Transnational Parties: what future?

Article published on Oct. 25, 2002
community published
Article published on Oct. 25, 2002

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A response to Benjamin Zyla's article, 'The transnational party jungle'.

In his last article Benjamin Zyla, an old debating partner of mine, raised a question that I can not let go! That question was "Are European Parties Transnational parties?'

He promptly answered giving his reasons and explaining that European Parties cannot be parties in the "conventional" sense because:

1) they do not fulfil any of the Weberian criteria (methodological, abstract criteria) used to recognise a party;

2) they have not emerged from a milieu where supporters and voters have grown up;

3) they do not recruit their political personel from the EU but from national levels, following national parties and national political interests.

Moreover, Mr.Zyla stressed the point that EU parties do not run for government, they only have a consultative status.

In this way EU parties can only be seen as "Interested associations of people, but also of companies, other interest groups, scientific staff and so on. But they are not parties in the original sense" Or, "EU parties are parties of clients, but not parties with a large amount of members".

I find this analysis rather surprising. Mr.Zyla started trying to understand whether EU parties are Trans-national parties and ended up concluding that EU parties are not even parties "in the original sense" - which makes sense - how could an pan-European party fit the traditional mold?

Are "EU parties" parties?

I understand the explanation given by Mr Zyla and I believe that there is something true in what he said.

EU parties are not parties YET, but they will be when EU reforms (called for by several members) are implemented, when the European Convention will actually start giving us a background to work with.

Still, consensus is missing, along with recruitment at the European level. Moreover, EU parties (like the European Popular party) are only aggregates of national parties.

This is not how the system works, and European members of Parliament know it.

EU parties must be reformed and start becoming real parties, proposing political programmes and attempting to start the Europeanisation of their programmes, interests, and the questions they answer.

At this moment in time it seems that EU parties are only the final resort for national interests.

Before investigating this peculiar topic further, I would like to write a last small comment on Mr Zyla's article.

I find that Mr Zyla is mistaken on the basic assumption of the debate. His article states that EU parties cannot be Transnational parties because they are not even parties. I would suggest a change to the basic assumption behind this idea, and from now I will use this article will assume this new assumption:

1) European parties are not parties but they will be when the EU gains a political identity.

2) Transnational parties are globalised parties.

Since the first point has already been discussed, we will move on to the second point. Firstly I wish to present the general background to the subject.

The Globalisation process:

Two crucial matters that accompany the process of globalisation are the new questions about society that the process raises, and how to change the political system in order to cope. Globalisation is exactly what it says - worldwide. Today we see the globalisation of cultures, markets and numerous other areas. Some fight against this process, others simply debate it, a few actually try to understand it. We live in a globalised Western world which on one hand is going to diversify the questions people are asking, but which on the other is going to concentrate all the protest movements. We therefore end up with different levels to be discussed by politicians - levels that change depending on whether you are discussing Civil Society, the business world or international institutions.

Political parties do not yet fit into this new reality. They did not react to Seattle protesters, nor do they react to decisions of International organisations or to the reform of the United Nations. They do not have a well structured political response as yet. Events run very fast and bureaucratic political parties could not find space for understanding what was happening. Right now, they are behaving like historians: They let the events happen, they write on them and then, finally, they study them. No decisions are taken, no responsiblities are undertaken.

Most parties today are not able to keep up with the different questions coming from all over the world: the digital divide, environmental problems, direct democracy, Eco-capitalism, the new economy, e-society, global governance, the future of the economy, third world debt... In a nutshelss, they can't keep up with globalisation.

Why do they not react? Because they have never experienced such problems and they have never gained the necessary experience to handle these demands.

National levels were enough... Why lose time with Inter and Supra national questions? But nowadays, the world requires new politics and new policies to be implemented neither by European parties nor by National based parties - we need new political subjects.

The International Institutions

The basis of the need for transnational parties today is the chaos surrounding international organisations. NATO, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and many others - including the UN - are today accused of being undemocratic and not to disrespectful of interests other than those of business and transnational corporations. Also, the major financial contributors to these institutions are the ones who put economics first on the agenda and not politics.

