A key feature of the European Parliament (EP) is that its members sit not by country delegation, but by transnational political groups, sometimes referred to as political party families. This arrangement is meant to foster pan-European solidarity. As a result, national-level political parties in European countries tend to associate with similar-minded peers in other countries under the umbrella of European political parties. In the EP, these European political parties can further choose to affiliate with each other to form a political group. If their delegation is large enough, with at least 25 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from seven EU countries, a European political party can form its own political group, making it eligible for funding and representation in European institutions.
Currently, there are ten officially-registered European political parties (further affiliated into seven political groups in the EP), which count national-level political parties as their local affiliates but are regulated at the EU-level. Many also allow political parties from countries outside the European Union to join as members. Several political parties in Armenia have taken advantage of this opportunity to deepen international cooperation and assist with parliamentary diplomacy.
Armenia had 84 registered political parties as of 2019; however, the vast majority remain inactive, even during election campaigns. Since the December 2018 parliamentary election, the National Assembly actually has six different political parties represented but they are better known by the three parliamentary groups (also known as factions or caucuses) that they form. The My Step Alliance parliamentary group consists mostly of members from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party but also includes four members of the Mission Party and one member, Shirak Torosyan, of the Powerful Homeland Party, whose primary issue is the condition of Armenians in the region of Javakhk/Samtskhe-Javakheti in Georgia. In 2017, the Mission Party ran under the Tsarukyan Alliance, together with Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia Party and the Alliance Progressive Centrist Party, both of which are still represented in Parliament. The sole member of the Alliance Progressive Centrist Party, Tigran Urikhanyan, continued to sit with Prosperous Armenia until earlier this year, when he left the caucus. The third-largest parliamentary group is Edmon Marukyan’s Bright Armenia Party.
Other political parties in Armenia that have held seats in Parliament in the recent past include the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), the Armenian National Congress, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun Party, the Country of Law Party, the Heritage Party, and the Republic Party (distinct from the RPA). New political parties registered after April 1, 2017 have their by-laws and platforms available on the Ministry of Justice website.
European People’s Party (EPP)
With 182 MEPs in the European Parliament, the largest European political party is the European People’s Party (EPP), which has a center-right ideology that can be described as compassionate conservatism, owing to its roots in Christian democratic thinking. It is firmly committed to the further integration of European Union countries. The last three Presidents of the European Commission, dating back to 2004, have all been members of the EPP.
The EPP was formally established in 1976. Today, its member parties include Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (led by Chancellor Angela Merkel), France’s Les Républicains (founded by former President Nicolas Sarkozy), Sweden’s Moderate Party, Spain’s Partido Popular (People’s Party), formerly led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Georgia’s United National Movement party, founded by Mikheil Saakashvili, among others.
In 2012, three Armenian political parties were admitted to the EPP as observer member parties. They were the then-ruling Republican Party of Armenia, led by Serzh Sargsyan, its coalition partner Country of Law Party, led by Artur Baghdasaryan, and the opposition Heritage Party, led by Raffi Hovannisian. However, the Country of Law Party is no longer listed on the EPP website as a member. All three parties are also members of the Centrist Democrat International.
The next year, Sargsyan and Hovannisian faced off against each other in the 2013 presidential election, in which Sargsyan was re-elected. Both current Armenian affiliates participated in a recent EPP Eastern Partnership Leaders’ Meeting held by teleconference on June 17, 2020, in which they advocated for support to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Soon after the conference, through its official Twitter account, the EPP criticized Armenia’s adoption of constitutional changes regarding the Constitutional Court, a measure that both current Armenian affiliates have openly opposed. In November 2019, Serzh Sargsyan used the EPP Congress in Zagreb, Croatia as the setting to issue his first public criticism of the Pashinyan administration since the Velvet Revolution in 2018.
Ties are also maintained between Armenia’s Luys Foundation, founded by Serzh Sargsyan, and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a foundation associated with Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party.
Party of European Socialists (PES)
With 154 MEPs, the second largest political group in the European Parliament is the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), consisting of the Party of European Socialists (PES). It is the center-left establishment counterpart to the EPP and its ideology is based on democratic socialism, reducing inequality and increasing European integration.
