European political parties

Poorly identified political bodies?


By the European Parliament Political Observatory

Recommended citation
Brack N. & Wolfs W. 2023. “European political parties“, Study, EPPO of the Jacques Delors Institute, May 2023.

Executive summary

Political parties play a central role in contemporary liberal democracies: they are essential conduits between citizens and political decision-making and candidate selection. Given their role at the national level, it is not surprising that political parties have been turned to as a solution to the democratic deficit in the European Union (EU).

This study aims to explore the different facets of European political parties, the challenges they face and the prospects for the role of European political parties for supranational democracy. It is structured in four parts.

The first part will briefly trace the evolution of European political parties. It shows that the creation of a regulatory framework has favoured the emergence of Europarties. After a period of rapid emergence and great volatility, their number seems to have stabilised in the recent period, with 10 European political parties recognised by the Authority for European Political Parties and Foundations (APPF).

The second part analyses the financing of European parties. Introduced in 2003, the direct funding of political parties has been modified in 2007, 2014, 2018, 2019 and is currently being modified. We show that while European political parties have been able to rely on an increasing level of financial resources, not least due to the increase in public funding, the use of these subsidies is also subject to certain limitations. The most important is that European funds cannot be used to directly or indirectly finance national political parties or candidates, nor for national election or referendum campaigns. Although far from being their only obstacle, the rules surrounding the use of European funds are one of the constraints limiting the involvement and visibility of European political parties in political life.

A third part addresses the question of the role and nature of Europarties. It focuses in particular on three essential functions of parties in a democracy: the articulation and aggregation of interests, the function of linkage and the influence on the decision-making process. It analyses the low visibility of Europarties in elections; the contribution of the Spitzenkandidaten procedure; the structure and rules of membership of European political parties; and finally, the question of the influence of Europarties via the Parliament, the Council and the European Council.

The conclusion looks at the main constraints on European political parties and discusses the prospects for the next European elections of 2024 and 2029. In particular, beyond the progress on transnational lists and Spitzekandidaten, the visibility of the Europarties could be easily and quickly increased through the inclusion of their logo in the campaign material of their member parties.