A Success Story
This year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the European People’s Party (EPP). The undeniable political success of the EPP – the oldest Europe-wide political party – is rooted primarily in the close and fruitful cooperation throughout this period between the European People’s Party and our political group in the European Parliament, the EPP-ED Group.
In discussions, I am often asked whether, and to what extent, the existence of a transnational party influences the success and dynamics of our MEPs‘ political work. In reply, I draw attention to those political groups in the European Parliament – such as the Greens (Greens/EFA) – which operated for a considerable time without a counterpart in the European party landscape, and whose appeal and influence are thus undoubtedly less than that of the EPP-ED Group.
The founding of the European People’s Party in 1976 was the response to a need felt by the Christian Democratic appointed parliamentarians to Strasbourg. From the start of the European unification process, these politicians worked together as a political group in the Common Assembly of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1953 and later in the European Parliament. As the integration process intensified, they felt the need to draw upon the support of a European party organisation. Following the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, the national party leaderships also recognised the political and practical opportunities that such integration could afford.
The positive impact of the Party’s formation was not initially reflected in the number of parliamentary seats gained. After the first direct elections to the European Parliament, the Group lost ground to the Social Democrats. From 1989 to 1994, with a 23 per cent share of the seats (compared to fifty per cent in 1950), the EPP Group held the lowest number of seats for any time in its history. This all-time low was however overcome in the 1990s when the EPP and the Group adopted a new direction, and increased their joint efforts to include and integrate other European centre and centre-right parties. In 1999, the EPP-ED Group became the largest group in the European Parliament for the first time since the introduction of direct elections.
In the course of the years, the EPP and the EPP-ED Group has undergone a transformation from a Christian family that was tailored to fit the „Europe of the Six“ into an open political family encompassing all of Europe and including moderate and lay parties. This transformation process clearly demonstrates that our key strength lies in our ability to adapt to social change and to new circumstances, whilst maintaining our core values and principles based on the Christian image of mankind. In this respect, the cooperation between the EPP-ED Group, which primarily delivers practical policy-based or legislative work, and the EPP itself, whose profile and activities are more long-term in focus and address key strategic issues relating to the development of the Union and society as a whole, is of fundamental importance.
In many respects, thirty years after founding the European People’s Party, the expectations of this cooperation have been fulfilled and synergies greatly increased. In the 2004 European elections – the culmination of our continent’s historic reunification process – our political family was able to achieve a dual success. Firstly, thanks to the preparatory work undertaken by the Party, our Group succeeded in maintaining its status as the largest group in the European Parliament, admitting members from all the new Member States: from the Central and Eastern European countries, Malta and Cyprus. Secondly, with the support of the EPP, a Commission President from our political family was elected. The 2004 European elections and subsequent developments have demonstrated that the EPP-ED Group’s record of success and its ability to shape the political agenda and priorities at European level are due to effective and successful interaction between the Group and the Party.
Today, the EPP-ED Group is the only political group in the European Parliament to comprise of MEPs from all 25 EU Member States. But its political strength does not solely lie in its status as the largest group, with 264 MEPs. Whilst its significant size ensures considerable influence over Parliament’s decision-making processes, the EPP-ED Group’s far-reaching political influence also reflects the fact that decisions are based on common values and a broad transnational consensus.
Ensuring the broad representation of all the EU Member States and a transnational consensus within the Group would not have been possible without the preparatory and programmatic work undertaken in the European People’s Party. Over the years, close forms of cooperation and mutual support have developed, based on strong and manifold political links. These have made it possible for the political family of the European People’s Party to play a part in all the stages of the European unification process, not least in the drafting of a European Constitution in the framework of the European Convention.
Precisely as decision-making within the EU is becoming more challenging due to the larger number of Member States, critical importance is attributed to the EPP’s consensus-finding and pro-active role. We must maintain and strengthen our family’s ability to shape the political agenda. In this context, I will conclude with a number of ideas, which could be taken into consideration, of how to further deepen our successful cooperation in future.
