Why a European Party Funding Observatory?
Democracy backsliding in Hungary and Poland, rise of authoritarian regimes abroad, voter suppression: there are countless on-going examples of the importance of a robust and healthy democracy which must never be taken for granted.
But democracy is not simply the choice of our political leaders every few years at the ballot box. It’s that, of course, but also much more: democracy is a process through which citizens actively contribute to the political landscape via their input and engagement, and where political actors, in turn, respond to citizens. This engagement by citizens can take many forms – from addressing one’s representatives, to making donations to candidates and parties, to being a member or supporter of a political party, all the way to standing for election or setting up one’s own political party.
As such, democracy requires a continuous practice of two-way interactions between citizens and their parties and elected officials. Political parties, in particular, are cornerstones of representative democracy and allow us to carry political projects beyond individual endeavours and personalities.
A precondition to these interactions is for citizens to, at least, know the political parties that speak and decide in their name – and this, at each level at which decisions are made. It is therefore not sufficient to say that we should have democracy at the local level, and at the regional level, and at the national level, but that anything beyond that does not matter.
Therein lies the pitfall of the European Union. By and large, and despite worrying trends, EU Member States are democracies,1 but democracy is more than the sum of its parts, and there can be no European democracy – democracy at the European level, that is – without two-way interactions between citizens and their European political parties and, therefore, without citizens at least knowing the bare minimum about these parties.
Unfortunately, European citizens remain, by far, unaware of their common European parties – hampering the emergence of truly European political projects and programmes, beyond national parties.
Institutional actors have failed to fill the necessary informational role: the European Parliament and the Authority for European political parties and European political foundations (APPF) – both in charge of reporting on European parties, according to Regulation 1141/2014 – publish the minimum amount of information legally asked of them, and often as dull collections of PDF documents. While marginal progress in transparency has been made, information on European parties cannot truly be considered visible for European citizens. Even European parties themselves, limited by their own national members’ desire to retain the upper hand, fail to properly reach out to citizens.
Admittedly, there is no quick fix or magical solution. In the absence of institutional action, the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung plays the long game. We facilitate the provision of information and help citizens get acquainted with their political parties. We give researchers the tools to discuss and analyse European parties. We give journalists material to understand and write about European parties. We give decision-makers concrete facts to inform their reform of the European party system.
In this chicken-and-egg scenario, more information on European parties is expected to lead to more citizen interest in European parties, and more popular interest will lead to more demand for information and participation. Inciting interest via information. Inciting demand with offer.
The European Party Funding Observatory is not made for headlines and buzz. It is designed to become a fixture of information regarding European political parties, in the same way that Estonia, Latvia or the United Kingdom have managed to provide accurate and timely information on their own national parties.
The European Party Funding Observatory leverages public data from official EU sources to help answer citizens’ questions concerning European parties and their funding: how much money do European parties receive? How much taxpayers’ money? Who else funds them? From which countries do these funds originate? How is all this evolving over time? And how is this money spent?
European Democracy Consulting’s previous work on the visualisation of donations and contributions to European parties has already helped shed light on the private funding of European parties. However, this work, resting on data provided by the APPF, focuses exclusively on donations and contributions and on the financial years 2018 to 2021. The European Party Funding Observatory takes this work one major step further with the design of a full-fledged and self-standing observatory covering all funding sources and going back to 2008, covering all European political parties listed in official funding documents.
Should this be done by European institutions, themselves in charge of public funding and of the private funding oversight? Without a doubt. Yet, in the absence of public action, it is the role of civil society to step in, and help citizens connect with their representatives and find their place in our common democracy.
Finally, with a domino effect, we count on journalists and political researchers to use this data to inform the general public, and hope that the European Party Funding Observatory provides a template for similar endeavours, both institutional and individual, at the national and European levels, as well as pave the way for the strengthening of transparency and open data regulations applicable to European institutions.
About the European Party Funding Observatory
The goal of the European Party Funding Observatory is to advance the study of European parties by making data transparent and accessible to all.
In theory, financial information on European political parties is public. Some information is published by the European Parliament or the APPF as required by Article 32 of the Regulation on European parties. Other information can be freely requested via the European Parliament’s procedure for public access to documents, as provided for by Regulation 1049/2001 on public access to documents.
In practice, however, this information is hardly visible to researchers and journalists, and almost invisible to European citizens. While the European Parliament and the APPF do publish information on their websites, it is, more often than not, as closed PDF documents; in the case of the European Parliament, the information is even located on a page of the Parliament’s sub-website for “contracts and grants”. As for the procedure for public access to documents, it requires more effort and patience than citizens should be required to have for information on their political parties; and, once again, the information is always provided in closed PDF documents. European Democracy Consulting and the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung work to ensure the provision of information in open, machine-readable format, and encouraging the APPF to provide visualisations for its data.
The European Party Funding Observatory aims at ensuring that information on European political parties is not merely published, but truly visible. We access or request data from official sources, transcribe it into open, machine-readable format, and turn it into clear visualisations aimed at answering citizens’ questions.
