Frequently Asked Questions
What is the goal of the European Party Funding Observatory?
The goal of the European Party Funding Observatory is to strengthen European democracy by ensuring the visibility of financial information on European political parties.
While data is available on the funding of European political parties, we consider that it is not sufficiently visible to provide European citizens with a proper overview of their common parties.
In particular, we hope that this data will prove useful to political researchers, journalists, and decision-makers in their work relating to European political parties and their funding.
Finally, we hope that this Observatory provides a template for similar endeavours on party funding transparency at the European and national levels.
Who is responsible for this Observatory?
The European Party Funding Observatory was initially developed by European Democracy Consulting, a consulting structure specialising in the provision of legal and political expertise on institutional and constitutional matters. Our goal is the strengthening of European democracy through reform and the application of best-practice measures.
In July 2023, the Observatory was transferred to the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung, a non-profit organisation aimed at managing European Democracy Consulting's pro bono projects.
Dr. Wouter Wolfs, from KU Leuven, is providing expert knowledge and data on European parties, especially with regards to donations and contributions they receive.
Who funds for the Observatory?
The European Party Funding Observatory is co-funded by European Democracy Consulting and Volt There.
Volt There is a political foundation registered in the Netherlands and awarded a €4,000 grant to European Democracy in 2022 for the development of the European Party Funding Observatory. This grant helped cover the costs of data transcription and platform development.
European Democracy Consulting’s own work on the Observatory was carried out pro bono.
Data sources and use
What information is provided by the European Party Funding Observatory?
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.
What information is not provided by the European Party Funding Observatory?
While sometimes providing information going beyond the sole issue of funding, the European Party Funding Observatory does not 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.
Where does the data come from?
For the credibility of the European Party Funding Observatory, it is essential for its data to comes from official sources.
The data supporting the Observatory therefore comes from two official sources: the European Parliament, and the Authority for European political parties and European political foundations (APPF).
In line with the current framework on European political parties, these two entities publish information on their respective websites.
- The relevant page regarding European parties on the website of the European Parliament can be found here: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/contracts-and-grants/en/political-parties-and-foundations/european-political-parties
- The website of the APPF can found here: https://www.appf.europa.eu/appf/en/
In the case of the European Parliament, most of the information was obtained from the website, but instead through requests for public access to documents. Documents obtained from these requests are available on the website of the Observatory, both in their original PDF version and transcribed in open, machine-readable format.
Is the data provided as published by official sources?
In the vast majority of cases, the data supporting the Observatory is fed into its database as is. However, there are some slight deviations.
- In the case of donations and contributions, official data was reviewed and categorised by Dr Wouter Wolfs. In some cases, data was recategorised, where this better reflected the origin of donations and contributions.
- For all other data, figures were transcribed by European Democracy Consulting. In some cases, figures were not final, such as for the amounts of public funding provided in European parties’ audit reports (since the final amounts were only determined much later); this data was therefore replaced, in the Observatory, by final figures. In other cases, the data provided in the PDF files was either aggregated or unreadable; we worked to disaggregate this data and strove to identify unreadable figures.
We stand ready to discuss with EU institutions and European political parties any decision that was made regarding the use of official data.
How can I check the Observatory’s data?
The European Party Funding Observatory aims at improving transparency on European parties and their funding. As a result of this commitment, we make available all the data we have gathered for the development and maintenance of this Observatory.
- Original documents retrieved from the European Parliament and APPF (mostly in PDF format);
- The transcriptions of official documents into open, machine-readable format (in ODS format);
- The working documents transferring the transcribed data into the Observatory’s database (in ODS format); and
- Extracted data files used by the Observatory for its visualisations (in CSV format).
Using these files, any user is available to check the data used by the Observatory and re-use it for their own purpose.
Is the Observatory partisan? Are there conflicts of interest?
Firstly, European Democracy Consulting and the European Democracy Consulting Stiftung openly advocate for a thorough reform of European political parties, including of their funding.
However, a prerequisite to discussing reform options is to agree on a common basis of facts and figures. When it comes to European political parties, this agreement is hampered by the lack of visibility of information on European parties and their funding. The goal of the European Party Funding Observatory is therefore not to advocate a particular point, but to help provide basic information to citizens and to those working on European parties. This is why we limited ourselves to a more data-based overview of European parties and rely on official data.
Secondly, the visualisation of data is not always neutral, and can indeed be tweaked to underline a particular message.
In order to mitigate this risk, we have avoided displaying data that would illustrate a particular point. Instead, our approach to the Observatory’s visualisations was question-based: we made a list of basic questions citizens could harbour on European parties – and applicable, mutatis mutandis, to political party funding at any level – and drew up visualisations as answers to these questions.
