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Politics and Governance Parties and Interest Groups.

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1 Politics and Governance Parties and Interest Groups

2 Political Parties Political parties lie at the heart of democratic government, playing several critical roles in the way that national political systems are ordered.  They represent the views and interests of voters and party members.  They recruit and provide a training ground for political leaders, who in turn become the personalities that drive politics and put a human face on government.  They offer voters competing sets of public policy options.  They help articulate and aggregate the collective goals of different interests in society.  They mobilize and engage voters in the political process.  They provide the labels by which the philosophies of candidates for office can be better understood.  They form governments and oppositions.

3 European Political Groups Party activity at the European level has been rather different in character from that at the national level.  When the Common Assembly of the ECSC first met in Strasbourg in 1953, its members were arranged in alphabetical order by name, but they were also members of national parliaments and political parties, and they naturally gravitated towards like-minded peers from other countries.  Within months the Assembly had changed its own rules of procedure to allow for the formation of cross-national political groups, for each of which at least nine members were needed. The tradition of MEPs sitting not in national blocs, as some might expect, but in ideological groups has continued since. Political groups: Groups formed within the European Parliament that bring together MEPs from like-minded political parties from the different member states.

4 European Political Groups  Although these groups are not formally political parties, they are not much different in terms of goals and structures: they consist of MEPs with common ideologies and policy preferences.  One key difference between EP political groups and national political parties is that the groups do not campaign together across member states; EP elections are fought in 27 separate national contests by national parties that then form groups during the term of the EP.  Another difference is that while parties in the member states form governments, and are intimately linked to executives, groups in the EP do not. Except for the EP’s role in confirming and monitoring the Commission, there are few formal political links between the two institutions.

5 European Political Groups  In order for parties in the EP to form a political group, they must have at least 25 members from at least one quarter of member states.  The number and membership of political groups has changed often, many being no more than short-term marriages of convenience.  No group has ever controlled a majority of seats in the EP.  The greatest consistency has been in the mainstream left, centre right, and right of the political spectrum, where (respectively) the socialists, the liberals and moderate conservatives have consistently controlled the most seats.



8 European Political Groups European United Left-Nordic Green Left  It traces its origins to a Communist Group formed in 1973.  This broke up after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989;  with Italian and Spanish communists forming the European United Left (GUE)  while French, Greek, and Portuguese communists formed Left Unity.  GUE fell apart in 1993, was resurrected in 1994, and in 1995 teamed up with the Nordic Green Left, consisting of newly-arrived leftist MEPs from Finland and Sweden.  After the 2009 elections the group had 35 members from 13 EU states.  The group is critical of the elitist qualities of the EU, campaigns for more direct democracy and enforcement of human rights, and opposes the ‘radically market-oriented logic’ of European economic policy.

9 European Political Groups Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (PASD) It traces its origins to to the Rainbow Group formed in 1984 as a coalition of green parties (then making their first early mark on national politics in western Europe), regional parties, and left-wing parties unaffiliated with other political groups. Green politics: A political philosophy based on ecological wisdom, sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and non-violence.  In 1989 the greens formed their own Green Group, which in 1999 entered into its current alliance with the European Free Alliance.  After the 2009 elections the group had 55 members from 14 EU states, the biggest national blocs coming from Germany and France.

10 European Political Groups The Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens-EFA) It traces its origins to to the creation in the ECSC Common Assembly of the Socialist Group.  At the first direct elections in 1979 it won a plurality of seats (113 to the 107 won by the European People’s Party (EPP)), picking up even bigger shares in the next three elections.  A Confederation of Socialist Parties of the European Community had been created in 1973, and when in 1992 it renamed itself the Party of European Socialists, the EP political group followed suit by renaming itself the Group of the Party of European Socialists (PES). It became the Socialist Group in2004, and in 2009 became the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (PASD).  After the 2009 elections it had members from every EU member state.  It contains many shades of opinion ranging from former communists on the left to more moderate social democrats towards the centre, but along with the EPP is the most firmly pro-European of the political groups in the EP.

11 European Political Groups Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) It began life as the Liberal Group in the ECSC Common Assembly, changing both its name and its positions during the 1970s and 1980s as parties from new member states joined its ranks.  Its current name was agreed after the 2004 EP elections, and reflects its association with two Europarties:  the European Liberal Democratic and Reform Party,  the European Democratic Party.  Following the 2009 elections the group had 84 members from 19 EU member states, the biggest national blocs coming from Germany and the UK.

