//European political parties beyond the EU

European political parties beyond the EU

European politics has a significant impact on the political life of non-European countries. Political parties outside the European Union, especially from the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries, actively participate in pan-European party politics and affiliate themselves with European political parties. However, this dimension of EU politics is poorly researched. Rather than being purely ideological, these affiliations serve more of a pragmatic role such as expanding parties’ influence and prestige as well as pursuing internal political goals.

The major European party alliances, like the European People’s Party (EPP), Party of European Socialists (PES), Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) or Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), have members, associate members and observers from non-EU European parties.

While usually, parties across the EU join particular groups based on ideological principles, in the case of EaP countries these linkages are not that clear. Such alliances are not usually based on ideological similarities. By affiliating themselves with pan-European groups, EaP political parties are primarily concerned with gaining ground in internal politics. Patronage networks and alliances built within pan-European parties are oftenused for achieving concessions in national politics and international relations.At the same time, Euro-parties seek to maximise their influence and prestige outside the EU.

Personality-oriented party relationships

The scale of the current relationship between Euro-parties and political parties from EaP nations may be minimal. However, there is room fora vibrant and intense relationship. Cooperation from both ends is dominated by pragmatism rather than ideological and policy proximity. The relationship between European political parties and parties from the EaP are mostly built on personal relationships between local party leaders and Euro-parties, thus forming into “personality-oriented party politics that are embedded in clientelist relationships and oligarchic business circles”.

The largest, “pro-regime” parties of the EU political system, (EPP, PES and ALDE), collaborate with parties from EaP, in facilitating EU strategic goals and common foreign policy. Angelos Chryssogelos, a scholar in this field, argues this is the reason why mainstream parties are active in the EaP and why Eurosceptic parties usually avoid such consistent institutional collaboration with parties outside the EU. While being traditionally fiscally conservative, the EPP has collaborated with “catch-all” populist parties, like United National Movement (UNM) in Georgia. PES in EaP countries have ties or at least have cooperated with, formally left-wing, but oligarch-driven parties. In Moldova, PES affiliated itself with the Democratic Party led by the controversial business tycoon Vlad Plahotniuc, while the Georgian Dream party is led by wealthy businessperson Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Georgia: Unintended left-right division

Out of six EaP countries, Georgian political parties are arguably among the most involved in the European party politics. Mainstream political parties are members of EPP, PES and ALDE. Former ruling party UNM and its splinter Movement for Liberty–European Georgia (MLEG) align themselves with EPP, while current ruling party – the Georgian Dream – has been affiliated with PES. At the same time, minor liberal political parties, like the Free Democrats and the Republican Party of Georgia, are members of ALDE.

Motivations behind transnational party cooperation in Georgia, scholars have identified, as largely pragmatic; parties at the European level are attempting to expand their influence and gain additional supporters. Georgian parties try to us pan-European politics to pursue their internal political agendas. A vivid example of such conflict is the case of Gigi Tsereteli’s election as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCEPA). Tsereteli, a representative of the oppositional MLEG party, was elected as President even though in 2016 the ruling GD party had said it did not support his candidacy as it ‘could cast a shadow on the objective and balanced perception of the OSCE mission results during elections’. Moreover, Euro-parties participate in internal Georgian political affairs in the same way: the EPP facilitated the agreement between MLEG and UNM to cooperate during the upcoming presidential elections in October 2018.

Ukraine: Skewed towards the right and centre-right parties

In the case of Ukraine, parties that align themselves with European-level parties are predominantly associated with centre-right and right-wing parties. It is believed that many left-wing parties that could have potentially been part of left-leaning party unions have been largely discredited and lost popular support since the “Euromaidan” events. In addition, the PES President’s statement during Euromaidan did not contribute to close relations between European socialists and dominant political parties that took leadership in Ukraine in the post-Yanukovych period. Governing parties of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (“Solidarity”), and opposition All-Ukrainian Union (“Fatherland”) have ties with EPP. However, the major criteria for EPP’s collaboration with its Ukrainian sister parties are their popular support and whether the party supports a “pro-European choice” for Ukraine. As for the Ukrainian parties, this is a tool for internal and external legitimacy.

Nevertheless, there is still room for other European political parties to be involved in Ukrainian politics. ALDE cooperates with Civil Position and the European Party of Ukraine, though they are not mainstream political organisations in the Ukraine. PES is not an active presencein Ukrainian party politics, as there are no major centre-left parties.

Moldova: diverse, but politically unstable

Moldovan political parties are largely present on a wider political and ideological spectrum of pan-European party unions. Ideological diversity does not constrain Moldovan political parties from collaborating and forming governmental coalitions that can be resisted by their European sister parties. In order to secure power, EPP member Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) have often collaborated with political parties that are against Moldovan integration with Europe, which has created divisions between PLDM and the EPP

In contrast to Georgia, where major Euro-parties support two different camps of national-level political parties, in Moldova major Euro-parties unanimously support a specific type of political party in order to form pro-European governments in Moldova. The major exception would be the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova who are a member of the Party of the European Left. The corruption scandal involving prominent pro-European politician Vlad Filat, and the election of the pro-Russian Igor Dodon as President of the Republic in 2016 have left a negative footprint for the pro-European future of Moldova.

(Image by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Europeanisation?

In general, the integration of parties across post-Soviet and post-communist Europe in the milieu of Western party politics was implemented in the name of Europeanisation. However, it is believed that this process has only had a cosmetic impact and little in parties has changed since the late 1980s and early 1990s; they have not become ‘more-European’. As political parties in the post-communist world usually lack a coherent ideology, seeking closer ties with pan-European parties has been largely dictated through opportunism rather than ideological affiliations. Exploring this topic in her book, political scientist Maria Shagina describes cooperation between Euro-parties and parties in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine something like joining a prestigious club. Though there were unintended consequences of transnational relationships, such as penetration of EU norms and values, still the initial factors were internal political agendas. In general, the process was driven by narrow goals of interest groups and had more emphasis on personal relations between decision-makers, rather than common or shared values.

Rati Shubladze is a member of the Europe Elects team, and leads on our work on Eastern European politics.

Rati Shubladze (@ratishub) has been part of the Europe Elects team since July 2018 and covers polls from Non-EU member Eastern European countries. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology at Tbilisi State University. Rati’s doctoral research focuses on electoral behaviour in Georgia. He also teaches undergraduate and graduate level research methods classes at TSU. Additionally, Rati is a researcher at CRRC-Georgia.