The Seattle Movement, which I would label a "Say No" Movement, has a cause which is more about denial than suggesting new solutions, although they have put new items on the agenda, and nobody can deny the importance of having a constructive dialogue with this new platform, because they are so strong. They are also, in one sense, transnational.

This could well be the precursor movement that will bring us closer to achieving transnational parties. But first they need to get rid of Marxism, Catholicism and left wing Radicalism. International institutions along with many national governments are today making a huge effort to create global governance, where transnational interests can be decided at the international level. What is going wrong is that where on one hand there is a willingness to create a Transnational politics, on the other hand national governments do not want to risk losing their sovereignty.

International institutions are the prototypes of the governments of the future, but they are still incomplete. They are indeed overly bureaucratic in their organisational structure, and national interest-based in their best practices. Moreover, multinational companies rule these organisations making attitudes to them cynical and non-solidaristic.

The need for Transnational parties

Thus we arrive at the basic idea of this article: the need for transnational parties. This long introduction was necessary to explain my ideas on the necessity of a new system based on multiple choices and different political systems. We need now to go back to the general assumption made above: transnational parties are globalised parties, and we have to demonstrate this. Moreover we need a definition of a transnational party, the background in which transnational party can exist and their future role in civil society.

A definition:

Mr Zyla, in his article, defined transnational parties as follows:

"Parties that do not focus only on domestic politics, but on on the International political Market (the Market of political ideas at the supranational level). Parties are run at the transnational level for elections, recruiting elites and attempting to represent the will of people".

I am broadly in agreement with this definition, but I find that something is missing or, maybe, something is added that should not be taken into consideration right now: the focus on domestic politics. This is something that today's parties already do and to limit the idea of transnational parties to their capacity to focus on the national and supranational levels is absurd. However, the idea of transnational parties recruiting elites, participating on the supranational level in elections and articulating the will of people is absolutely right.

This is one of the goals for parties from all categories and I think that a transnational party should do just that. The point I do not agree with is the focus on domestic politics. What kind of party could be coherent when its politics differ between the national and international levels? How can the interests of the national economy and the European economy be reconciled? How to solve the infrastructure problem of a country starting from the International arena?

These and many more are the problems that we encounter when speaking about one organisation (a party) for both national and international levels. So far, this kind of system already works and is used by the Radical party and the International Socialist organisations. But this is not the point. I foresee a system where national parties serve only national (and above all local) interests, not entering into the international questions. These have to be answered, instead, by elites elected by all citizens of the world, using the new technolgies offered to us and with the particpation of civil society, business, transnational parties, consumer organisations and international governmental organisations - like the United Nations. This could be seen as a renewed form of corporatism, free from fascist ideas and the totalitarian aspects of life. The consociative must be mixed with the corporatist, the whole thing helped by the Internet in order to be efficient and quick. Trans-national parties must be actors in the decision-making system - the consultants, the experienced bodies.

So, a new defintion:

A transnational party is a party that articulates and aggregates interests, wills and political views at an international level. It participates in and interacts with other forms of active politics. A transnational party elects the Global government during International elections.

Trans-national party and the Global Governance

The only organisation that can be reformed to fulfil the definition of a transnational party system is the United Nations. This could be reformed into a new government to be elected by the citizens of the world through international campaigns. The first actor to choose elites and candidates for such a government would be transnational parties.

How can this be achieved?

The first step is to change todays political class. Our poltical class, at European Level expecially, is old-fashioned and small-minded. It does not really foresee the role of new technologies in the communication revolution and does not welcome change... in order to change everything, everything must change, as somebody once said. And what is meant by everything?

Educating the new generation on the challenges presented in a free world.

Training youth to use technology in the best and most efficient way: setting a technological agenda!

Dialogue with civil society.

Getting back to the grassroots.

These are the main ingredients in the recipe for a change in peoples' minds!

The next questions that need answering are:

What is Europe doing in order to achieve these targets?

What is Europe planning for the future?

What are parties going to work on?

Who is taking the responsibility to elaborate new strategies for the global problems encountered so far?

These questions are so far unanswered. When the fathers of the European Union decided to buy this new toy, Europe, I have a feeling that they forgot to read the instructions.