12 European Political Groups European People’s Party (EPP) It traces its origins to the formation in the ECSC Common Assembly in 1953 of the Christian Democrat Group. Christian Democracy: A political philosophy associated mainly with continental western Europe that applies Christian principles to public policy; moderately conservative on social and moral issues, and progressive on economic issues.  The EPP might have been a natural fit for British and Danish conservatives, but their euroscepticism kept them functioning separately as the European Democrats (ED) until 1992, when they joined forces with the EPP.  The new coalition contested the 1999 EP elections as the EPP–ED, and benefited from growing anti-European and anti-immigrant sentiment in several EU states to overtake the socialists and win a plurality ofseats in the EP for the first time.

13 European Political Groups European Conservatives European conservatives – further to the right than the EPP, and more eurosceptic – have not had a stable history in the EP, but have been part of its group network since the early 1970s, working along two main strands.  One traces its origins to the 1965 formation of the European Democratic Union, which became the European Democratic Alliance after the 1979 elections, and in 1999 became the anti-Maastricht Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN).  The second revolves around the British Conservative party and its internal divisions over Europe. They were at the core of the European Democrats (ED), which formed a coalition with the EPP, in spite of differences over the direction of European integration.  The UEN was wound up after the 2009 elections, and British conservatives joined up with Polish conservatives to form the new European Conservatives and Reformists Group, whose policies included ‘opposition to EU federalism and a renewed respect for true subsidiarity’ as well as ‘controlled immigration and an end to abuse of asylum procedures’.  It had 54 members from 8 member states, more than half of them from Britain and Poland.

14 European Political Groups Eurosceptics Political groups on this side of the EP have been the most unstable of all, repeatedly changing their name and structure, and united mainly by their hostility to the EU.  They date back to the 1994 formation of the Europe of Nations group.  This evolved in 1999 into Europe of Democracies and Diversities, which was reconstituted after the 2004 elections as the Independence/Democracy (Ind/Dem) group.  In 2009, Ind/Dem was reformed as Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), with 32 members from nine member states.  At the heart of the new group were 13 MEPs from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which supports Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

15 European Political Groups Nationalist Suffering similar levels of instability to the eurosceptics, the nationalists in the EP trace their origins back to the formation in 1984 of the European Right, consisting mainly of French and Italian right-wingers, notably the far-right, French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.  They date back to the 1994 formation of the Europe of Nations group. It was disbanded in 1994, and was briefly reformed in January 2007 as Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty (ITS) when the accession of Bulgaria and Romania gave it enough MEPs to apply for group status. The group lasted less than a year before infighting tore it apart.  Its members spoke of the need to defend ‘Christian values, the family and European civilization’,

16 European Political Groups Non-attached members The EP has always had a small cluster of non-attached members, who have either been elected as members of parties that have not been able to reach agreement to join a political group, or who have deliberately chosen to remain outside the group structure.

17 Europarties  Europarties are pan-European party organizations or confederations that coordinate policy and build links among national political parties in Europe.  They are still evolving and have yet to run EU-wide campaigns for EP elections, but they have become more adept at coordinating policy and building links at national and European levels.

18 Interest Groups  Interest groups are organizations that represent and promote the political, economic or social interests of their members, which may be individuals, cultural or social groups, professions or industries.  Counting only Eurogroups (those organized to work at the European level), there were estimated to be about 500 in 1985, rising to 700 in 1996, and to 851 in 2006. Overall, the number of groups with offices in Brussels now runs well into the thousands, the majority representing business interests, while the balance represent mainly public interests and the professions.

19 Interest Groups Interest groups have benefited from two structural problems within the EU decision-making system.  First there has been the relative weakness of party activity in the EP, which has helped lift the political profile of interest group.  Second, the small size of the European Commission has worked to the benefit of interest groups by allowing them to fill a structural need. The working parties and committees of the Council of Ministers, and the committees of the European Parliament are also attracting the attention of interest groups

20 Interest Groups Business and labour groups have long been the most active at the EU level, but the number of special interest groups and Brussels-based think tanks has grown. Think tank: An organization that conducts research into a given area of policy with the goal of fostering public debate and political change.  Some examples are; The Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), The European Policy Centre, The European Enterprise Institute, The European Trade Union Institute, The International Crisis Group.

21 Interest Groups Interest groups are a critical part of a healthy civil society, or the arena that exists outside the state or the marketplace and within which individuals take collective action on shared interests. They will usually organize themselves into non- governmental organizations (NGOs) in the form of charities, community groups, professional associations, cultural groups, and trade unions, and take action outside government to deal with problems or provide services that have not been addressed by government.

22 Interest Groups One of the core functions of most interest groups is lobbying, or attempts to influence the decision-making process. This has long been part of political life at the national level in liberal democracies, although it is less developed in Europe than in the United States, and its political role is quite different. Lobbying is a growth industry in Brussels, although the opportunities have so far been fewer than those available at the national level, and the rules looser.