In doing so, we hope to provide users not with conclusion and arguments, but with data-based answers to their questions.
Why does the data only go back to 2008?
Data shown by the Observatory is dependent on data provided by the European Parliament and the APPF.
Since European political parties have received public funding from the budget of the European Parliament since the financial year 2004, decisions have been made by the European Parliament on this matter since 2004. This data is reflected in the Observatory.
For private funding, however, the most consistent source consists in yearly audit reports on European political parties. These are made available on the website of the European Parliament, but only as far back as 2008. Reports for the years 2005 through 2007 are also available, but they do not provide figures.
Finally, the APPF was set up in 2016, following the adoption of Regulation 1141/2014, and only started the implementation of its full mandate in 2018. As a result, the data it provides on donations and contributions starts with the financial year 2018. The APPF was not mandates to collect and publish data for previous years.
Why is some data missing? Why is the data sometimes not consistent?
The Observatory draws its data from several types of documents:
- Funding decisions made by the Bureau of the European Parliament;
- Budget documents provided to the European Parliament by European political parties;
- Final reports on public funding drafted by the European Parliament; and
- Reporting on donations and contributions provided by the APPF.
These documents have their respective publication cycles and later documents may correct earlier ones. Additionally, the review carried for our section on donations and contributions leads to some re-categorisation of European parties’ income which may affect summed amounts.
What are donations and contributions?
Donations and contributions are defined by Regulation 1141/2014 on the statute and funding of European parties. While the precise definitions vary, the major difference between donations and contributions is a characteristic on the giver: contributions are made by individuals or national parties who are members of European parties (“contributors”), while donations are made by individuals or legal persons (companies, NGOs, etc.) who are not members of European parties (“donors”). This distinction leads to different ceilings for donations and contributions, as well as different reporting requirements.
How does European party funding work?
An extensive description of European party funding is provided on a dedicated page of the Observatory.
What can we do to improve transparency on European party funding?
While Regulation 1141/2014 does contain provisions relating to transparency, their implementation has revealed a number of shortcomings that ought to be remedied to.
In particular, provisions regarding deadlines, reporting on financial information, and other documents must be strengthened.
For European parties
- Scatter deadlines for the publication of financial documents by European parties (Art. 23.1). Following the end of their financial year, European parties must provide their annual financial statements, an external audit report on the annual financial statements, and the list of donors and contributors and their corresponding donations or contributions. Given the time needed to establish and audit financial statements, information on donations and contributions should be provided separately, so as not to unduly delay its release.
- Shorten the deadline for the reporting of donations and contributions (Art. 23.1). Following up on the recommendation above, the deadline for the reporting of information on donations and contributions should be shortened from the current six months to one month.
- Shorten the deadline for the reporting of financial statements and their audit (Art. 23.1). In line with the recommendation above, the deadline for the reporting of annual financial statements and their external audit report should be shortened from the current six months to three month, in line with standards applicable to national political parties.
- Require the transmission of the list of European parties’ member parties following each change, instead of once a year (Art. 9.6). European political parties are required to provide an updated list of member parties each year. Changes after which a European party would no longer meet its registration requirements must be reported within four weeks. Instead, changes in the list of a European party's member parties should be notify shortly after changes are made, regardless of whether this impact a party's ability to meet registration requirements. For instance, changes could be notified within two weeks of the changes taking place.
- Provide a deadline for the transmission of amendments of European parties’ statutes to the APPF (Art. 9.5). European political parties are required to provide any amendments to the documents or statutes submitted as part of the application for registration. However, no deadline is provided for this submission. For instance, amendments could be submitted within two weeks of their adoption.
For the APPF and European Parliament
- Ensure the timely publication of donations ahead of European elections (Art. 32.1). Article 20.3 requires that donations received by European parties within six months of European elections be reported on a weekly basis to the APPF. However, no deadline is provided for the publication of these donations by the APPF. Given the political importance of electoral campaigns, this accelerated reporting by European parties should be matched by an accelerated publication by the APPF, in order to provide voters with relevant information in a timely manner.
- Ensure the timely publication of high-value donations (Art. 32.1). Article 20.4 requires that single donations above €12,000 accepted by European parties be immediately reported to the APPF. However, no deadline is provided for the publication of these donations by the APPF. In line with the recommendation above, this accelerated reporting by European parties should be matched by an accelerated publication by the APPF, in order to provide citizens with relevant information in a timely manner.