In particular, the European Party Funding Observatory provides information on:
- Public funding: how much public funding do European parties receive? How much public funding are they entitled to? How much does each party actually receive? How does public funding evolve over time? How much does this cost European citizens?
- Private funding, including donations and contributions: how much private funding do European parties receive? Which parties rely more on donor contributions? How does private funding evolve over time? Who gives to European parties? What is the role of small or corporate donations? Where do donors and contributors come from?
- Spending: how much do European parties spend? What do they spend their funding on? How does spending evolve over time?
In addition, the European Party Funding Observatory provides party-specific information, allowing the visualisation of the above information for each European political party, including some information concerning their individual and party membership.
While citizens know little about European parties in general, the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung chose to focus on European party funding data, as this is the least visible and accessible information regarding European parties. European citizens indirectly fund – through national and European funding – almost the entirety of European parties’ budget; they should be able to easily know how this money is distributed and spent.
Conversely, we have decided not to focus on the political programmes and positions of European political parties, nor on votes of their members in the European Parliament. Information on programmes and positions can be found on the respective websites of European political parties, which we provide, or on their social media channels. Information on votes was, for many years, provided by VoteWatch Europe (terminated in June 2022, archived), and data remains available on the European Parliament’s website, such as the sub-websites for plenaries or respective committees.
Reflecting the importance of European political parties for a functioning European democracy, the morse code featured in the logo of the European Party Funding Observatory, representing unintelligible financial data, reads the text of Article 10(4) of the Treaty on European Union – the so-called “Party Article” – enshrining European political parties and their role.
Finally, we would like to thank the staff of the European Parliament's AccesDocs team which has handled our many repeated requests for public access to documents with professionalism and helpful patience.
For any questions regarding the Observatory, you can e-mail us at contact [at] epfo.eu.
For feedback regarding the Observatory, you can e-mail us at feedback [at] epfo.eu.
The European Party Funding Observatory is funded entirely by private donations. We therefore need your support for its further development.
Visit our crowdfunding page on BetterPlace.org to support the Observatory and learn more about the features we are working on.
Using our crowdfunding page, you can make one-time donations or donate on a recurring basis. Recurring donations provide planning security, flexibility, and independence from temporary third-party funding.
Alternatively, you can donate via Stripe or with an ordinary bank transfer.
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About the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung
European Democracy Consulting is a consulting firm based in Austria, specialising in the provision of legal and political expertise on institutional and constitutional matters.
The European Democracy Consulting Stiftung is a non-profit association advancing the study of European institutions and democracy.
European Democracy Consulting was created in 2019, out of the desire to improve our common European democracy. The 2019 European elections showed a renewed interest for the Union, but also the limit of citizens’ engagement. Following these elections, European Democracy Consulting was set up to help decision-makers, public institutions, and NGOs in their promotion of a more democratic, transparent and efficient European Union. Its goal is the strengthening of European democracy through reform and the application of best-practice measures.
In July 2023, European Democracy Consulting set up the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung, a non-profit association, to manage its pro bono projects and separate them from consulting activities, starting with the European Party Funding Observatory. The purpose of the association is to advance the science and research related to European institutions and democracy. Consequently, the European Party Funding Observatory, which had been launched by European Democracy Consulting in 2022, was donated to the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung, now in charge of its development and growth.
Democracy does not always come easy; there may be vested interests opposing its development. As a result, sixty years after its creation, the European Union still falls far short of the democratic standards of developed countries.
We bring our solid expertise to support a value-based discussion and propose concrete political and legal solutions, based on best-practices, that will strengthen our common democracy for the general interest of all Europeans.
European Democracy Consulting and the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung are independent of specific national, political, or corporate interests. Our work represents our best efforts at providing accurate data, relevant best practices, and actionable recommendations based on our research and in line with our support for European democracy.
Since 2019, European Democracy Consulting has conducted paid and pro bono research on the reform of European parties and of their funding, on the transparency of European parties’ donations and contributions, on the visibility of national parties’ link to their European party of membership, on the reform of European elections and transnational lists, and on geographical representation in the EU’s leadership.
Phase 1 of the European Party Funding Observatory was the creation of a working platform providing transparency on European party funding. The following features are part of phase 2 of the Observatory and are currently being developed or will soon be under development:
- Funding simulator
- Searchable table of donations and contributions
- Searchable table of audit files data
- Sankey charts for donations and contributions
- Sankey for MEPs members of European parties by country
- Sankey for MEPs members of European parties by EP political group
- Virtual audit budget tables
- Possibility to extract chart as image or data chart
- Possibility to compare parties for public funding, donations, contributions, spending
- RSS feed and email updates when data is updated
- Translations into several EU languages
- Accessibility features, high/contrast mode for the visually impaired
In order to implement these features, we need your support. Please consider making a donation to support the European Party Funding Observatory:
1 On 15 September 2022, the European Parliament adopted a report stating that Hungary could no longer be considered a democracy (source: European Parliament).