Chapter 7 Political parties and the EP

  • Three types of ‘political party’ play a role in EU politics: domestic political parties, political groups in the EP and European political parties. Among these three types, domestic political parties play the central role because they create and manage the other two.
  • Since the early days of the ECSC, political groups in the European Parliament have formed around shared ideologies rather than nationality. The EP’s rules of procedure stimulate the formation of transnational political groups by granting them specific rights and benefits.
  • In addition, MEPs from different domestic parties have an incentive to work together in order to have more influence on EP decision-making.
  • Nevertheless, tensions remain between the benefits of working together in transnational political groups and the need for domestic parties to give up some of their policy positions. 
  • Despite the tensions inherent in their formation, political groups in the EP tend to vote together in the vast majority of cases. As a result, they are remarkably cohesive. 
  • Coalitions between political groups in the EP are not fixed but are formed on the basis of shared policy positions on certain issues.
  • Politics in the EP is structured predominantly along a right/left dimension, but to an increasing extent, an additional dimension that revolves around support for and opposition to further European integration plays a role.
  • European political parties originated in response to developments in the European Parliament.
  • The existing European political parties reflect most of the main party families to be found in the EU member states.
  • Election campaigns are still primarily run by domestic parties. However, Tthe largest European political parties do bring out a common political program, nominate their Spitzenkandidat for European Commission president and organize meetings of party group members active in the different institutions ahead of important summits in Brussels.
  • The functions performed by European political parties are more limited than those performed by domestic political parties. In particular, European political parties structure politics by limiting the number of choices and aggregate interests in more or less consistent policy programmes. At the same time, they do not recruit candidates for political office, do not form governments, and hardly form a link between rulers and ruled in the EU.

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