An overwhelming majority of MEPs from across the political groups voted on 29 March in favour of tougher controls. The vote reflected wide dissatisfaction with the recent payment of more than a quarter of a million euros to a group of extreme right-wing parties.
The Parliament's senior management allocated €289,266 to the European Alliance of National Movements (EANM) on 13 February. Among the seven members of this grouping are the nationalist and highly populist British National Party, France's Front National and Hungary's Jobbik, all of which have repeatedly been branded as xenophobic.
The grant, agreed by the Parliament's 20-member bureau, led by the Parliament's president, provoked sharp criticism when it became public a month later.
Helga Trüpel, a German Green MEP, said that these parties presented a sort of “new fascism that we don't want to subsidise”. She said that Jobbik was anti-Semitic.
Claude Moraes, a UK Socialist MEP, accused the BNP of “views which are undemocratic, such as repatriation of part of the population”.
An EU regulation dating from 2003 governs funding of political parties, and there is now strong pressure from MEPs for the European Commission to propose a revision. Andrew Duff, a UK Liberal MEP, has called for tougher criteria for qualifying for funding. At present, a political party is eligible if it has members in the European Parliament or a national or regional parliament or a regional assembly in a quarter of the 27 member states. But a party can consist of as little as one individual member in each country – a threshold that Duff terms “absurd”.
A Commission spokesman said a proposal on the legal framework of European political parties and foundations is already planned for September, although it will not specifically address access to funding. The current rules already provide for the Parliament to check on respect of the conditions for funding, he said.
Martin Schulz, the Parliament's president, has vowed to “underline the urgency of the revision of the regulation” in his contacts with José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president. He made the undertaking in a letter to Duff, who is also calling for publication of the programmes of European political parties and of the national programmes of their members.
Duff said that MEPs would ask Maroš Šefcovic, the European commissioner for inter-institutional relations and administration, about its plans for a proposal when he appears before the Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on 25-25 April.
The Parliament's rules for forming a political group are already more strict, requiring at least 25 MEPs from seven EU member states. Nationalist parties have failed to form a political group in the Parliament because they have not been able to reach the required number of MEPs.
Duff also accuses the bureau of nodding through the decision to fund the EANM without due appraisal. He is urging it to be stricter in applying the Parliament's own rules, which require parties to respect “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”.
Counter-accusations have emerged that MEPs are seeking to deny funds to parties with political views they do not like. Daniel Hannan, a UK Conservative MEP, said on 28 March that regardless of the views of the parties in the EANM, “under the rules they plainly qualify” for funding. It was unacceptable, he said, that “recognition of a political party becomes dependent on the votes of its rivals”.
But the criteria are themselves subject to interpretation. Duff claims to have no objection to the funding of nationalist parties, but to “racism and xenophobia”. And Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group, insisted on targeting parties that “strongly violate European values”, rather than parties that are anti-European.
In 2012, the centre-right European People's Party will receive a €6.48 million grant, the Party of European Socialists €4.32m, the European Liberal Democrat and Reforms Party €1.95m, the European Green Party €1.33m and the Alliance of European Conservatives and Democrats €1.29m.