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A European political party, known formally as a political party at European level and informally as a European party or a Europarty, is a type of political party organisation operating transnationally in Europe and within the institutions of the European Union (EU). They are regulated and funded by EU Regulation 1141/2014 on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations, and their operations are supervised by the Authority for European Political Parties and European Political Foundations (APPF). European political parties – mostly consisting of national member parties, and few individual members – have the right to campaign during the European elections, for which they often adopt manifestos outlining their positions and ambitions. Ahead of the elections, some of them designate their preferred candidate (known as Spitzenkandidat or lead candidate) to be the next President of the European Commission.
European parties' counterparts in the European Parliament are the Parliament's political groups. European parties influence the decision-making process of the European Council through coordination meetings with their affiliated heads of state and government. They also work closely with their members in the European Commission.
The first European political parties formed during the 1970s, in the run-up to the first elections of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage (adopted in 1976, and taking place for the first time in 1979). In 1973, following the enlargement of the European Community to Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the enlarged Socialist congress met in Bonn and inaugurated the Confederation of the Socialist Parties of the European Community. In March 1976, the Federation of Liberal and Democrat Parties in Europe was founded in Stuttgart by parties from Denmark, France, Germany Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. A few months later, in July, party representatives from Belgium France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands meet in Luxembourg and found the European People's Party.
In 1992, Section 41 of the Treaty of Maastricht added Article 138a to the Treaty of Rome. Article 138a (the so called party article) stated that "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", thus officially recognising the existence of European political parties.
In 1997, the Treaty of Amsterdam established who should pay for expenditure authorised by the party article (renumbered Article 191). This provided a mechanism whereby European parties could be paid out of the budget of the European Union, and European parties started to spend the money. Such expenditure included the funding of national parties, an outcome not originally intended.
In June 2000, the European Court of Auditors considered that the funding of European political parties should not be carried out using appropriations made for political groups in the European Parliament, as had long been the case. This decision led the 2001 Treaty of Nice to add a second paragraph to Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (at the time, the "Treaty establishing the European Economic Community") to explicitly allow the funding of European political parties from the budget of the European Union. The new paragraph stated that "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." The reference to "Article 251" refers to the co-decision procedure, which involves both the European Parliament and the Council as co-legislators.
In November 2003, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted Regulation 2004/2003 "on the regulations governing political parties at European level and the rules regarding their funding". Regulation 2004/2003 provided the first official definition of European political parties and created a framework for their public funding.
This framework provided that, out of a total envelope for European parties, 15% would be distributed equally (the lump sum), and 85% would be distributed in proportion to each party's number of members of the European Parliament (MEP-based funding). Additionally, public funding could not exceed 75% of a European party's reimbursable expenditure (referred to as the "co-financing rate"); this means that European parties were required to raise 25% of their budget from specific private sources ("own resources"), such as donations or member contributions. Regulation 2004/2003 also introduced transparency obligations, limitations on donations, and prohibitions on spending, including a ban on the direct or indirect funding of national parties and candidates.
In particular, Regulation 1524/2007 clarified the funding framework and changed the co-financing rate, allowing public funding from the general budget of the European Union to reach 85% of European parties' reimbursable expenditure. This change meant that European parties were only requested to provide 15% in private co-financing.
Regulation 1524/2007 also allowed European parties to set up affiliated European political foundations, separate entities contributing to the debate on European issues, organising conferences, and carrying out research, and linking like-minded national political foundations. Finally, the revised regulation explicitly allows European parties to finance campaigns conducted for elections to the European Parliament.
In October 2014, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation 1141/2014, which replaced Regulation 2004/2003 and overhauled the framework for European political parties and foundations, including by giving them a European legal status. It also established the Authority for the European political parties and European political foundations (APPF), a standalone entity for the purpose of registering, controlling, and imposing sanctions on European parties and foundations.
Regulation 1141/2014 entered into force in 2017, and was fully applied starting in 2018. Since the entry into force of the Regulation, applications for public funding are placed with the APPF, but decisions on funding remain with the European Parliament.
In May 2018, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation 2018/673, which amended Regulation 1141/2014 by detailing provisions relating to the registration of political parties and foundations, and transparency regarding political programmes and party logos.
- within the overall amount of public funding available, the shares of the lump sum and of the MEP-based funding were brought, respectively, to 10 and 90% (compared with 15 and 85% before); and
- European parties' co-financing rate was brought down to 10% (compared to 15% before).
In March 2019, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation 2019/493, which further amended Regulation 1141/2014. Changes focused mostly on the use of personal data by European political parties and foundations. The modalities of the implementation of the Regulation were later updated by the Decision of the Bureau of the European Parliament of 1 July 2019.