Common values and political links: the basis for effective cooperation
‚March separately, strike together‘: this phrase could vividly describe the relationship between the EPP and the EPP-ED Group. Under the European parties‘ new legal status – which we decisively shaped – the Party and the Group are legally separate entities. But we both work for a common goal of asserting shared values and deepening European integration. This community of fundamental values, with its common political programme, is the real starting point for our manifold links and strong cooperation at the European level. This co-operation is reinforced in practical terms through close personal links. The EPP President, Wilfried Martens, was, for instance, my predecessor as Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, whilst I am the ex-officio Vice-President of the EPP and a Member of the Presidency of the Party.
The EPP draws its identity from a set of core values based on Christianity and a personalised image of mankind – as enshrined in the Basic Programme adopted in 1992 in Athens. In political terms this is reflected in a resolute rejection of the socialist conception where the state dominates. In this respect, the EPP and our Group in the European Parliament constitute an open, Europe-wide political family of the centre, whose identity is based on the reconciliation of what are in fact only apparent opposites, namely freedom and responsibility, market efficiency and social justice, the nation state and Europe.
These principles set forth in the Basic Programme still remain the value set for both the Party and the Group. And here it is important to note that the progressive opening of the Group and then of the EPP – after 1989 and during the course of European Union enlargement – to parties that, in essence, did not come from the traditional Christian Democratic spectrum, has in no way taken place at the expense of our identity. On the contrary, every integration step has occurred in adherence with the principles and objectives enshrined in the Basic Programme. Admission to the EPP is, after all, not only contingent on recognising this Programme and the EPP Statutes, but also accepting democratic decision-making.
The diversity of traditions and the very short history, to date, of some of the newly formed parties in the new Member States inevitably caused tensions within both the Party and the Group. Here the process of agreeing a common programmatic base plays a key role in overcoming differences. As a former EPP Secretary-General put it: ‘Programmatic work is integration work’. Although the Basic Programme of Athens has by no means lost its validity, the EPP is nevertheless engaged in an ongoing programmatic process. Over the last few years the EPP has been very successful in its endeavours, through a variety of working groups and think-tanks, to give utmost priority to democratic debate in the Party, and thus to work towards a common political identity.
Ahead of every EPP Congress, a joint Working Group on „European Policy“ (currently chaired by Wilfried Martens, EPP President and former Prime Minister of Belgium) drafts a comprehensive programme. This happened ahead of the EPP Congress in Brussels in February 2004, with the aim of preparing a comprehensive Action Programme that could be endorsed by all member parties in an enlarged European Union. A similar process is currently under way in advance of the EPP Congress in Rome in March 2006. Its objective is to determine the EPP’s position regarding the debate on the future of the European Union, with the goal of giving fresh impetus to the EU. Under the Rapporteurship of the German CDU politician Peter Hintze, representatives of the EPP member parties, as well as of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, are participating in the drafting of this Congress document, entitled ‚A Europe of Citizens: Priorities for a Better Future‘.
The EPP-ED Group has three representatives in each of the Party’s working bodies and is thus involved in drafting all documents and resolutions – providing a specific contribution by introducing its practical experience of the European legislative process. For example, in preparing the Congress document to be adopted in Rome, the Group has made substantive contributions on the future of the European Constitution and of financing the European Union.
All members of the Group who belong to one of the EPP member parties can attend the EPP Congresses as delegates and have a say on the Party’s political direction and programme. This progressive development of a common political identity, along with the ongoing programmatic work involving the Group, the EPP and its member parties, has been – and remains – a key factor in creating consistency in the work of our political family at European level. This is particularly so for the EPP-ED Group, since the joint work is key to the Group’s ability to play an innovative and effective role in shaping legislation in the European Parliament.
Alongside our political identity, institutional integration and cooperation also provide a major contribution to consistency, cohesion and consensus in our political work. This integration facilitates, beyond the individual member parties, inclusion and coordination at all levels.
