The European political parties

MEPs in the chamber in Strasbourg Voters are preparing to vote on the new political make-up of the EU.

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This May, millions of voters across the EU will the 751 members of the European Parliament.

Politicians and EU officials are trying to find ways of giving the elections more of a "European" feel, instead of being a set of 28 nationally-based elections.

One of the ways in which this is being done is through promoting the "European Political Parties", some of whom are formally nominating a candidate to be the next president of the European Commission.

The notion of a European Political Party was first formalised in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which in Article 191 states that "political parties at European level are important as a factor for integration within the Union".

Their role has developed on a piecemeal basis over the past two decades, with the most significant milestone being a 2003 regulation that defined what a European political party actually is, and set out rules on funding.

Voters in Slovenia - file pic Will the elections be fought on a 'European' basis - or remain national?

To qualify as a European political party, an organisation must fulfil a number of criteria.

These include observing the founding principles of the EU, such as respect for democracy and the rule of law. The party must also have representation in at least a quarter of all EU member states, either by obtaining at least 3% of the vote in the most recent European Parliament elections, or simply by having national or regional representatives in these countries.

In addition to EU countries, parties from non-EU countries in Europe may affiliate to the European political parties, usually on an "associate" basis.

Since 2004, European political parties have received funding from the European Parliament, in the form of a grant which can cover up to 85% of the party's operating costs.

The rest of the party's expenditure should be covered by own resources, such as membership fees or donations.

A proposal currently going through the European Parliament would see the ceiling on donations raised from €12,000 to €18,000 a year, with all donations above €3,000 having to be publicly declared.

Controversially to some, the new statute for European political parties - which is due to come into effect in 2017 - insists that, to qualify for funding, they must "respect EU values". Critics say this could prevent eurosceptic Europe-wide parties being recognised.

Most of the parties are represented in the European Parliament through the various political groupings, of which there are currently seven.

There are currently 13 European political parties - here is Democracy Live's summary, including their political position and key members.

European People's Party

EPP logo

The main centre-right political group, the EPP finds support in some of Europe's biggest and most historic parties. It follows a broadly pro-integrationist line and a social market economy. The group is primarily divided between the more centrist Christian Democrats (eg Germany's CDU) and the more free-market parties (such as Sweden's Moderate Party)

President - Joseph Daul (France)

Commission President Candidate - Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg)

Number of member parties - 74

Key parties - Union for a Popular Movement (France); Christian Democratic Union (Germany); Fidesz (Hungary); Fine Gael (Ireland); Civic Platform (Poland); People's Party (Spain); Moderates (Sweden)

Party of European Socialists

PES logo

The main centre-left political group follows a pro-European, social democratic set of policies, focused on a mixed economy. Alongside the EPP it contains the bulk of Europe's leading governing and opposition parties.

President - Sergei Stanishev (Bulgaria)

Commission President Candidate - Martin Schulz (Germany)

Number of member parties - 53

Key parties - Socialist Party (France); Social Democratic Party (Germany); Labour Party (Ireland); Socialist Workers Party (Spain); Labour Party (UK)

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe

ALDE logo

Traditionally the most pro-integrationist of all the political groups, the Liberals hold the balance of power in a number of member states and in the European Parliament. The group is split between those parties who promote economic liberalism and small government, and those who focus more on social liberalism and civil liberties.

President - Sir Graham Watson (UK)

Commission President Candidate - Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium)

Number of member parties - 55

Key parties - Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Belgium); Free Democrats (Germany); Fianna Fail (Ireland); People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (Netherlands); Liberal Democrats (UK)

European Green Party

European Greens

Needless to say, this group contains most of Europe's green and ecological parties, although it has increasingly attracted a number of smaller parties that focus more on human rights, civil liberties and providing an alternative to "traditional" parties.

Co-Presidents - Reinhard Bütikofer (Germany) & Monica Frassoni (Italy)

Commission President Candidate - Ska Keller (Germany) & Jose Bove (France)

Number of member parties - 40

Key parties - Les Verts (France); The Greens (Germany); Green Party of England and Wales (UK)

Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists

AECR logo

Formed following David Cameron's desire to leave the EPP, the Conservative group contains parties that follow a broadly eurosceptic line, although to varying extents within the group. The party focuses on promoting inter-governmentalism over supra-nationalism, and pushing for development of free market policies.

