Why does the EU membership fee vary

European elections

Julia Schmalter

Dr. Julia Schmalter is a research fellow at the Jean Monnet Chair for European Integration and European Policy at the University of Duisburg-Essen, where she focuses on the implementation of EU law at Member State level. Since January 2018 she has also been organizing the European Science Network for NRW (NEW: NRW).

Stefan Haussner

Stefan Haußner, M.A., is a research assistant at the Jean-Monnet Chair for European Integration and European Policy at the University of Duisburg-Essen. His research focuses on the statistical simulation of election results in the event of universal voter turnout and the analysis of European right-wing populism.

One Europe, many nation states - also with regard to the financing of the European election campaign, it becomes clear that the financial regulations are regulated very differently from country to country. In principle, the national parties have significantly more financial resources at their disposal than the European parties.

Statue "Europe" by the Belgian artist May Claerhout in front of the European Parliament in Brussels. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

The elections to the European Parliament are quite similar to national elections. In both cases, citizens are to be mobilized through campaigns that are carried out in a transparent manner and regulated by fair political regulations. However, the differences outweigh the differences. So far, the electoral system of the European Union (EU) has been set up in such a way that one has to speak less of a single European election than of 28 - soon to be 27 [1] - national individual elections in which national candidates from national parties (mostly ) national electoral legislation compete against each other. It is not only the election campaign that is often shaped by country-specific issues (Kaeding, Haußner and Schmälters 2019). The regulations for financing the European election campaign also differ considerably in the individual member states. In this regard, the elections for the 9th legislative term of the European Parliament are governed by 28 different financial rules: 27 for the individual Member States and one for those political parties that operate at European level.

The following will explain in more detail where the money for the European election campaign comes from, what differences exist between the EU and national levels as well as between the EU member states and how exactly the European elections are financed in Germany.

Financing of the European parties

In addition to the national political parties, the European political parties have also played a role in the EU's multi-level system for some time. These "European parties" are mostly alliances of national parties with a similar political direction that are active at the European level. These party alliances are of secondary importance and fall behind the visibility of the national parties. Their weight in shaping political events and as a factor of integration has already been recognized and laid down in the Maastricht Treaty.

The question of financing is particularly important for the European parties. Since they are not unitary parties, but rather amalgamations of many national parties, they do not have the option of financing through membership fees. In addition, the European parties are prohibited from pursuing so-called profit purposes. This is a much stronger restriction than, for example, the German "non-profit status" (Morlok and Merten 2018: 253). The main sources of income for the European parties are therefore contributions from the national parties and funding from the EU budget.

The regulations for financing the European parties are still relatively new. In their development, the regulation "on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations" (European Union 2018) from 2014 and its reform in 2018 represent concrete milestones (Morlok and Merten 2018: 243). The most recent reform of the statute aimed primarily at increased transparency and democratic legitimacy in the allocation of funds, better accountability of the budget and the introduction of sanctions for violating funding rules (European Commission 2018).

To get support from the EU budget In order to be able to access the information, European parties must be registered as an official grouping and be represented by at least one member in the European Parliament. There is no absolute upper limit for public grants. The possible funding from the EU budget is, however, subject to a relative upper limit of 90 percent of the eligible costs, which means that the European parties must in principle provide ten percent of their own share for every funding. This is relatively high compared to national regulations, as it is more difficult for European parties to generate their own income. Since the reform of the party statute, only ten percent (previously 15 percent) of the total amount has been divided equally between all eligible parties, while the remaining 90 percent is awarded according to the strength of the party in the European elections (European Commission 2018). Funding from the EU budget ranges from around half a million euros for smaller parties to almost nine million euros for the European People's Party (2017 - see Table 1).

The regulations for private party financing through donations and contributions from the national member parties are expressly stipulated in the party statute 2014. There is an annual upper limit of 18,000 euros per year and donor for donations. Donations by the parliamentary groups, donations from non-EU countries and anonymous donations are prohibited. Donations of more than 1,500 euros must be published and attached to the annual reports. The national member parties are also allowed to support the European parties financially. These contributions may, however, make up a maximum of 40 percent of the total budget of the European party (Morlok and Merten 2018: 257f).

The budget of the European parties is subject to strict earmarking. It is stipulated that the funds may be used to finance the European election campaign, but not to support national elections, referendums or the associated national parties (Morlok and Merten 2018: 261f). Contributions can only flow from the national to the European party, but not vice versa. Since the election campaign for the European elections is still largely conducted at the Member State level, a separation is only possible through a clear reference to the European elections (Kaeding, Haußner and Schmalter 2019). However, this becomes difficult to prove if, for example, local and European elections take place at the same time.

The election campaign expenditures of the European parties are therefore well below the corresponding election campaign expenditures of their national members. With the exception of the European People's Party (EPP), all budgets for the 2014 European election campaign were well below one million euros. While the EPP spent 1.67 million euros, the Social Democratic Party of Europe (SPE) spent 650,000 euros and the European Greens 540,000 euros. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) only raised 280,000 euros. Some smaller parties even stayed below the limit of 100,000 euros (see Table 1). Nevertheless, it becomes clear that the European parties are particularly active in European election years: In some cases, there was a sharp increase in funding called up from the EU budget in 2014, which then stagnated again or even decreased slightly compared to non-election years ( DG Finance 2017).

The comparatively low expenditures of the European parties make it clear that they do not yet have a dominant role in the election campaign. Even the political groups in the European Parliament seem to be more in focus. For example, the proportion of election campaign expenditure is usually relatively low in relation to the total budget. It can therefore be assumed that the European parties tend to take on a coordinating role in the election years than actually overtake the national parties as campaigners. Although the European parties were institutionalized at an early stage and their importance for participation in European integration was emphasized, they lack resounding successes and organizational skills. The reorganization of financing through the party statute of 2014 and its reform have so far not changed much.