The Rules of Procedure of the EPP-ED Group establish in Article 4a a simple but very precise Rule: all the Members of the European Parliament who are members of one of the member parties of the European People’s Party automatically belong to the Group. This rule creates a particularly close link to the Party. Effectively, membership of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament runs through the Party and, consequently, presupposes the recognition of the values and the programme of the EPP. Furthermore, other members of the European Parliament belonging to a party which is not a member party of the EPP may also become members of the EPP-ED Group so long as they subscribe to the political programme of the European People’s Party and accept the Rules of Procedure of the Group (Article 4b).
Finally, Members of the European Parliament, who have become ‚allied members of the Group‘ under Article 5 of the Rules of Procedure, are affiliated to the European People’s Party through the European Democratic Union (EDU), which merged with the EPP in 2002. Starting with William Hague in 1998, the leaders of the British Conservative Party have also attended the EPP party summits. The introduction of Article 5 has thus created an additional possibility to ally with the Group. It enables parliamentary cooperation with those parties whose positions are concordant with those of the EPP members of the Group on most legislative issues, whilst maintaining the right of our allied Members to promote and develop their distinct views on constitutional and institutional issues. The admission under Article 5 of members in the ‚ED part‘ of the Group requires an approval by majority vote of the EPP members of the Group.
The new EPP Statutes, which recently entered into force, also foster close cooperation between the Party and the Group by establishing a range of statutory points of contact. All members of the EPP-ED Group who are elected on the list of an EPP member party are ad personam so-called ‚Individual Members‘ of the EPP. The President of the EPP-ED Group is ex officio a Vice-President of the EPP and a member of the Presidency of the Party, which – bearing in mind that this body meets at least eight times annually – offers an important opportunity for coordination. Furthermore, the report of the President of the EPP-ED Group is a regular item on the agenda of every meeting of the Political Bureau. The members of the Presidency of the EPP-ED Group, the Heads of National Delegations of the EPP-ED Group, and the EPP Members of the Bureau of the European Parliament are also ex officio members of the EPP Political Bureau. Finally, I should add at this point that the number of delegates in the Political Bureau, and the number of votes of the national parties, depends on the number of members elected to the European Parliament.
These numerous links offer scope for an intensive exchange of information and an efficient coordination of political work. Alongside the mechanisms just described, the close practical cooperation between the Group and the Party in the framework of the Party organs is further reinforced through equally close personal and personnel links. During the party’s growth period from 1994 to 1999, for instance, Wilfried Martens held both the post of EPP President and that of Chairman of the Group. MEPs belonging to the Group have always played a key role in the work of the Party. The Vice-President of the European Parliament, Ingo Friedrich (CDU), for example, is the longstanding Treasurer of the Party, whilst the formerSecretary-General of the EPP, Klaus Welle, subsequently became a recent Secretary-General of the EPP-ED Group.
Under one umbrella: Harmonising Party and Group memberships
At first, the Group of the European People’s Party faced a steady decline in the number of its MEPs following the successive enlargements of the European Union. Its political fortunes began to change in 1989 and this process has continued unbroken until today: from 1989 to 1999, there has been an upward trend based on progressively opening to parties beyond the traditional Christian Democratic family. These efforts bore fruit in the 1999 European elections. For the first time, the European Parliament witnessed a clear majority being held by the centre and centre-right parties. The reason why the EPP-ED Group has now emerged as the most politically influential group in the European Parliament is that it has succeeded, in close cooperation with the Party, in uniting the centre and centre-right forces in the European Union – and, looking ahead, in the future EU Member States – within a major people’s party. With this successful policy of openness, which also resulted from an effective interaction between the Party and the Group, the Group was able to acquire its structural capacity to achieve majorities and set a course towards becoming the largest political group.
The joint efforts to integrate new political forces of the centre and the centre-right were successfully carried out both by the Group and by the Party. With the accession to the EPP-ED Group of the Members of the European Parliament of the French Rassemblement pour la République (RPR) in 1999, the French Gaullists set out on the way for their inclusion into the EPP family, which was completed in 2001 with their membership in the Party. Similarly, the good co-operation with the Parliamentarians of Forza Italia within the Group since 1999 led to a membership in the Party. Doubts that had at first been expressed within the EPP on the membership of Forza Italia could be cleared out, not least due to the reliability of the new Italian Members of the Group. The latest example of successful of integration is that of the Portuguese Centro Democratico Social – Partido Popular, whose MEPs are part of the Group since 2004 and have recently joined the EPP part of the Group, whilst the party will soon become an EPP member party.