- Provide a deadline for the publication of documents by the APPF and the European Parliament (Art. 32.1 and 32.2). Transparency measures, listed in Article 32, require the APPF and the European Parliament to publish information regarding European political parties, their public funding, the donations and contributions they receive, or their list of member parties. However, while deadlines often exist for the provision of this information to the APPF and Parliament, no deadlines exist for the publication of this information by the APPF and Parliament. As a result, the APPF has routinely taken close to a year to provide complete information on donations and contributions. While some disclaimer might be needed, where relevant, to say the information is under review, the APPF and Parliament should have fixed and short deadlines for the publication of this information.
- Provide a deadline for the publication of the annual report of the Director of the APPF (Art 6.10) The Director of the APPF is required to submit an annual report to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission on the activities of the Authority. This report should be made public within a week of its communication to the recipient institutions.
Reporting of financial information
- Ensure that contributions by individual members are properly reported to the APPF (Art. 20.2). For their reporting on donations and contributions, European parties are required to "transmit a list of all donors with their corresponding donations, indicating both the nature and the value of the individual donations." This "also [applies] to contributions made by member parties of European political parties". This phrasing creates a loophole, whereby contributions by individual members are not reported by European parties to the APPF.
- Remove the €1,500-3,000 donation category for which written consent is required for the reporting of information by European parties (Art. 20.2 and 32.1). Currently, information on individual donors is provided for annual donations over €3,000; by contrast, annual donations under €1,500 are reported together as "minor donations", with only their number and total amount. For annual donations by individual donors between €1,500 and €3,000, information on donors is published if donors provide their written consent. To this date, no information has ever been reported for such amount. Since it is unlikely that no individual donor has ever made an annual donation ranging from €1,500 to €3,000, it seems that no donor has ever given its consent. As a result, the effective threshold for information to be published on individual donors is €3,000. For purposes of clarity and simplicity, this bracket should be removed.
- Lower the threshold for the reporting of information on individual donors and contributors to €500 (Art. 32.1). Following up on the previous recommendation, the threshold of annual donations at which detailed information is made public on individual donors and contributors should be lowered to €500, instead of the current €3,000.
Additional reporting requirements
- Publish a permanent record of European party's MEPs and member parties (Art. 32.1). The European Parliament is required to publish an updated list of MEPs who are members of a European political party. Likewise, it is required to publish a list of legal persons who are members of a European political party -- mostly notably, national political parties. However, these documents, published yearly, often replace the information of the previous year, making it difficult to track the evolution of European parties' membership.
- Ensure the publications of European parties’ applications for funding (Art. 32.1). Every year, European political parties apply for European public funding. While this mechanism should preferably be abolished, European parties' applications for funding do contain useful information on measures taken by European parties. As a result, they should be made publication following their submission to the European Parliament.
- Ensure that the result of due diligence measures by European parties is always shared with the APPF. The current review of Regulation 1141/2014 introduces due diligence measures to be conducted by European parties on all their donors. The result of these due diligence measures must be shared with the APPF upon request. Since the proposed text already requires European parties to conduct these verifications, their result should automatically be provided to the APPF . This would remove the need for specific requests and streamline the verification work of the APPF.
- Ensure the provision of information in machine-readable data (Art. 32.1). While a certain amount of information is required to be made public by the APPF and the European Parliament, the analysis of this information is made complicated by the format it comes in. Most information published by the APPF and European Parliament is only provided in PDF format, and even recent file are not easily exportable to machine-readable formats. Instead the APPF and European Parliament should ensure that machine-readable versions are made public (if needed, alongside PDF versions).
- Make the APPF responsible for transparency measures and ensure that its website is the single point for information on European parties (Art. 32.1). Regulation 1141/2014 requires that "the European Parliament [...] make public, under [its] authority or under that of the [APPF], on a website created for that purpose" specific information on European parties (emphasis added). However, the European Parliament and the APPF both publish information, based on their respective roles, on their own websites. As a result, information on European parties is scattered and difficult to find, instead of being provided, as requested, on a single website created for that purpose. Since the website of the European Parliament is clearly not made solely for the purpose of European parties (which are extra-parliamentary bodies), the website of the APPF -- whose entire mission related to European parties -- should be the single recipient of all the information and documents made public under Regulation 1141/2014.
- Give a mandate of public information to the APPF (Art. 6). Beyond the information that must be made public under Regulation 1141/2014, European citizens' knowledge of their common parties should be actively promoted, albeit in a non-partisan manner. For this, the APPF should be given a mandate to provide public information, and provided with sufficient funding to carry out this mission. This would address the current situation where the APPF only publishes the bare minimum information. Instead, this would encourage the APPF to publish contextual and historical information, including using infographics and visualisations, ranging from the funding of European parties to the results of European elections.