European political parties to get legal status, must abide by EU values
By Honor Mahony
European Political parties will be put on a firm legal footing, have to declare sizeable donations, and abide by EU values under new rules agreed Tuesday (18 March).
The rules, which have to be endorsed by the plenary and are only expected to come into force in 2017, are meant to increase transparency of the pan-European parties by subjecting to them to stricter spending and accountability rules.
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All donations above €3,000 will have to be made known to the public while there will be a ceiling of €18,000 per donor per year.
Marietta Giannakou, the Greek centre-right MEP who piloted the legislation through parliament, said the discussions on the deal, lasting over 18 months, had been "difficult."
The sticking points were the rules around penalising parties for poor accounting and de-registering them if they breach EU values.
EU institutional affairs commissioner Maros Sefocovic referred to the "political sensitivity" surrounding the question and how the discussions had given rise to a system of "checks and balances".
The rules include a new "authority" headed by someone who has never held political office or been a member of a political party.
This authority would be in charge of the process of registering or striking off a party. It would also ensure that EU money is being spent properly and could ultimately apply a fine. Its decisions can be appealed in the European Court of Justice.
The EU values question was the trickiest of all and the reason "why it took so long to hammer out a compromise," according to Sefcovic.
A European Political party - which needs members from seven EU states - will have to sign up to the values described in the EU treaty.
The values, laid out in Article 2, include respect for democracy, rule of law, human rights and freedom.
In the discussions surrounding the rules, concerns were raised that the values aspect could be used to obstruct eurosceptic parties.
Sefcovic pointed out that any decision made by the authority would have to be endorsed by member states and the parliament.
The European parties - currently there are 13 of them - will become legal entities. Many of them are at the moment set up as NGOs in the member state where they are registered.
The rules also mean that parties can engage in some longer term planning as the obligation to spend the annual allocation - covering 85 percent of the party's expenditure - from the EU budget within the year has been removed.
According to EP data, the centre-right EPP, currently the biggest family in the European Parliament, received €6,183,188 in 2011. The centre-left PES received € 4,117,825 that year while the European Alliance for Freedom received €368 262 and the Alliance of European Reformists and Conservatives received €632,626.