Today I published a piece
on EURACTIV that I co-authored with Alina Bargăoanu on the topic of
European parties' involvement in the Conference on the Future of Europe.
European political parties are largely
ignored but they have vast untapped potential to play a major role in EU
decision making and in giving the EU more democratic legitimacy, argue Alina
Bargăoanu and Dan Luca.
Alina Bargăoanu is the Dean of the Faculty of
Communication and Public Relations (SNSPA) in Bucharest, and a member of the
advisory board of the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO); Dan Luca is an
associate professor at SNSPA, and vice president of EURACTIV.
Little interest is given to European political parties in
the European Union. Apart from confusing a European party with the political
group in the European Parliament or possibly noticing it about six months
before the European Parliament elections, little can be said about the life of European
By definition, a political party is an organization that
seeks to gain political power for governing purposes, usually by running in
elections, by participating in the election campaign. Electoral campaigns are
thus situations to gain public support, build legitimacy, and cultivate trust,
which are essential ingredients for the actual governing process that follows.
We recognize these mechanisms for national or even local
elections, but we certainly do not have anything similar at a European or
international level. Formally speaking, European parties have existed for
decades, but they participate in European elections only indirectly, through
affiliated members, i.e. national political parties.
In addition, let’s be honest: it is already difficult for
us to recall the names of European ministers (European Commissioners), let
alone the leaders of European political parties.
Without the capacity to participate in elections, without
communication means and high profile actors, without pan-European narratives
and political programs in response to pan-European problems, can political
parties have an impact on the European decision-making process, and on the
construction of the EU?
We believe the potential of European parties to be
enormous, but only under certain conditions. Given that those who govern the 27
member states of the European Union are connected to the structures of European
parties, it is important to deepen cooperation within the same political
But difficult political issues must be addressed in
complex areas, such as finance, technology, education, energy or climate
change. Everything is to be analysed in real time, and political decisions are
to be made by qualified majority, not by unanimity.
Only in this way can we hope to have an approach that is
consistent with that at the European Council level and thus make real progress
in the European construction.
Certain developments at the level of European parties or
groups in the European Parliament are highly significant as to where the EU is
Few people still remember it, but the withdrawal of
British Conservatives from the European People’s Party group in 2009 and the
formation of the ECR group (Group of European Conservatives and Reformists)
were a catalyst for Brexit.
The launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe
marks a turning point in the life of the Union. In this context, the question
that we ask relates to the role of European political parties in this
consultation, in this legitimacy-building exercise.
This is a huge opportunity that political parties should
take advantage of for the wellbeing of European citizens.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, and
citizens are no longer patient with politicians explaining, in a technical and
detached manner, that they are not responsible for the unfolding of this event,
or of other similarly complex ones, that have a concrete and direct impact on
the life of each and every one of us.
For the past 12 months, the European Commission has set
an example by successfully getting involved in the management of the health
crisis without having actual competences on health policy.
According to recent Euro-barometers, citizens have
endorsed this approach, being aware that, in order to solve such complex and
pressing issues, EU-wide cooperation is needed.
As we learned before the pandemic and as the pandemic has
dramatically underlined, today’s complex problems go well beyond the national
borders, sometimes even beyond the borders of the European Union itself.
Without the involvement of European parties in these
debates, without them being connected to the concerns of European citizens, it
is likely that the European Union will constantly face the criticism that it
lacks legitimacy, that it is a technocratic construction largely disconnected
from people’s real needs, with no capacity to reverse the national-European
divergence into a converging force that drives it forward.
Dan LUCA / Brussels