Does a genuine European party system exist?

Essay, 2004

14 Pages, Grade: 9 (out of 10)


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Party Systems and the Legal Framework of European Parties

3. Party Families and the Formation of European Parties

4. National Parties and EU-Citizens in the Transnational Party System

5. Conclusion

6. Sources and References

List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1. Introduction

Political Parties play a crucial role in modern democracies as they form and articulate the political will of the citizens of a nation and represent their interests.

This significance is also acknowledged within the European Union where they exert already a great influence in all European institutions. The European Council, the Council of Ministers as well as the Commission are mainly constituted of “senior party figures”.[1] “All political parties that are members of a national governing coalition are automatically sucked into the management of the Union.”[2] However, political parties do not dispose of the same resources and support than they do at national level. This is, for instance, sensible looking at the very low turnout rates in elections for European Parliament and opinion polls reflecting little identification with European parties. National party elites often neglect or avoid European issues during the campaigns in favour of domestic issues.[3]

But since the process of European Integration and Enlargement is proceeding, there arises the need to enhance a genuine European party system. It is widely acknowledged among European politicians that the institutional, legal and also actual power of European political parties did not keep pace with this development and need to be extended, as they are “intermediators between society and government” and even “political entrepreneurs of effective liberal democratic systems”.[4]

This paper deals with the question, whether a genuine European party system exists, or respectively why it does not exist (already). Such a party system comprises Euro-parties, party groups in the EP, their coalitions and national delegations within the groups. To cover all the aspect would, however, go beyond the scope of this paper. Therefore, focus is put on the Euro-parties. First, the notion of party systems in general will be explored and then the legal framework of Euro-parties against the background of the reform process of the European Parliament pointed out. Further on, I will analyse the existing party families and Euro-parties. The working paper delivered by Stoiber will be of help in this respect. In a following chapter, the impact of European integration in regard to national parties and citizens is going to be set out. Finally, I shall draw a conclusion and eventually give an outlook for a future European party system.

2. Party Systems and the Legal Framework of European Parties

When is it reasonable to speak of a European party system? Which features characterise the political science concept of a party system in general? In this respect, I would like to refer to the theoretical background by Josef Schmid. First of all, it is a system of government in a state where political parties are the dominant actors. Depending on the electoral system, a single, two or multiple parties have the chance to be elected and form the government. Quoting Sartori (1976), in modern democracies party systems are defined by two dimensions: party organization and competition.[5] Parties’ stability and degree of organization in Western democracies is high since their institution is legally (often in the Constitution) and in the political culture deep-seated. Besides the role of integrating the interests of the citizens, they guarantee for the functioning of democracy. The principle of Sartori can be applied to the European Union: “its democracy will only be secured through the European Parliament if the party groups compete on policies and candidates, and then organize cohesively to secure these aims”.[6]

Different institutional and legal premises, however, are valid for the European case.

The parties and the party groups within the EP have been slowly developing from the beginning of its days as Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 on.[7] However, since the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, the political organization and culture of European parties is strengthening.[8] Therefore, the period from 1979 until 2004 is the subject of this paper.

The formation of a European party system is, thus, linked with the structure and powers of the European Parliament. The latter has managed to widen its authorities set out in the treaties. In 1987, the Single European Act introduced the ‘cooperation procedure’, under which the European Parliament had two readings of some legislation. In 1993, the Maastricht Treaty replaced this procedure with the ‘codecision procedure’, with a right of legislative veto for the European Parliament, and also granted the European Parliament a right to be consulted on the EU governments’ choice for the Commission President. Finally, in 1999, the Amsterdam Treaty reformed and extended the codecision procedure, giving the European Parliament equal legislative power with the Council in many areas, and introduced a veto power for the European Parliament in the selection of the Commission President.[9] This all presents an upgrading of the EP in relation to the Commission and the Council of Ministers. Still, the competences of the EP are not comparable to those of national parliaments.[10] “The biggest difference is the lack of a European government accountable to the Parliament.” Moreover, “the composition of the Commission” as executive body is “not based on the outcome of the Euro-elections”.[11]

The Party Article in the Treaty of Maastricht 138a represents the foundation for the European parties: “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.”[12]

The Treaty of Nice has supplemented Article 191 (formerly138a) of the EC Treaty with a legal base “allowing adoption, via the co-decision procedure, of a statute for European-level political parties governing, in particular, the criteria for their recognition and the rules governing their financing”.[13]

The interesting debate on the report “on behalf of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, on the proposal for a European Parliament and Council regulation on the statute and financing of European political parties” in June 2003 can be illustated by the statement of Mr. Leinen (PSE), rapporteur: “[..] without European parties, there will be no European democracy. […] A corner-stone of greater transparency in European politics can become effective”.[14] Indeed, it came into effect since the EP agreed to the proposal on 19th June 2003 and parties dispose now of a sound basis for financing. And not only that because the regulation includes also preconditions for political parties at European level to apply for the annual financing by the EU (Article 3): the party has to respect the principles set out in the treaties and the Charta of basic rights, it must have a political programme and participate in EP elections. Moreover, it specifies the notion of an alliance of political parties (Article 2): a structured co-operation of, at least, two parties; and the notion of a political party at European level: a political party or alliance of political parties that fulfil the preconditions of Article 3.[15]


[1] Hix/Lord 1997, 15

[2] Hix/Lord 1997, 1

[3] Korte 2003, 74

[4] Hix/Lord 1997, 7

[5] Hix/Lord 1997, 3

[6] Hix, Noury, Roland 2002, 7

[7] Oudenhove 1965, 3

[8] Corbett 1998, 54

[9] Hix, Noury, Roland 2002, 3

[10] Korte 2003, 72

[11] Raunio 2000, 231





Excerpt out of 14 pages


Does a genuine European party system exist?
Vilnius University
9 (out of 10)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
410 KB
Does, European
Quote paper
Michael Hofmann (Author), 2004, Does a genuine European party system exist?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Does a genuine European party system exist?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free