Yesterday, we – the Transparency International EU Office – were invited to speak at a hearing of the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament about the need for transparency of political parties at European level (“Europarties”). As basis for this presentation and future debates, we had prepared a 3-page discussion paper titled “Transparency in the Financing of Europarties” (just follow the link to read it).
Therein we make clear that we see political financing such as the financing of political parties as an important area in which (political) corruption may happen. It is also an area where corruption may seriously harm trust in democracy and democratic institutions. We then underlined in the paper and the presentation that we see transparency as an important means against possible corrupt practices, and that we therefore expect that Europarties comply with transparency rules and good practices in order to strengthen trust in their work and in European democracy.
The observations in our short discussion paper are based on international standards on party finance, Transparency International’s own recommendations regarding political finance and our observation of how Europarties currently report their finances as well the current EU legislation.
Among other things we find that transparency could be enhanced by making the party finance reports available in a citizen-friendly, searchable database, the data of which should also downloadable in an open data format, not just in PDF format as it is now. The USA election commission has set a good example in this regard. In addition to that, more attention should be paid to the reporting of donations, including in-kind donations (e.g. reporting support by companies for Europarty events). If the misuse of EU funds in this area is detected, sanctions such as for example administrative penalties should be implemented. Moreover, there is a need for improved internal control measures to ensure the full protection of the EU funds, as ensured by OLAF and articulated by the European Court of Auditors.
Moreover, the reporting of election incomes and expenditures in the context of European Parliament elections could be extended since so far neither the regulation nor the reporting practices go far enough to make the election campaign financing fully transparent. This should be changed for the next EU elections in 2014. There should be a special EP election finance report!
Now these points are just some food for thought and discussion and they should not be seen as a last word or a comprehensive account of all aspects of party financing at European level. However, there is not much debate on this topic as of now – and some reactions by Members of the European Parliament yesterday after our presentation showed that awareness for these questions is not yet as high as we think it should be…
So please, share your thoughts on our discussion paper and the points we raise. Feel free to raise other issues that you find relevant with regard to the financing of Europarties that we haven’t raised – we are looking forward to your comments!
Ronny Patz, Transparency International EU Office