Public system for funding political parties and parliamentary groups in an autonomous region’s regional parliament
Rules issued by regional entities
Political party subsidies
Powers of autonomous regions
RULING Nº 376/05
8 of July of 2005
Only since 1979 have the subsidies paid to political parties been regarded as a means of financing the pursuit of their specific aims, and it was not until after 1998 that the subsidies acquired the exclusive character of a means of funding the activity of political parties, hence the performance of all their social and political functions.
Parliamentary groups have gained a legal and political significance in that their functions have turned them into indispensable instruments for ensuring the proper functioning of modern legislative assemblies. Indeed, the legislative or other work done by parliaments is entirely conceived on the basis of parliamentary groups.
Concerning the legal nature of parliamentary groups, even if these are considered to be "organs of the political parties" (or "independent public entities", "public law associations" or "private law associations vested with public functions"), and to be legally associated as party organs and as State organs, it must be acknowledged that their activity serves a variety of functions. Accordingly public funding, besides allocating the resources needed to carry out most of their party-political activities, should allow this very process to further specifically parliamentary activity - technically, substantively and legally distinct.
It is evident from all consideration of the nature of parliamentary groups that the performance of parliament's functions is made possible and effective through the decisive contribution of their activity in a legislative assembly. Moreover, even if parliamentary groups and representations have a relationship of political dependence with the parties, they are invariably recognised as possessing a functional independence within the parliamentary institution based on parliamentary powers in their own right.
I. The Minister of the Republic for the Autonomous Region of Madeira had requested a preventive verification of the constitutionality of the provisions made in the regional legislative decree on "Modification of the institutional structure of the legislative assembly", considering that the sums of money allocated in accordance with those provisions constituted subsidies paid by the legislative assembly of the Autonomous Region of Madeira to the parties represented within it. The Minister contended that:
a. the subsidies took the form of public funding of parties as they were for the pursuit of party objectives;
b. such funding should comply with the rule prohibiting regional parties;
c. insofar as they constituted funding of political parties and had direct bearing on their legal and constitutional status, the sums of money referred to in the provisions at issue were a matter within the exclusive remit of the national parliament;
d. it was in any event doubtful that there existed any regional peculiarities or specificities warranting such a significant difference in treatment between the parliamentary groups of the regional legislative assembly and those of the national parliament and consequently justifying a departure from the conditions required by the principle of equality;
e. nor did the regional enactment at issue contain any patent substantive justification for legislative provision not on an equal footing with that which obtained at a national level and not contemplating such positive discrimination as might be desirable for political parties with limited parliamentary representation.
As to the payment of subsidies by the legislative assembly, the arrangement whose constitutionality was challenged had the following characteristics:
a. a subsidy paid to parties with only one sitting member and to parliamentary groups to enable them to pay for the use of offices staffed by selected, appointed, licensed and qualified personnel, taking the form of an annual amount separate from expenditure on social charges for the staff members of the offices of parties and parliamentary groups, which expenditure was defrayed directly by the regional legislative assembly;
b. a monthly subsidy paid to the parliamentary delegations in respect of expenses incurred for assistance, contacts with the electorate and other activities carried out under the respective mandates.
II. The Constitutional Court did not find the impugned provisions at variance either with the constitutional framework defining the machinery of self-government and administrative autonomy, particularly as concerned the legislative powers which had been assigned to the autonomous regions, or with the principle of equality. Furthermore, given the constitutional legislator's decision to vest legislative assemblies of autonomous regions and, correspondingly, their component parliamentary groups, with the power of a legislative body as provided by the Constitution for the national parliament "subject to the necessary adaptations", naturally affected by the political and administrative statute of self-government granted to the regions, it must be accepted that the legislator of the autonomous regions had a degree of discretion for normative and constitutive purposes.
However, since regulation of the matters at issue was essentially dependent on the policy options taken by the constitutionally empowered legislator in establishing the levels of the subsidies, founded on the legislator's assessment of the scope for collecting revenue and defraying official expenses or of the expediency of borrowing, from the standpoint of proportionality, the Constitutional Court's review in these matters could only be at a manifest level.
In conclusion, the Constitutional Court decided not to declare unconstitutional the provisions at issue, made in the regional legislative decree on "Modification of the institutional structure of the legislative assembly" passed by the legislative assembly of the Autonomous Region of Madeira on 17 May 2005.