23 Interest Groups  Business and labour groups have long been the most active at the EU level, but the number of special interest groups and Brussels-based think tanks has grown.  Lobbying is a growth industry in Brussels, although the opportunities have so far been fewer than those available at the national level, and the rules looser.

24 Politics and Governance Elections and Referendums

25 European Elections  Direct elections to the EP have been held every five years since 1979 (in years ending with a four or a nine), but they have yet to earn a firm place in the European political consciousness.  Theoretically, they should have been widely welcomed, because they give European voters a direct link with the work of the EU and help address concerns about the EU’s “democratic deficit”  The EP is the only EU institution directly elected by voters, has won growing powers over the EU policy process, and should logically have attracted the interest and input of EU voters.  But turnout at EP elections has been falling, and neither the EP nor the parties that contest its elections have been able to make the necessary psychological connection with voters on European issues.

26 European Elections  There were about 375 million eligible voters in 2009, making the EP elections the second largest democratic elections in the world after those held in India.  Voters must be 18 years of age, must be citizens of one of the EU member states, and can vote in whichever EU member state they are legally resident.  Member states have different rules on the minimum age for candidates, ranging from 18 in Germany, Spain, Sweden and several other countries to 23 in France and 25 in Italy and Cyprus.

27 European Elections  For EP elections – and, in most cases, for national elections – every EU member state uses variations on the theme of proportional representation (PR).  This contrasts with the single-member plurality (SMP) system used in national elections in Britain, Canada, and the United States, where each legislative district is contested by multiple candidates and the winner is the candidate who wins the most votes (a plurality).  Politics in national legislatures and in the European Parliament have come to be coloured by two main characteristics:  coalition governments made up of two or more political parties,  the representation of a wide range of political opinion


29 European Elections There has been a long debate about the efficiency and efficacy of European elections in providing voters with real choices and providing the EU institutions with legitimacy.  One issue of concern in EP elections has been declining voter turnout, the number falling from a respectable 63 per cent in 1979 to a disappointing 43 percent in 2009  There are several explanations for these trends, perhaps the most compelling of which is the difference between first- order and second-order elections.  The former have higher stakes (such as a change of government) than the latter. EP elections are considered second-order.


31 European Elections First-order elections have higher stakes such as national elections determine who controls national executives and legislatures,  they have the most immediate impact on the lives of voters,  they also attract the most media attention,  they are more hard fought, and voters find it easier to engage with the issues (because they are more immediate),  hence are more likely to turn out on election day. Second-order elections, such as by-elections and local government elections, have lower stakes and attract less voter interest. EP elections are more clearly second-order:  there is no change of government at stake,  voters find it more difficult to engage with European issues than with national issues,  the result is that they are less inclined to turn out.

32 European Elections Low turnout is also related to several other factors:  the fuzzy shape of the EP on the European political radar  few well-known figures in the European Parliament  no Europe-wide political parties running in EP elections  most voters still see EP elections very much in national terms  falling turnout is also related to trends in national elections

33 European Elections There has been much conjecture that declining voter turnout in Europe may be a function of a switch to alternative or less ‘conventional’ forms of political participation. Europeans, like the residents of all democratic societies, also have the following options:  Running for public office.  Organizing or taking part in public demonstrations. Signing a petition.  Contacting elected officials.  Volunteering for a local community organization.  Attending political rallies and speeches.  Setting up a web site or a blog.  Civil disobedience or passive resistance.  Citizen initiative (An option introduced by Lisbon that allows a petition (signed by at least a million people) to be submitted to the Commission.)

34 National Referendums Referendum: A form of direct democracy (otherwise known as a plebiscite, a ballot question, or a proposition) in which the affected electorate is asked to vote on whether or not to accept a specific proposal.  At few times is voter attention drawn more actively to European issues than when one of the member states organizes a referendum.  They have occasionally resulted in dramatic changes of political direction, and the EU’s democratic deficit is rarely more apparent than when national governments refuse to put major European questions to a public test.  The pressures to hold referendums on European issues have been growing, as a result of which Europe has become the single most voted-on issue in the world.

35 National Referendums  The subject of most referendums has been either membership of the EEC/EU or the euro, or approval of a new treaty.  Denmark and Ireland have had the most referendums on European issues, and only seven EU member states have had none.  A distinction must be made between referendums that are mandatory or facultative (initiated by public or political demand), and between those that are binding and non- binding.  The outcome of EP elections and national referendums is often influenced by the standing of governing and opposition parties in member states.


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