- Marko Milikic
Europarties and the Fairytale of Honest Politics
The recent decision of the Renew Europe and ALDE group leadership not to invite the Swedish Liberals (Liberalerna) to the group’s future events, following the latter’s decision to enter a coalition government with the far-right, has sparked quite a few political discussions. It is high time some questions were posed about the behaviour of Europarties towards those of their members who stray away into ‘peculiar’ directions.
EUROPARTIES - A BRIEF HISTORY
Ever since the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), and its Common Assembly, a non-directly elected body of European parliamentary representatives, there have been certain forms of cooperation between national political parties. With the introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament back in 1979, this cooperation intensified. It culminated in 1992, when the Treaty of Maastricht legally put forward the notion of ‘political parties at the European level’. In 2014, a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of the EU on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations came into power. It governs the functioning of European political parties, informally known as Europarties.
There are currently ten registered Europarties. They are open to membership for parties from European countries outside of the EU. Also, there are different forms of membership (such as full or affiliated/associated) within Europarties. This means that, depending on the fulfilment of the criteria to join, some member parties have more voting power and leadership opportunities. It should be noted that Europarties are not the same as the political groups in the European Parliament. For instance, The Party of the European Greens and the European Free Alliance (EFA), two separate Europarties, sit together in the European Parliament as the Greens/EFA group.
As the lines that follow will look closely into what could be seen as dishonesty of Europarties, it is important to note which ones are relevant for this discussion. One should not expect far-right Europarties such as Identity & Democracy to care much about European integration or about matters such as human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions. Therefore, they will remain out of the focus, as their member parties usually do what is widely expected of the far right anyways (hint: racism as one of the almost daily features).
THE SELF-PROCLAIMED CARE FOR DEMOCRACY, ENVIRONMENT AND EUROPE
When one takes a glimpse at the official programs of Europarties that can be positioned between the right-of-centre and the left, they can notice that democracy, environment and Europe are at the forefront. These parties confidently hail their deep care for the resilience of Europe and claim they have got us all covered, as they will protect human rights, democracy and other overarching values everywhere they go. We might as well get emotional as we read the European People’s Party (EPP) 2019 manifesto, with one line being so strikingly powerful: Democracy, human rights, human dignity, freedom and responsibility, equality between men and women, solidarity, rule of law, justice, pluralism and tolerance: these are the principles at the heart of European civilization.
Indeed, these values are crucial for the development of not just the EU as a project for peace and prosperity, but of the overall future of our societies and the chance to win the battles against authoritarianism and climate change.
WHEN REALITY STRIKES: ‘DID WE ACCIDENTALLY WRITE THAT MANIFESTO’?
Unfortunately for European societies, the behaviour of national political parties often goes directly against the values and beliefs prescribed by the programs and manifestos of their Europarties. This is a chance to review some notable examples (out of many) of such conduct, which have usually slipped through without any sanctions or at least a public condemnation.
The famous liberals from Sweden and the Czech Republic
As mentioned above, the Swedish Liberals have been defacto suspended from attending events of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), as they decided it would be a fairly liberal idea to coalesce with the far-right Sweden Democrats, in what has already produced Sweden’s most right-wing government in decades (RIP, dear Earth). Not only is the new government planning to heavily crack down on basically all aspects of immigration, but will also be co-controlled by civil servants recruited from the Sweden Democrats, a party so radical in some of its beliefs that even the term far-right might be too soft. This was one of the isolated examples of a party being sanctioned in any way for its problematic actions.
There is yet another interesting constituent of ALDE, and that is the Czech ANO party. Led by the notorious tycoon Andrej Babis, this party has become quite known for its corruption, autocratic methods and widespread populism. As Babis faces a fraud trial, it is worth noting that his party, a member of the Liberal ALDE, has had quite a few outbursts of Euroscepticism, bigotry and often found itself in a hug with another notable liberal, Viktor Orban. Perhaps he was giving lessons to ANO about state control of media, which Babis took too seriously and went on to buy Czechia’s leading news outlets.
The People’s… Autocrats?
Besides not batting an eyelid when its member parties enter coalitions with the far right, such as in Sweden and Italy, the European People’s Party (EPP) has had quite a history of supporting its member parties at all costs, even as they slide into autocratic practices. When Janes Jansa of Slovenia’s SDS party was viciously attacking independent media, the judiciary and civil society actors, all while having been convicted and involved in countless corruption scandals, the EPP and its MEPs remained silent. As per their affiliated party in Serbia—SNS, which has been ruling the EU aspirant state for a decade—it has contributed to Serbia now being designated as a partly-free country in the latest Freedom House report. Since police brutality, state control of media, lack of political freedoms and oppression of opposition forces have become a reality in Serbia, one may rightly ask: Is this what the EPP considers as freedom? Not to mention that Serbia still has not imposed sanctions on Russia, and refuses to directly condemn the invasion of Ukraine.
Social Democrats exploring the waters of state capture
What Serbia and Albania have in common, besides their geographical position and troubled past relations, is that both of their ruling parties are affiliated with Europarties. Albania’s governing Socialist Party is an associated member of the Party of the European Socialists (PES). Albania’s ruling elite is no stranger to state capture, and has been widely accused of corruption, ties to organised crime and attacks on independent media. PES was so inspired by this beautiful exhibition of social democracy, that they invited Albanian PM Edi Rama to speak at a panel on the occasion of PES’ Annual Congress, which took place in Berlin in October.
Two more notable examples are the Social Democratic Party of Romania (PSD), and Direction in Slovakia (SMER). With the former sometimes being described as belonging to the enfants terribles of PES, these parties have a history of social conservatism, populist outbursts and widespread corruption.
Look further to the left, and there you meet the reality of radical socialist parties exhibiting numerous problematic features opposite to their Europarties’ proclaimed values. The German Left (Die Linke) has become notorious due to its pro-Russia stances and controversial ties.
IS IT MUCH TO ASK FOR SOME HONESTY IN POLITICS?
The question posed above is particularly amplified these days, with a massive corruption scandal shaking the institutions of the EU. As was depicted above, it is rather clear that corruption is a deeply rooted problem of European politics as such, of the Europarties, national political parties and politicians. The recent case is just a tip of the iceberg, but serves as the time for the political circles to finally declare once and for all what truly are their values and if they are ready to live up to them. There has been enough hypocrisy.
To conclude, it is worth saying once again that there are more examples of national political parties undermining values stated by the Europarties they are affiliated with. Besides being European-level political entities composed of different members, Europarties also have their own leadership, guiding documents and rules; Regardless of being composed of national parties, they have decided to fight for certain values and their member parties also claim to be doing so. Meaning, they do have the capacity to take measures against those members who completely stray away. However, for the sake of not losing an ounce of influence in EU institutions, they choose not to pick fights and let unlimited political loyalties prevail.
Where can this lead the EU and Europe as a whole - When the Liberals support illiberalism, Christian Democrats support criminals, and Social Democrats support state capture and attacks on media? It is indeed a grim road to take, and one that can only lead into further democratic backsliding. For when you place loyalties over reality, the latter will come back to haunt you.