In June 2021, in line with Article 38 of Regulation 1141/2014, MEPs Charles Goerens (ALDE) and Rainer Wieland (EPP) of the European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) presented a draft report on the implementation of the Regulation. With regards to funding, the draft report called on the Commission and co-legislators to clarify the definition of indirect funding from European political parties and foundations to national member parties, remove the ban on financing referendum campaigns on European issues, allow the funding of European parties from non-EU national parties (which, following Brexit, meant that political parties in the UK could no longer finance European parties), broaden the categories of private funding, decrease European parties' co-financing rate, and simplify accounting procedures.
In November 2021, the European Commission proposed a text for a new regulation aimed at replacing Regulation 1141/2021, using the recast procedure. The Commission's document proposes a definition of political advertising, strengthens provisions on gender balance, clarifies the requirements for the display of the logo of the European political party by its member parties, and extends the obligation to comply with EU values to member parties. With regards to funding, this proposal retained the European Parliament's suggestion to lower European parties' co-financing rate (decreasing it from 10% down to 5%, and down to 0% in election years). It also included a new category of "own resources", allowing European parties to raise private funding from specific economic activities, such as seminar fees or publication sales; funding from this new category would be capped at 5% of European parties' budget. Finally, it proposed allowing European parties to receive contributions from national member parties located in non-EU members of the Council of Europe. The European Parliament's AFCO Committee criticised the decision of the European Commission to opt for the recast method, which effectively limits discussions to the provisions of the Regulation which the Commission has decided to modify and prevents a wider review of the Regulation.
In March 2022, the Council of the European Union adopted a political agreement (its own negotiating position). In July 2022, the European Parliament's AFCO Committee adopted its own position, which was endorsed by the Plenary in September 2022. Trilogues between the European Parliament, Council of the European Union, and European Commission took place in September, October and November 2022, and in March 2023, but did not reach an agreement.
- It must be a political alliance, which is defined, in Article 2, as a "structured cooperation between political parties and/or citizens"; Additionally, in its November 2020 ACRE v Parliament ruling, the General Court of the European Union clarified that "citizen", as used in Regulation 1141/2014, meant "Union citizens", and that political parties outside of the EU could not be regarded as political parties within the meaning of Regulation 1141/2014 because they were not composed of Union citizens.
- it must have its seat in a Member State, as indicated in its statutes;
- its member parties must be represented by, in at least one quarter of the Member States, members of the European Parliament, of national parliaments, of regional parliaments or of regional assemblies, or it or its member parties must have received, in at least one quarter of the Member States, at least three per cent of the votes cast in each of those Member States at the most recent elections to the European Parliament;
- its member parties must not be members of another European political party;
- it must observe, in particular in its programme and activities, the values on which the Union is founded, as expressed in Article 2 TEU;
- it or its members must have participated in elections to the European Parliament, or have expressed publicly the intention to participate in the next elections to the European Parliament; and
- it must not pursue profit goals.
- the statutes must comply with the relevant laws of the Member State in which the party has its seat;
- the statutes must include provisions covering the following:
- the name and logo of the party, which must be clearly distinguishable from those of other European parties and foundations;
- the address of its seat;
- a political programme setting out its purpose and objectives;
- a statement that it does not pursue for-profit goals;
- the name of its affiliated political foundation and a description of the formal relationship between them (if applicable);
- its administrative and financial organisation and procedures, specifying in particular the bodies and offices holding the powers of administrative, financial and legal representation and the rules on the establishment, approval and verification of annual accounts; and
- the internal procedure to be followed in the event of its voluntary dissolution;
- the statutes must also include provisions on internal party organisation covering at least the following:
- the modalities for the admission, resignation and exclusion of its members, the list of its member parties being annexed to the statutes;
- the rights and duties associated with all types of membership and the relevant voting rights;
- the powers, responsibilities and composition of its governing bodies, specifying for each the criteria for the selection of candidates and the modalities for their appointment and dismissal;
- its internal decision-making processes, in particular the voting procedures and quorum requirements;
- its approach to transparency, in particular in relation to bookkeeping, accounts and donations, privacy and the protection of personal data; and
- the internal procedure for amending its statutes.
European political parties are mostly made up of national member parties. Additionally, European citizens can become individual members of some European parties, depending on the provisions of those parties' statutes.
The count of MEPs for the purpose of European public funding is separate from the question of individual membership, as MEPs are considered "members of a European party" primarily if they are members of a European party's national member parties. As a result, many European parties have more MEPs than they have individual members.
There is no legal definition of what constitutes individual membership, leading European parties to define them differently. A common trait is their absence of, or limited, input in party decision-making; some parties comprise internal bodies representing individual members with a collective vote, others do not provide them with voting rights at all. Below is the number of individual members per European party, as reported by the European Parliament:
European parties use public and private funding to finance their activities; public funding refers exclusively to funding from the general budget of the European Union, and cannot directly come from Member States or third countries, or entities under their control.
With regards to public funding, each year, the European Parliament allocates a total amount of money to fund European political parties qualifying for European public funding: 10% of this amount is distributed via a lump sum, allocated equally to all qualifying European parties, while 90% is distributed in proportion to each party's share MEPs.
