European political parties – the missing link

Julian Priestley, former General Secretary of the European Parliament and a good friend of Brussels Labour, has recently published a paper for the Notre Europe foundation (set up by Jacques Delors) which he has agreed to let us put online (click here to read the paper).

Titled ‘European political parties: the missing link’, its central thesis is that Europe’s political parties are failing to make the links between the institutions and the citizen. As a result they bear some of the responsibility for the anti-EU sentiments present in many member states, and these sentiments in turn hinder the development of the parties. The importance of their role in recent EU-level decisions on key posts served only to highlight the untransparent way in which they reached their positions, resulting, as Julian puts it, “in a failure to add any discernible democratic value to the process”.

Julian proposes four actions:

  • First, European parties should allow individual membership
  • Second, the party membership as a whole should approve by secret ballot the programme and manifesto of the PES for European elections
  • Third, the parties should designate a candidate for the President of the European Commission on the basis of primaries
  • Fourth, the parties should sharpen their ideological differences

He concludes that:

Party leaders and activists need to understand that a European dimension to party policy is now central to a party’s credibility. Almost none of the traditional policy ambitions of parties can even be begun to be met by national means alone. Whether it be a far-reaching ecological programmes, transfers of wealth and power, the reduction of burdens on business or stricter regulation, limitations to immigration or facilitating free movement – what member states can do is now so heavily constrained by both the obligations of member states under the Treaty and the logic of globalisation that only competing ideological visions at the European level will have any sustainable credibility. Electors increasingly understand that many promises made at national elections cannot be honoured in the absence of EU action. It is time the parties caught on.

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