of the common market.

  7.14  We ask the Government to inform us whether, and in what terms, it intends to challenge the legal base.

  7.15  Meanwhile, we do not clear the document.


9  (19675) 13978/98; see HC 34-xvi (1998-99), paragraph 11 (21 April 1999).  Back

10  (21432) 9712/00; see headnote to this paragraph. Back

11  (21396) 9560/00; see HC 23-xxvii (1999-2000), paragraph 2 (25 October 2000) and HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 1 (15 November 2000). See also Official Report, European Standing Committee B, 29 January 2001.  Back

12  The Treaty provides for a second paragraph to be added to Article 191 EC, which would then read:

"Political parties at European level are important as a factor for integration within the Union. They contribute to forming a European awareness and to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.

"The Council, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251, shall lay down the regulations governing political parties at European level and in particular the rules regarding their funding". Back

13  Declaration No. 11 attached to the Treaty of Nice. Back

14  Article 308 (ex Article 235) reads: "If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures." Back


 
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