Still secluded: Eastern European representation in the EU Parliament.
This year will mark the fifth anniversary since the Czech Republic and nine other post-communist states from Central and Eastern Europe ascended into the European Union. These states are also nearing the twentieth anniversary since their transition from communism to democracy. With these milestones drawing close, it is an opportune time to examine how the political parties from these states function within the European structures of integration.
NEW MEMBERS AND THEIR POSITIONS IN THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
There are 785 representatives in the European Union Parliament (EP) out of which 212 or 27 percent are from the ten post-communist member states. The number and proportion of these "Eastern Europeans" in individual groups within the EP varies significantly. The largest political group--the EPP-ED--is composed of the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats. With 288 representatives in all, about one-third of its members are from post-communist nations--32 percent or 93 representatives.
On the other hand, only 42 representatives (just under 20 percent) belong to the European Socialist party's group PES), while about one-third of the representatives in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) are from post-communist nations--31 representatives from ten different states.
There is only one political group in the EU Parliament in which representatives from the post-communist nations have a majority. This right-wing group is known as the Union for Europe of Nations. After the 2005 elections, UEN had 27 members, out of which 13 (48 percent) came from Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. That percentage has since risen to 59 percent with 20 Polish representatives, four Latvian, and two Lithuanian.
On the other hand, the number of representatives from post-communist states in smaller political groups is a lot less pronounced. The smallest faction, which accounts for 22 members of the EP, has a quarter of its members from these states. The other extreme example is seen in the Greens/European Free Alliance (G/ EFA), which brings together European environmentalists and regionalists. Out of the group's 43 representatives, only two come from countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain: one member represents the Russian minority in Latvia and the other, the Hungarian minority in Romania. The representatives from post-communist states account for less than five percent of their total membership. In fact, neither of these aforementioned representatives belongs to the Green Party, but have regional membership in the European Free Alliance (EFA). As a result, not one "post-communist" Green representative sits in the European Parliament.
From this perspective, the representation of post-communist representatives among European communists is only slightly better. Their EP group, known as the European United Left /Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL), has 42 members; six are from former Eastern block countries.
Eighteen percent of the representatives from the Euro-skeptic group Independence and Democracy (IND/DEM) come from post-communist states. With that said, only eight representatives from the post-communist countries do not belong to any political group but to the ranks of the uncategorized. Eastern Europeans account for 26 percent or a little over a quarter of the uncategorized representatives.
THE EUROPEAN FIFTEEN AND THEIR PLACE IN PARLIAMENTARY BODIES
It is more difficult to find representatives from the former communist states in positions of leadership in the Parliament--this includes the office of president and fourteen vice-presidential positions. Presently, the only Eastern European representatives in the EP are two Poles--Marka Siwiece (PES) and Adam Bielana (UEN). The situation in the Conference of Presidents is even a little "sadder." The CoP, which brings together the presidents from the individual groups, has only one representative from the post-communist nations--Irena Belohorska from the Slovak HZDS. The reality is that no other group has elected a leader from one of the new member states. What more, nor have individuals from the East even been elected into co-chair positions.
In other bodies of the EP, representatives from the post-communist nations occupy only secondary positions within the highest offices. While only one parliamentary term has elapsed since these countries entered the EU (EP elections occur every five years), it is still surprising to find that representatives from post-communist states hold only four out of 23 potential chairmanship seats (among them is Miroslava Ouzkeh, the Czech chairman of the Committee on the Environment (COTE)). In regards to inter-parliamentary delegations, there are only seven post-communist representatives out of 37 (among them, Jana Hybaskova). And, out of the six managers for the Parliament's administrative operations, there is only one, i. e., from Hungary.
If the number of leadership positions determines or reflects a certain level of prestige, then the post-communist states are still significantly underrepresented and underappreciated five years after their accession into the EU. We shall see what happens come June with their second round of parliamentary elections.