In 2023, European political parties were allocated a total of €46 million. Depending on their own application for European public funding and on their amount of "reimbursable expenses", European parties may in fine receive less than their maximum allocation. European public funding accounts for the vast majority of European parties' income.
With regards to private funding, European parties mostly receive financial contributions from their national member parties, which, in turn, almost always receive public funding from Member States. Donations from legal persons and, especially, from individuals only play a limited role.
The APPF monitors donations and contributions to European political parties, and publishes a yearly list of political donors.
The APPF can deregister a European political party if: - it has been found guilty of engaging in illegal activities detrimental to the financial interests of the Union; - it no longer fulfils one or more of the registration criteria; - the decision to register the party was based on incorrect or misleading information; and - it has seriously failed to fulfil its obligations under national law .
The APPF can apply financial sanctions to a European party if: - it has failed to submit amendments to its statutes or an updated list of its member parties in due time; - it does not comply with its governance obligations; - it has failed to transmit the list of donors and their corresponding donations in due time; - it does not comply with its accounting or reporting obligations; - it is found guilty of engaging in illegal activities detrimental to the financial interests of the Union; - it has omitted information or provided false or misleading information; - it has abused the rules of personal data protection to influence elections to the European Parliament; - it has accepted unlawful donations or contributions; and - it has infringed on the prohibitions of funding.
Additionally, the European Parliament may exclude a European party from future public funding for up to 10 years if it has engaged in illegal activities detrimental to the financial interests of the Union, or has omitted information or provided false or misleading information.
For "non-quantifiable infringements", the financial sanction ranges from 5 to 20% of the annual budget of the European political party, and 50 % of its annual budget when it has engaged in illegal activities detrimental to the financial interests of the Union.
For "quantifiable infringements", the financial sanction ranges from 100 to 300% of the irregular sums received or not reported, up to a maximum of 10 % of the party's annual budget.
In October 2023, the APPF sanctioned the Identity and Democracy Party for "intentionally providing incorrect information about its board composition to the public". The financial sanction applied amounted to 5% of the party's annual budget, or €47,021.
European political parties
Registered European parties
As of February 2024[update], there are ten European political parties registered with the APPF:
Former European parties
|European political party
|Removed from register
|Alliance of European National Movements
|Alliance for Peace and Freedom
The entities below qualified at some point for European public funding; however, they were never registered with the APPF.
Other political entities
The entities below never qualified for European public funding. Some of them refer to themselves as European parties, but they are not European political parties in the sense of Regulation 1141/2014.
Currently active organisations
- European Federalist Party: an organisation advocating European federalism;
- European Pirate Party: an organisation of Pirate Parties;
- Euro Animal 7: an organisation of animal rights parties;
- Europe–Democracy–Esperanto: an organisation advocating for the use of Esperanto as an official EU language;
- Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25): a left-wing movement advocating alter-globalisation, social ecology, ecofeminism, post-growth and post-capitalism; and
- Volt Europa: an organisation of pro-European and European federalist political organisations and parties using the same name and branding in all EU member states and several non-EU states.
- Newropeans: a movement of citizens running on a platform of European federalism and reform.
Currently active alliances
- European Alliance of EU-critical Movements: an alliance of Eurosceptic or EU-critical associations, including NGOs and political parties;
- European Anti-Capitalist Left: an alliance of left-wing and anti-capitalist political parties;
- European Communist Action: an alliance of Marxist–Leninist parties, successor to the Initiative of Communist and Workers' Parties;
- Liberal South East European Network: an alliance of liberal parties and think tanks in South East Europe;
- Now the People: an alliance of left-wing political parties;
- SAMAK: an alliance of social democratic parties and labour councils in the Nordic countries; and
- the party groups of the Nordic Council, the official body for inter-parliamentary Nordic cooperation:
- the Centre Group: Scandinavian greens, liberals, agrarians and Christian democrats;
- the Conservative Group: Scandinavian conservatives;
- Nordic Freedom: Scandinavian right-wing populists;
- the Nordic Green Left Alliance: Scandinavian socialists and greens; and
- the Social Democratic Group: Scandinavian social democrats.
Europarty funding goes to Europarties and stays with Europarties: the funding cannot be used for the funding of other political parties and in particular national political parties. National political parties disinclined from joining Europarties are thereby disadvantaged. In 2004, 25 Members of the European Parliament petitioned the European Court of Justice, arguing that this contravened the EU's stated values of pluralism and democracy. The case was rejected after eighteen months. A closely related case fought by the French Front National, the Italian Lega Nord, and the Belgian Vlaams Blok (now Vlaams Belang) was appealed and rejected.
- By contrast, the term "political party in the EU" more often refers to a national political party in a Member State.
- In turn, Article 1 defines a political party as "an association of citizens which pursues political objectives, and which is either recognised by, or established in accordance with, the legal order of at least one Member State".