Thursday 1 December 2011

Re:New: Europarties and Primaries

When I wrote about the Re:New conference and the lack of policy at the PES level on Friday, I wanted to find out more about the Europarty and how things are done. Luckly there was a workshop on Transnational parties on Saturday, which I attended (annoyingly most of the workshops I would be interested in were on on Saturday afternoon: I would have liked to have asked a few questions at the citizenship workshop on Zambrano and McCarthy).

Understandably the structure of Europarties mitigated against more unified political platforms being put forward at European elections (and in between). Europarties have evolved over the last 20 years, with political foundations (such as FEPS for PES), and firmer legal regulation for their legal status and funding. While there was some interesting presentations on the history and structure of the Europarties (notably from Erol Kuelachi and Steven van Henke). However, of the three aspects raised by Sebastian von Thuena (1. institutional aspects of Europarties; 2. the legal structure; and 3. the role of the grassroots), the question of the grassroots was picked up on by the audience (which counted a few PES activists among its members). How grassroots activists should work alongside national parties - via exchanges and uring election campaigns - was debated. Apparently there have been PES activist exchange programmes trialed that haven't been very successful, and national parties are unsure of how to react to PES activists (in some cases perhaps fearing that the PES is a competitor for institutional control within the party).

I was disappointed that the PES primaries weren't being discussed, so I asked:

"What could be the effect of the PES presidential candidate (and does the PES see it as more parliamentary or presidential)? It could have a chain effect (if there’s enough momentum) – 1. Would it take away from activist influence on the manifesto? 2. Would it bring the Commission closer to the EP? 3. Would it mean coalition Commissions and provoke reorganisation in the Greens, etc.?"

There wasn't enough time to address all of these points, but Steven van Henke pointed out that the PES would confirm both the candidate and the programme, raising the prospect of the candidate not being able to stand on their own platform. Originally I had thought that it could push activists out of the role of manifesto-shaping that they had gained at the last election - it will be interesting to see how the PES balances the national parties, the activists and the candidate's view in the joint manifesto.

Another aspect of the PES primaries is their timing. I hadn't noticed anything about the timing of the primaries during my first glance through the procedure, but I've heard complaints about the process being held over the December/January before the election, since it is extremely difficult to organise events for national parties at that time (at least, I have heard these complaints from the Irish Labour activists; and Irish Labour has been one of the most enthusiastic parties for PES primaries). Together with the uncertainty of the number of parties which will hold direct votes and whether the candidate will have much control over his/her policy platform, the PES's seeming political coup could be strangled at birth. Since it has the potential to boost not only the PES but also push the other Europarties to be more coherent, it would be a big loss to EP democracy.

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