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[Comment] Can I become a member?

24.10.2006 - 09:33 CET | By Steen Gade, Sofie Carsten Nielsen and Søren Winther Lundby

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - Today we are joining a new party. We are already members of the Danish centre-left parties SF, the Social Liberals and the Social Democrats respectively. We have no plans to change that. The world has changed, however, and so has the EU. We can no longer make do with being members of a national party. It is for this reason that on 12 October we sent in our applications, together with a membership subscription of €20, to the three parties in the European Parliament where our Danish parties sit.
There is only one problem. The parties do not yet exist. Or to be more precise, they exist in the European Parliament as political groupings but lack some of the characteristics needed to be proper parties. Most important of all, they lack members!

'European parties' today consist of parliamentarians in the European Parliament and work with national parties. This is good, but nowhere near good enough in light of the enormous challenges which face us in the 20th century.

For decades, the heads of state and government in the European Council constituted an essential driving force for the development of binding co-operation in the EU. This will not necessarily be the case in the future. It is by no means certain that the European Council will be in a position to secure future co-operation so that the EU becomes an even better tool for handling challenges that cannot be met at national level.

The continuous expansion of the EU has complicated the political game in the European Council, which after new year will see 27 heads of state and government sitting around the table.

European parliament overlooked
One overlooked point in the debate on Europe's future is that things are quite different at the European Parliament.

Here, MEPs are grouped according to their views. The number of players in the European Parliament has therefore largely remained unchanged. There are still four to six parties which form the fulcrum of the decisions that are made. And there is no reason to assume that the picture will change as the EU expands still further. Even when Turkey joins the EU, we will continue to see political competition, which primarily exists between the right and the left - precisely as we know it, for better or worse, from domestic politics.

From this point of view, it makes good sense that the European Parliament has been gaining ever more influence. In New Europe we have always been supporters of this development towards a sort of two-chamber system, although there is still a long way to go.

All the same, an increasing number of EU laws come into existence on the basis of a double passage at the European Parliament ('the citizens' chamber') and the Council ('the governments' chamber'). It is possible that we will move towards a more genuine balance between these two institutions. This makes it all the more important to ensure full exploitation of the democratic potential the European Parliament provides. This is where European political parties come into the picture.

More influence
If the European Parliament is important, then it is also important that the parties represented in the Parliament have their base among the citizens of Europe. We need to have proper European parties if we as citizens are to have better opportunities to exercise influence on the EU. It is important to remember that all nationalities are minorities on the European and global political stages. Even if all 5.4 million Danes found a common cause, we would still be in a weak position in Europe.

In other words, there is no way of getting round this problem. If we are to have a chance of getting issues in which we stongly believe through the system, we must seek those of similar views across member states. It is here the potential lies.

In Europe there are millions of people who would rally to many of the causes which we as centre-left players regard as essential. We must also divide ourselves into groups according to our views at the European level, too. Just as we have done for decades in domestic politics.

Thus, European political parties must be pivotal in drafting coherent political programmes which form the basis of day-to-day political work as well as the election campaign the parties must contest in every five years when the EU's citizens elect a new European Parliament.

It goes without saying that the political programmes must pack a punch. Ahead of the 2009 election it would be a good idea for the parties each to select five key issues. Green, liberal or social democrat voters in Trollhättan will thus be able to give priority to the same five points as green, liberal or social democrat voters respectively in Thy, Terezin, Turin and Toulouse.

Shaping the programme and the issues
The European parties must at the same time also choose a front figure who is able to communicate the party's policy and be its face to the outside world. It was considerations of this kind that led to New Europe writing to the Parliament's parties prior to the European Parliament elections in 2004 and asking: Who is your candidate? Because of course it is on the cards, as well as between the lines in the stranded European Constitution's article 20 and 27: the parties must prior to elections to the European Parliament announce their candidate for the post of president of the European Commission.

We want to be able to influence the programme our respective European party, as well as influence the choice of five issues that are to constitute the crux of the election campaign.

We want, for example by means of a European ballot, to be able to influence those who want to lead our parties and thus be candidates for the post of president of the European Commission. The world and the EU have changed over the last 50 years, but the way forward is still the same. It is all about more democracy and about developing a common public sphere across national boundaries.

The authors are members of 'New Europe' a centre-left organisation that aims gather all forces to prepare concrete proposals for political action in the EU.

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