President - Jan Zahradil (Czech Republic)

Number of member parties - 17 (plus a number of independent MEPs who have affiliated with the party)

Key parties - Civic Democrats (Czech Republic); Independence Party (Iceland); Law and Justice (Poland); Justice and Development Party (Turkey); Conservative Party (United Kingdom).

Party of the European Left

European Left logo

A group that has been the main vehicle for the "anti-establishment" parties from the left of the political spectrum that have grown up since the eurozone crisis, it also contains some more longstanding parties, such as France's Communist Party and Germany's Left Party. It spans the gauntlet from traditional communist parties through to more ephemeral anti-capitalist and radical groups.

President - Pierre Laurent (France)

Commission President Candidate - Alexis Tsipras (Greece)

Number of member parties - 34

Key parties - Communist Party (France); The Left (Germany); Syriza Coalition (Greece); Left Block (Portugal)

Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracy

MELD logo

One of the more stridently eurosceptic groups, it contains parties from the right of the political spectrum that want to see a halt to further European integration. Although it's associated group in the European Parliament - the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group - contains Ukip MEPs, Ukip is not a member of MELD.

President - Niki Tzavela (Greece)

Number of member parties - 12

Key parties - Danish People's Party (Denmark); True Finns (Finland); Movement for France (France).

European Democratic Party

EDP logo

This small centrist group is one of the most pro-European political parties with many of its member parties pursuing an avowedly federalist agenda. It is based around two of France and Italy's main centre parties, but also attracts a number of independent MEPs, such as Ireland's Marian Harkin.

President - François Bayrou (France) & Francesco Rutelli (Italy)

Commission President Candidate - Officially supporting ALDE candidate Guy Verhofstadt.

Number of member parties - 9 (plus a number of independent MEPs who have affiliated with the party)

Key parties - Democratic Movement (France); Alliance for Italy (Italy); Basque Nationalist Party (Spain)

European Free Alliance

EFA logo

It is among this group that you will find most of Europe's parties promoting more autonomy for various regions - stretching from greater devolution to outright independence. The EFA therefore contains the Scottish National Party and Plaid, and also parties pushing for greater self-determination for places as diverse as Catalonia, Cornwall and the Åland Islands.

President - Eric Defoort (Belgium)

Number of member parties - 40

Key parties - New Flemish Alliance (Belgium); Party of the Corsican Nation (France); Plaid Cymru (United Kingdom); Scottish National Party (United Kingdom)

European Alliance for Freedom

EAF logo

Very similarly named to the European Free Alliance, the European Alliance of Freedom is a eurosceptic right-wing group made up of individual members rather than affiliated parties. However this may change in the lead up to the elections with the party being a more formal grouping of various right-wing parties. The group has already expressly banned the more radical parties, such as Hungary's Jobbik or the British National Party from joining the group.

President - Franz Obermayer (Austria)

Number of member parties - No member parties, instead it is made up of individual members

Key parties - Individual members include Marine Le Pen (France - National Front) and Philip Claeys (Belgium - Flemish Interest)

Alliance of European National Movements

AENM logo

Arguably the most right-wing of the European political parties, the AENM is made up of a mixture of parties and individuals. It formerly contained some members of France's Front National, although many have now moved to the more moderate EAF. The BNP's Nick Griffin is the group's current Vice-President, and it follows a eurosceptic and nationalistic line.

President - Bela Kovacs

Number of member parties - 8

Key parties - Jobbik (Hungary); British National Party (United Kingdom)

European Christian Political Movement

ECPM

One of the smallest political groups the it is made up of socially conservative and Christian-influenced groups. It was founded in 2002 but was not formally recognised as a European political party until 2010. Its two MEPs - both of whom come from the Netherlands - are currently divided between the Conservative and Eurosceptic groups.

President - Peter Oestman (Finland)

Number of member parties - 18

Key parties - Christian Union (Netherlands); Christian People's Alliance (United Kingdom)

EU Democrats

EU Democrats

This group describes itself as "Eurorealist", and does not form along left-right lines, and has had members in Eurosceptic political groupings at both ends of the spectrum of the European Parliament. Like some of the other smaller groups, it attracts individual members as well as formal political parties.

President - Patricia McKenna (Ireland)

Number of member parties - 11 plus a number of individual parliamentarians

Key parties - People's Movement Against the EU (Denmark); June List (Sweden)

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