Eighteen months ago, I was one of 25 MEPs (members of the European Parliament) to launch a legal challenge against the proposal to establish state-funded European political parties. The legislation provided for trans-national parties, to be supported by the taxpayer, contesting elections on a common and binding manifesto across the EU. In order to qualify, a party would need to “accept the values of the EU, as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” – a clause evidently designed to bar Euro-sceptics from recognition.
Our small group of 25 pro-sovereignty MEPs challenged the legislation, arguing that it was incompatible with the EU’s stated commitment to democracy and pluralism. As a Polish Euro-MP, one of my fellow plaintiffs, observed: “This is exactly how the communists maintained themselves in power in my country. They didn’t ban elections – we had elections every four years. They just banned their opponents from contesting the elections”.
Now, eighteen months after the challenge was launched, the Euro-judges have turned it down on a technicality, arguing that, since the plaintiffs had brought the case as individuals, they had no proper status before the court. In order to have such status, the MEPs would need to try to establish a trans-national party themselves – then, if they were refused, they might be allowed to claim that they had suffered discrimination.
Obviously, as Euro-sceptics, the plaintiffs are unwilling to do this: the whole basis of our philosophy is that the democratic process should be played out within nation-states, not in Brussels. So the legislation will go ahead.
Under the new rules, Labour is joining the Party of European Socialists, the Lib Dems the European Liberals and the Greens the European Greens. But the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party have been frozen out.
I’m afraid I’m not surprised by this court ruling. The European Court sees it as its role always and everywhere to support deeper integration, and rarely lets the dots and commas of the law stand in its way. But it is extraordinary that the Euro-judges should have taken a year-and-a-half to ponder this case before disqualifying us on a technicality. How can any citizen have confidence in such a system?
Democracy means being allowed to vote for whomever you please. Once we start disqualifying parties on grounds of their opinions, we are on a very dangerous road. Six years in politics has been enough to teach me that court cases are uncertain and expensive. But if I’m not prepared to take a stand for democratic pluralism, what am I doing in the European Parliament?