EUROPEAN POLITICAL PARTIES AND EASTWARD EXPANSION
Existing alongside the groups in the European Parliament are European political parties that correlate to parties on the national level. These parties began to emerge in the 1970s, as they drew members from specific EU countries. But with the fall of the Iron Curtain, these groups faced competition from more open organizations that accepted members from outside of the EU. For example, the Conservative European Democratic Union (EDU) and the European Union of Christian Democrats (EUCD) began accepting members from the post-communist states after 1990.
Like the other European parties during the nineties, the largest European one, the European People's Party (EPP), needed to come to terms with newly emerging democracies in Eastern and Central Europe and the ambitions of their political parties to join these pan-European political organizations. A statute from the Madrid Congress of 1995 thereby created associate membership for non-EU states within the EPP. Associate members were granted the same rights as EU members, except in regards to policy and decision-making within the EU's institutional arrangements. This statute was first applied to post-communist parties in March 1998.
Throughout the ensuing years, the number of associate members from the East has continued to grow. When the ten post-communist states entered the EU in 2004, eighteen parties were promoted from associate to full membership. In 2007, six associate members were elevated to full membership from Bulgaria and Romania. Out of 49 total members, 24 of them now hail from new member states from the former Eastern block.
Three Eastern Europeans even sit among EPP leadership: Viktor Orban from the Hungarian Civi Union (FiDeSzu), Lojze Peterle from the New Slovenia/ Christian People's Party (NSi) and Jacek Saryusz-Wolski from the Polish Civic Platform. Furthermore, in 1999, the vice president of the EPP was Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezida Michailova, who represented the Bulgarian Union of Democratic Forces (SDS).
PROGRESSIVE EUROPEAN LIBERALS
The most flexible response to the political changes in Europe has come from the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR). In 1991, at the Congress in Poitiers, the ELDR granted associate membership for political parties outside of the EU. In 1997, even this barrier was removed as the EDLR allowed two parties from post-soviet candidate nations to become full members of the group: the Hungarian Union of Free Democrats (SzDSz) and the Citizens' Party (representatives of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia (MOS-MPP)) became the first parties from a post-communist nation to become full members of the ELDR.
While the ELDR granted--long before the first Eastern expansion--full membership for parties from candidate states, today only one such representative sits on the eight-member leadership committee, i.e., a representative from Estonian, Kristiina Ojuland.
The Party of European Socialists (PES) also modified their membership requirements in the late eighties and early nineties. The PES's associate memberships differ from the EPP, however, since PES associate members can only suggest a resolution, but not vote on it.
From its very inception, the European Green Party (EGP) accepted parties from non-EU nations as full members. While the Greens are not faring particularly well in the post-communist countries apart from the Czech Republic and Estonia, a representative from Poland and one from Georgia nonetheless sit on EGP leadership.
STRENGTHENING EASTERN POSITIONS IN 2009
The representatives from the new member states of post-communist Eastern and Central Europe are more prominent in European parties than they are in various groups within the Parliament. It is true, however, that during these first five years of membership the new member-states have tended to play second fiddle. In June of this year, however, the European Parliamentary elections will reveal whether the Eastern European nations have received enough recognition on the European political scene, and whether their "older" partners have accepted them as equal and fair players. So far it doesn't look like this is the case....
FOR FURTHER READING:
Hix, Simon, Abdul G. Noury, and Gerard Roland. Democratic Politics in the European Parliament. (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Jungerstam-Mulders, Susanne. Post-communist EU Member States: Parties and Party Systems. (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2006).
Kesselman, Mark, Christopher S. Allen, Joel Krieger, David Ost, and George Ross. European Politics in Transition, 5th ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
Stivachtis, Yannis A. The State of European Integration. (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007).
The author is a political scientist and editor in chief of the magazine Cevro Revue.
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|Title Annotation:||THE WORLD IN TRANSITION|
|Publication:||The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2009|
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