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In defense of real European parties

, by Arnaud Huc, Translated by Nelly Tsekova

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“We need a union based on citizens”, declared Guy Verhofstadt after Barrosso’s speech on the State of the EU. It’s been 60 years since Europe embarked on the way to unification and although it’s clear that great steps have been taken since 1952, the political project has had a difficult development.


  • Nelly Tsekova is a student of Public Policy at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. She is member of JEF-Bulgaria and has done internships at the World Bank and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria. Her interests include any EU-related topic especially foreign policy and education.

  • Étudiant en Science Politique à l’Université de Montpellier.

Indeed, following the failure of the Spinelli project, which was eventually adopted by the EP in 1984, it was the Member States and not the citizens and their representatives that have led the European construction, actually preventing the emergence of European political chessboard. Can we create a federal Europe without the European parties that correspond to the emergence of European political conscience?

No European politics without European parties

Today we content ourselves, for lack of anything better, with “European” parties that are actually gatherings, melting pots, different national parties sharing more or less the same ideas. Those parties present in the EP remain fragile because of internal divisions. Thus, if the French Socialist Party and the German SPD are both members of the Party of European Socialists, their ideas are quite different since the SPD is more akin to a social democratic party while the French Socialist Party continues in the vein of a more traditional socialism.

It is clear that European politics, which are just emerging, cannot settle for coalitions of national parties divided on the European scene by the factor social economy / market economy. This cleavage is not relevant at European level. Indeed, the European Parliament’s website shows that parties like the PS (French socialist party) and UMP (French centre-right party), while opponents on national level, vote together 80 percent of times. This example shows that it is not the criteria socialism/liberalism which governs the European Parliament as it could govern national parliaments.

Thus politics at the European level cannot be more than an export of national parties on a larger scale. The cleavage, the dividing line, at the European level does not lie at the social or at the economic level but at the level of European commitment. Tomorrow’s European political parties should oppose each other depending on their commitments to the European Union. The political spectrum should represent Eurosceptic parties on one side and Europhiles/Federalists on the other side.

Without clarification of the European political space along the axis Europhile/Eurosceptic, it will be impossible to have real debates in the European Parliament about the direction of the European construction, even worse - the European citizens will turn away from the European debate as it reminds them of their national quarrels.

Without European parties, a risk of disaffected citizens

The turnout in the European elections, particularly in France, has been decreasing since 1979, when the first European Parliament elections were held. Eurosceptics attribute this lack of interest to the European construction itself, however this argument, which comes under populism, is not acceptable. In fact, according to recent polls the majority of citizens still have a positive view of the European construction.

In this case, what is the reason for this continuing decline in participation in the past 30 years? Even though it should not be forgotten that there is a problem of readability and understanding of the European activity, often due to the lack of communication, one of the main causes may be sought in the absence of genuine European parties.

Indeed, the national parties that participate to the European elections are often unclear about their vision of the European construction. It should be said that a great part of the candidates on the list of major French parties just want to secure a place while they’re not really concerned with European topics. Often the losers of the national elections sign up in European lists to be elected without effort. These scandalous practices undermine the European debate which should be surrounding these elections; worse, it makes people believe that this election is not an issue.

Facing these shocking practices of national parties, some real European parties would actually refocus the debate during the next European elections. Their lists would consist of people convinced in defending federalist or eurosceptic ideas.

The 2014 elections should be the start of a new European political life

It would be absurd to question the role of national parties in the debates and in the national elections. However at the European level, it is necessary to create some real European parties. The next hurdle is 2014, the elections to be held on that date could mark the revival of political debate within the European Union. Provided that the parties are able to bring to the European level thedebates of tomorrow.

But we should not fool ourselves, the only party that is not derived from the coalition of several national European parties is now the European Federalist Party. A single party is not enaugh and it is clear that without a jolt from the people involved in European issues, it will be difficult to see the emergence of a true European political life.

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  • On 10 January 2013 at 21:32, by Pietro De Matteis Replying to: In defense of real European parties

    Dear Arnaud and Nelly,

    thank you very much for this article. You are 100% right: to develop a truly “European political public sphere” we need some truly European political parties able to understand the needs and the hopes of the European people and transform them into actual policies and visions for the future.

    Therefore, the creation of truly European political parties is key if we want to build a more democratic Europe. In other words, there cannot be a functioning representative democracy at European level if there are no European parties. To think that national parties can become European parties by creating alliances just before the European elections has proved to be a failure. It is time to be bold and make a step forward.

    It is to contribute to the creation of a true “European political public sphere” that we are working within the European Federalist Party/Parti Fédéraliste Européen : a true European party represented in 10 European countries as well as in Asia and in North America.

    I warmly invite you to visit our website and our Facebook page for more information!

    Federalist regards

    — Pietro De Matteis, PhD (Cambridge) Co-President European Federalist Party

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