EU executive body proposes stricter party finance rules

The EU will introduce reforms to curb abuses in party financing for European Parliament elections as it tries to bolster trust in the bloc’s democracy, a senior official said Friday.

The European Commission, the EU executive, announced the plans as part of a drive to increase public support for the European Union following a populist wave of dissatisfaction that led to the shock British vote last year to exit the 28-nation bloc.

“We need a more democratic European Union with policies and spending that better reflect the wishes of our citizens,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said at a press conference in Brussels.

Timmermans said the commission hopes the measures win approval from member states and the European Parliament in time for European elections in 2019.

The changes aim to stop cases where one person or different members of a single national party sponsor more than one European political party, creating a situation where many parties represent the same group of people.

“Some appear to be little more than fronts to extract money from the European taxpayer,” Timmermans said. “This abuse must end and quickly.

“We therefore propose to allow only political parties and no longer individuals to sponsor the registration of a European political party.”

In a bid for greater transparency, the reforms will require national parties’ websites to show the political programme, logo and gender balance of the European party they are affiliated with.

The new rules, he said, would also aim to ensure that funding for European political parties better reflect the true share of each party’s vote in elections to the European Parliament, the EU’s only elected body.

Until now, 15 percent of the total budget is distributed evenly to all parties, however large or small their vote share.

The commission now proposes to allocate 95 percent of the total budget on the basis of voter share in European elections.

He refused to cite specific cases of abuse pending the outcome of investigations.

Timmermans also proposed reforming the European Citizens’ Initiative where the EU is required to respond to a petition on proposal when it is signed by one million citizens from at least one-fourth of the member states.

The reforms calls for simplifying the rules for participation and lowering the eligible age for participation to 16 from 18.

European Monetary Fund

Transforming the euro-area’s bailout fund into a European Monetary Fund is a necessary step and one that could be among the next moves enacted as its members seek to strengthen the currency bloc, Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kazimir said in an interview.

His comments come as European Union finance ministers meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, seek to capitalize on a favorable shift in the political winds to make headway on uniting the bloc. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also renewed support for exploring the possibility of creating an EU monetary fund while meeting with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in Berlin on Friday.

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“There is a broad agreement on many issues, for instance the transformation of the ESM into a new entity with new tasks is a must,” Kazimir said. “It is the primary candidate for a change.”

Finance chiefs at the two-day gathering will discuss different ways to further integrate the remaining 27 members of the region after the U.K.’s departure in an effort to both bolster the economy and to better shield the region from future financial turmoil. The talks come after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker laid out his vision for the future of the EU and as some of the region’s senior figures, including France’s newly elected President Emmanuel Macron, are calling for reform.

“We will have to think about strengthening the European Stability Mechanism in the direction of a European Monetary Fund,” Merkel said to reporters after the Berlin meeting. “I also think that our cooperation will become much more consistent, which is why I haven’t opposed a European finance minister.”

Merkel added that any proposals would have to be attended by sufficient substance but that she was optimistic that, together with the French government, they could find solutions.

“There is a unique opportunity to go forward with the integration of the eurozone,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told reporters on his way into the Tallinn meeting. Citing stronger economic conditions in Europe, Macron’s victory and the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel, Le Maire said in October, they will have “the possibility of pushing integration.”

Still, while many of the ministers echoed his calls for taking advantage of the political situation to move ahead with reforms, some called for caution on how these will affect the EU more broadly.

“The monetary union is the core of a united Europe but at the same time we have the internal market for all 27,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said. “That’s why it was important for us in past years that the European Monetary Union doesn’t split European unity.”

The finance ministers will also discuss ways to develop the economic and monetary union as well as technological innovation in the capital markets and how that affects banking stability.

“The timing is right, the window of opportunity won’t be open for long,” Kazimir said. “After a long period, political cycles of the eurozone’s main players have synchronized.”