European Parliament Doesn’t Need Stricter Rules for Groups

Requiring that parties share an ideological affinity to form a group creates more problems than it solves.

Three young women listen to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 14, 2016
Three young women listen to a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, September 14, 2016 (European Parliament)

Mainstream parties in the European Parliament want to break up smaller groups that lack ideological cohesion. It is a risky proposal that is rightly being resisted by Euroskeptics and the Greens.

The center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) — who between them have a majority — argue that the current rules, which require political families to have at least 25 members from seven member states to qualify for subsidies and committee seats, are too lenient. They accuse anti-EU groups of gaming the rules to access taxpayer money.

There is something to this. Italy’s left-leaning Five Star Movement and the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party have little in common, yet they are both members of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group.

It is also worth pointing out that some of the European Parliament’s biggest spending scandals have been in the anti-system blocs.

Slippery slope

But requiring ideological affinity is a slippery slope. Consider that the Five Star Movement at one point toyed with joining ALDE instead. Or that the EPP spans the right-wing spectrum from the Angela Merkel’s respectable Christian Democrats in Germany to Viktor Orbán’s anti-immigrant and pro-Putin Fidesz in Hungary.

Who gets to decide if parties are ideologically close enough to form a group? Where would parliament draw the line? Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders are both anti-EU, but the French nationalist party leader opposes gay marriage whereas the Dutchman defends it. Denmark’s Social Democrats have recently taken a harder line on borders and immigration whereas Spain’s Socialist Party supports a liberal policy on both.

What’s the problem?

Requiring ideological affinity creates more problems than it solves. If mainstream parties worry about the growing influence of the Euroskeptic right, they should take comfort in the fact that there are currently three such groups. The many, often small, parties that comprise them can’t agree on such things as whether or not to give up the euro and whether to support Israel or the Palestinians.

Combined, the Euroskeptics would rival the socialists. As it is, their influence is limited and they spend as much time debating each other as they do their pro-European nemeses.