As before in the case of the 15 ‚old‘ EU-Member States, there was a further need, ahead of the historic accession of ten countries from Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, for renewed cooperation – tailored to the specific political circumstances – and for the integration of the parties of these countries into the EPP and the EPP-ED Group. The preparatory work, undertaken inter alia within the framework of the European Union of Christian Democrats (EUCD) – which has been part of the EPP since 1996 as the Working Group on „Enlargement and EPP Membership“ – was of critical importance for our political family ahead of the 2004 ‚enlargement‘ European elections. During these years, the Working Group on Enlargement became the political forum through which cooperation in the form of seminars, conferences and information exchanges was organised. It thus prepared the ground for the future success of our political family and secured the Group’s position as the largest political group in the European Parliament.
Alongside the work of the EPP, which focussed on party contacts, the EPP-ED Group worked hard as early as the 1994-1999 parliamentary term to establish dynamic convergences at the parliamentary level. The Group established joint working groups with politically close groupings in the parliaments of the candidate countries, as well as latterly, within the framework of the Convention on the Future of Europe. As the national accession referendums approached, the Group stepped up its efforts and developed a comprehensive information and political training strategy for these countries. The 2004 European elections highlighted the success of this political work undertaken in the accession countries, and demonstrated the key importance of a coordinated approach by the EPP and the EPP-ED Group to ensure the dynamics and ability of our political family to secure parliamentary majorities.
As a result of this coordinated process of opening up, which was conducted in parallel by the EPP and the EPP-ED Group – a political Group which embraces all 25 countries of the enlarged EU, the membership of the Party and the Group is in all but a few exceptions the same. In essence, the difference in membership of the Party and Group is limited to the British Conservatives and the Czech ODS, which are members of the Group under Article 5 of the Rules of Procedure of the EPP-ED Group, but not members of the EPP Party.
Practical approaches to successful cooperation
The last thirty years of shared history has resulted in cooperation mechanisms that have created and reinforced the strong links between the Party and the Group.
Political and substantive coordination, as mentioned earlier, is achieved through the framework of the Political Bureau, the EPP Congresses and the five permanent EPP working groups. A further aspect of our unique relationship deserves special mention. The EPP Summits of Heads of Government and Party Leaders, customarily held in advance of the European Council meetings, are particularly important for the coordination of the political work within our family. Here too, the involvement of the EPP-ED Group in the person of its President and of its Secretary-General has proved essential. As the role and rights of the European Parliament progressively strengthen, it makes sense to involve Parliament from the outset, particularly regarding legislative matters, and in relation to institutional or budget-related topics. After all, it is Parliament which must ultimately participate in the implementation of the decisions of the European Council in the framework of the legislative process.
Concrete examples of successful cooperation between the EPP and the Group
Drafting the Constitution for Europe
The cooperation between the Party and the Group, and the relationship between these two key pillars of our political family, does not always follow a prescribed or rigid pattern. Therefore, new and innovative ways of cooperating have been pursued. A good example of this was the successful partnership between the Party and the EPP-ED Group on the drafting of the Constitution for Europe in the framework of the European Convention.
In December 2000, the Nice European Council agreed on the revision of the Treaties in order to prepare the EU institutions for enlargement. However, in the light of past experiences and the conduct of the European Summit in Nice, there was a consensus in the EPP political family that the existing intergovernmental opinion-forming and decision-making process had reached its limits.
The 2001 EPP Congress in Berlin took up the idea, put forward by the EPP-ED Group, for the European Constitution to be drafted by a Convention, akin to the successful model previously established to draft the EU- Charter of Fundamental Rights. The idea gained strength in the political opinion-forming and decision-making process across Europe, with the result that the Laeken European Council in late 2001 decided to convene a constitutional convention.
