Saturday

18th Jan 2020

Opinion

All eyes on the integrity of the 2014 European elections

This week, EUobserver and others reported that Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats recently received almost €700,000 in donations from major shareholders of German car company BMW.

In the absence of upper limits for political donations in Germany, these donations are legal, yet they come shortly after Germany got its way on the EU car emissions regulation.

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  • The new rules for party and election campaign funding may not be adopted in time for the 2014 European elections (Photo: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari)

These and other examples from around Europe raise question marks about the influence of private interests on public decision making and the integrity of political finance.

As some European political parties start nominating their top candidates for the upcoming European elections on 22-25 May 2014, it is important to take note of this news.

It is worth noticing not because European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a German social democrat, has been endorsed as one of the first potential European candidates last week, but because this points to a much wider issue at the intersection of national and European affairs.

EU elections may be European in outlook and in result, but they are effectively governed by 28 different national systems as well as some additional EU-level rules for political party finance, election campaigning and electoral management.

Political finances in Germany and Sweden can affect the outcome of the European ballot as much as electoral management in Austria or Hungary.

Party finance scandals from Finland to Spain in recent years or electoral malpractice incidents in Bulgaria earlier this year have shown that concerns about election campaign rules are not just a matter for a single EU country, but important trans-national issues.

Proper conduct of the European elections is important to ensure the integrity of a European Parliament, which represents more than 500 million EU citizens.

Party finance regimes flaw

Our own analysis, as well as the evaluation by the Council of Europe's Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), has shown that the landscape of political party finance regimes across Europe and at EU-level have considerable flaws when it comes to transparency of finances, regulation of public and private support, supervision and effective and proportionate sanctions in case of violation of rules.

Issues such as anonymous or unlimited donations, cheap loans or sponsoring have been found to be problematic as has the lack of proactive public oversight or the lack of rules for finances of individual candidates alongside rules for parties.

There have been efforts over the past years to put in place better rules for EU-level political parties, but now it appears the European Parliament and member states will be unable to adopt the new regulation in time for the European elections.

This is a problem. Under current rules and practices, for example, EU citizens would only know long after the European elections, in late 2015, how EU-level political parties have been financed and how they used their finances during the 2014 campaign.

There are also no rules demanding that European political parties' candidate be transparent in how their individual campaigns are financed. Neither are there rules that effectively prevent misuse of administrative resources.

Can candidates who are in national, European or international functions make use of their media appearances and official travels for electoral campaigning? Can they have private campaign accounts or sponsoring and would they need to report on those? Those are just a few of the numerous unanswered questions.

The public needs to be sure that the overall process leading up to the next European Parliament will be open, fair and free from fraud or corruption.

No common European rules

Without common European rules, it will depend on European political parties as well as their affiliates to commit to the transparency and integrity of the electoral process and the campaign.

It will also depend on European and national media, civil society, and citizens to collectively watch campaign finances and pre-electoral activities of European parties, and encourage all political players not to misuse loopholes in national and European laws for the EU campaign.

This needs to be discussed in the coming weeks with political parties, with candidates, with fellow activists, potential election observers and anyone else interested in the European elections.

The 2014 elections should raise trust in democracy across Europe through more integrity, transparency and accountability of everyone involved.

The writer is Communications & Policy Officer at the Transparency International EU Office in Brussels and works on integrity in EU institutions.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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