It is often claimed, so much so that it has become conventional wisdom, that there is no European political identity because there is no viable European identity. European allegiances and identities are simply too fragmented apparently. If this is the case it follows that there can be no truly European politics because the conditions have not been created. In other words, the problem is that “neither a common history nor a strong future vision that can be collectively or officially recognized as the basic story of a political Europe is available or has been constructed in any European public” (Dr. C. Ritter, ECPR). This is probably true but circumstances may change – are likely to change – provided there is future vision, if the European people are given a choice and if they want such a change. At the moment things are going in the opposite direction. Cheap populists from across the political spectre have acquired influence they could have only dreamed about a few years ago, but this is hopefully an unfortunate blip in a bigger story of shared peace and prosperity that Europe and European Union in particular have, for all their imperfections, undoubtedly delivered.
One relatively small but potentially significant step in fostering pan- European politics is the introduction of individual membership of European political parties. According to the European Parliament definition, European political party is “an organisation following a political programme, which is composed of national parties and individuals as members and which is represented in several Member States” (EU Parliament). These parties are basically groups of ideologically compatible national parties which can hopefully work well together. However, this is not European politics, although these parties may eventually evolve into pan-European political entities. In my view, a truly European political entity is one party with members belonging to their particular national ‘branches’ (French, Italian, Polish etc.), but also comprising of individual members who operate across national borders. This is still sadly lacking in European politics. At most, prominent members of a European umbrella party may come and greet national members during a party congress or before important elections but this is as far as it goes. In order to have truly European politics this has to change.
The first step would be for the biggest European parties to offer individual membership. I have found that only ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) and European Left offer such membership. The two biggest European parties, European People’s Party and Party of European Socialists, do not. This may be due to a lack of the above-mentioned vision for the future, perhaps there is no interest, the national-level politicians may be too self-serving or it could be something entirely different. In any case, this sort of involvement in European politics is non-existent or rather low profile. Although it may seem unlikely now, such pan-European political activism may become quite common in, say, twenty years.
The logical first question is what the individual members would do. As I see it, they could provide new perspective and fresh ideas to national parties in general and to stagnant traditional parties in particular. They could help campaign on important European issues. Some members may be passionate about European politics and do not want to be limited to one member state. They are bound to find their audience because good communicators will always be able to engage the public regardless of where they are from and what their first language is. In today’s Europe English is widely spoken and using it would not represent a problem in most member states. Furthermore, by engaging directly with voters all over EU individual members may foster a sense of belonging to ‘political Europe’. In all these cases individual, transnational membership of European political parties would be a perfect vehicle.
Not everything is likely to be rosy of course. People do not want their own politicians, let alone foreign ones, meddling in their business (this would be especially the case with somewhere like Britain, which is of course leaving the EU). But this is something for future new European politicians to reckon with.
To sum up, individual membership of European political parties represents a natural way to bring together politicians and the electorate at a European level and create truly European politics. It seems strange that European parties are not promoting the concept much more vigorously. In my view they definitely should.