In response to this decision, the EPP at its Congress in Estoril in 2002 presented a draft constitution for Europe – entitled A Constitution for a Strong Europe – based on a paper produced by Wilfried Martens, President of the European People’s Party, and Wolfgang Schäuble, with substantial input from a number of Group members, and thus became the first European party to present a comprehensive concept for a European Constitution. In short, the Constitution should aim to clarify in a clear, transparent and comprehensible manner the respective competences of the European Union and the Member States, incorporate the Charter of Fundamental Rights on a legally binding basis, and define a new institutional framework for the European Union.
As the national governments‘ prepared for the Convention, the key task became participating and influencing the implementation of this constitutional concept. It was the European People’s Party which seized the initiative and established contact with the Convention members belonging to or associated with the EPP. In February 2002, before the Convention began its work, around forty Convention members with links to the EPP were gathered together under the chairmanship of Elmar Brok, a member of the Convention and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament.
The EPP „Convention Group“ convened for numerous coordination meetings ahead of the Convention’s meetings and also organized five study days at which it focussed in detail on the drafting of a constitutional text. The Convention Group also elected a Praesidium which met before each meeting of the Convention’s Presidency.
Thanks to the close cooperation initiated by the EPP, the Convention Group developed an excellent understanding and, above all, a common political line between the representatives of the EPP Group and the appointed representatives of the national governments and parliaments. Due to the united stance of the Convention Group members in the constitutional assembly large parts of the original document adopted in Estoril are reproduced in the current draft constitution.
Electing the Commission President
A further example of new and successful approaches to cooperation between the EPP-ED Group and the European People’s Party was their influence over the election of the Commission President in 2004.
The nomination of Romano Prodi, a Liberal, by the heads of state and government in 1999, in a process which did not involve the European Parliament and ignored the outcome of the European elections, conflicted with the EPP political family’s endeavours to make the decision-making processes in the European institutions more democratic and transparent. In the EPP’s view, peoples‘ votes in the European elections should also be able to influence the nomination of the Commission President and thus the direction taken by the European Commission. The Commission President should come from the political family that won the European elections.
The need to reflect Europe’s political landscape in the appointment of the new Commission after European elections was widely recognised. The EPP members of the Convention also lobbied successfully for the draft Constitution to contain a clause stating that the results of the elections to the European Parliament must be taken into account in future nominations of the candidate for the Commission Presidency. This demand is now reflected in Article I-27 of the draft Constitution. On its Congress in Brussels in February 2004 before the European elections, the EPP also endorsed a motion for resolution tabled by the EPP-ED Group to ensure that the June 2004 European Council respected the spirit of this article.
However, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac ignored this demand presented by the EPP and proposed Belgium’s Liberal Party Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt as their favoured candidate for the top post in Brussels.
Both the EPP and the Group mobilised substantial opposition to this ‚go-it-alone‘ approach, and the Group utilised its links to Europe’s political leadership level. Representatives of the Party and the Group held individual talks in which they were able to persuade leading figures in the EPP family to support the European People’s Party’s solid case. As a result, at meetings held in advance of the Summit, a number of key politicians openly refused to support Guy Verhofstadt’s candidacy.
The Conference of Heads of Government and Party Leaders of the European People’s Party, customarily held the day before the European Council meeting, offered both the Party and the Group the best opportunity to influence the course of the Commission President’s election process. The meeting in Meise, attended by ten heads of government from the EPP party family, was the appropriate forum in which to agree a joint approach. As the President of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, At the Meise meeting, I emphasised our political family’s demand that after our success in the European elections the Commission President must come from the EPP family.
United behind this common goal, the delegates attending the EPP Summit in Meise agreed to nominate their own candidate for the post of Commission President. On 17 June 2004, just hours before a dinner for the EU heads of state and government at the EU Summit, several heads of government proposed the British Conservative Chris Patten as the next President of the European Commission. Verhofstadt’s nomination was promptly withdrawn due to lack of support and its inability to secure a majority. The quest for a joint candidate had to be restarted, this time in a process which involved the EPP.
The search finally resulted in the nomination of José Manuel Durão Barroso, the then Prime Minister of Portugal, who is a member of the PSD and thus comes from our political family. His nomination was a clear victory for us and was the outcome of the interaction between the Party and the Group.
Strengthening our political family’s ability to set the agenda
All the examples I have cited make one thing clear: as long as there is close cooperation between the Group and the Party – with the Party playing a coordinating role or, at its own initiative, liaising between the EPP’s members parties and the Group – our party family can realise important and substantive European projects. We should pursue this course since it was and remains the pathway to success.
Together we should be playing an active role in the major reforms in Europe, in the constitutional process and in implementing the Lisbon strategy. Likewise, the Party and the Group should be mindful of their strong position when it comes to implementing our policies on individual issues. Even more than before, we must address the major political challenges facing the EU, including the development of a forward-looking energy and resource policy, the issue of the EU’s borders, the Union’s internal and external security, environmental protection, promoting innovation, or our continent’s demographic development.
In view of these increasingly complex challenges, our key task must be to develop new ideas, approaches and solutions. In the globalized 21st century we must expand our structures for opinion-forming and the development of ideas.
The establishment of the European Ideas Network (EIN) in 2002 was an innovative step by the Group to utilise the opportunities afforded by modern communications and networking via the Internet and to promote new thinking beyond the narrower confines of the Party. The EIN is not designed to be a decision-making body. It acts as a platform for fresh ideas and provides a stimulus which can be developed through the party’s programme before feeding into the Group’s legislative initiatives at a later stage.
Joint thematic congresses of the EPP and the EPP-ED Group
One possible option for widening cooperation is to develop strategies on future key topics such as internal security, water shortage or energy policy through joint thematic congresses involving the EPP and the Group. It is particularly important to have good cooperation and coordination within our political family on topics which fall within the scope of the codecision procedure, where Parliament shares legislative power equally with the Council. Joint study days or congresses could be held to offer an early opportunity for decision-makers in the Council, the Commission, the European and the national parliaments as well as the parties, to form joint EPP positions on a specific issue and promote a common position in the further legislative process.
Preparing Council of Ministers meetings
Once a Council of Ministers‘ decision on a specific topic is pending, another option – in the interests of further developing the outcomes of the thematic congresses which I have just described above – would be to offer decision-makers a forum for exchange and coordination at a pre-meeting in advance of the Council meetings.
From the EPP’s side, this informal pre-meeting could involve the relevant specialised ministers belonging to the EPP, the spokespersons on the committees and the rapporteurs from the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament and – if they are allied to the EPP – the relevant Commissioners or cabinet representatives. The Party could thus form a link between the Council and Parliament in the practical legislative work.
Linking the EPP working groups to the European agenda
It would therefore be entirely consistent for some of the EPP working groups, over the long-term, to focus on issues which are suitable topics for thematic congresses. This new emphaisis, combined with stronger input from experts nominated by the national parties, would result in the greater involvement of the working groups in the European agenda and, in turn, enable the European People’s Party to bring its influence to bear more effectively on European decision-making.
The right message
Through our united programme and clearpositions on the major issues in EU politics, we are already sending out the right signals to the Commission and the Council. Through close and coordinated cooperation, I am convinced that the Party and the Group are well on track to further politicise the European decision-making processes and thus make the EU more democratic and accountable.
For thirty years, the EPP and the EPP-ED Group, which can look back on more than fifty years of successful parliamentary work, have led the way at every major stage of our continent’s unification. Through its resolute commitment to a more strongly integrated community based on democratic institutions, and its emphatic support for the enlargement of the Union, our political family has helped to develop and shape European history for half a century.
Our political family offers a credible, coherent and value-based policy programme. Through the interaction between the EPP and our Group in the European Parliament, we are building our strength so that we can assert our political family’s ideas successfully. Conscious of this strength and, above all, trusting in the validity of the values we represent, the EPP family will work resolutely in the years and decades ahead for the further integration of our continent and for the future of all Europeans