Socialist parties worldwide have a long history of associating with each other beyond national borders. As far back as 1866, a congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (retroactively called the First International) was held by French, German and Swiss representatives, where they decided to jointly advocate for an eight-hour workday. The organization later split but was succeeded by the Second International in 1889, which declared May 1 to be International Workers’ Day. It was after World War I and the establishment of the Soviet Union that the socialist movement split between the radical Communist International (Comintern, or the “Third International”) and the democratic Labour and Socialist International (LSI), which included, among others, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany, the Labour Party of the UK, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) representing Armenia, despite the country being ruled under the Soviet Union at the time.
The LSI was succeeded by the Socialist International (SI) in 1951. The PES first formed as the European subsidiary of the organization in 1957 under the name “Socialist Parties of the European Community.”
In 1996, the ARF rejoined the SI and is currently an observer member of the PES. Almost all socialist parties adopt the color red as a symbol of the bloody conflicts from which they originated, before making change through democratic channels was feasible. Other current PES members include the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey, the ruling Georgian Dream party in Georgia and the Parti Socialiste in France.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, a foundation associated with Germany’s SPD, operates a branch office in Yerevan. In 2017, it funded an Independence Generation Youth Study in Armenia.
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE)
With 108 MEPs, the third-largest political group in the European Parliament is now called Renew Europe and consists of both the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party and the European Democratic Party (EDP). The political group used to just be called the ALDE Group but the name change in 2019 was triggered by the inclusion of France’s new Renaissance candidates, led by President Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche! party.
The ALDE is a centrist, pro-EU party that adheres to liberalism. Whereas the adjective “liberal” has a left-wing connotation in North America, the word describes an emphasis on free markets and light-touch regulation in Europe. It also encompasses a philosophy of personal liberty with respect to social issues.
The Liberal International was founded in 1947 with the adoption of the Oxford Manifesto. Its member parties have formed a liberal parliamentary group in the EP since the first direct elections in 1979. In 2004, the European Liberal Democrat and Reform (ELDR) Party was officially registered as a European political party. In 2012, it changed its name to the ALDE Party. ALDE member parties include Sweden’s Center Party, Germany’s Free Democratic Party (FDP), the UK’s Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) and Azerbaijan’s historically-significant Musavat Party.
The Armenian National Congress, led by Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, has been a full member of the ALDE since 2016. The Bright Armenia Party, led by Edmon Marukyan, had long sought to join. Following their third-place finish in the December 2018 parliamentary election, they were admitted to ALDE as an associate member. Neither of the two parties has joined the Liberal International, which includes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada.
The Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung for Freedom is a foundation associated with Germany’s FDP. Back in 2015, it held a conference in Yerevan on deepening NATO-Armenia cooperation.
European Democratic Party (EDP)
The European Democratic Party (EDP) is the junior partner in the Renew Europe political group. It shares ALDE’s centrist ideology and pro-EU stance, while recognizing the need to reform EU institutions to be more citizen-centric. Its member parties are less well-known and include the Mouvement Démocrate in France, which endorsed Emmanuel Macron for President. The EDP does not have any Armenian affiliate party.
European Green Party (EGP)
The European Green Party (EGP) forms a joint political group with the European Free Alliance called the Greens-EFA group, which is the fourth largest in the European Parliament, with 74 members. The European Greens prioritize environmental policy and combating climate change. They typically also oppose nuclear energy and are supportive of women’s and LGBT issues. It is customary for green parties to have two co-leaders, one male and one female. The 2016 resolution in Germany’s Bundestag recognizing the Armenian Genocide was introduced by the German Green Party and championed by its co-leader at the time, Cem Özdemir, who is of Turkish descent.
Armenia has organized environmental groups, most notably blocking access to the Amulsar gold mine, and there is a registered Green Party of Armenia (GPA), although it is not listed as an official local affiliate with either the EGP or the Global Greens. Its full name is the Green (Social-Ecological) Party of Armenia and it has been led by Armenak Dovlatyan since 1999. Dovlatyan was the sole candidate from his party to be included on the Armenian National Congress alliance candidate list during the 2012 parliamentary election; he was ranked 120th on the list of 123 people and was not elected to Parliament that year. In 2017, the party boycotted the parliamentary election. Following the Velvet Revolution, the GPA formed the Public of Yerevan party alliance together with the GALA Liberal Party to contest the 2018 Yerevan City Council election. The alliance finished 9th out of the 12 registered parties, taking less than 1% of the popular vote. It did not field any candidates in the most recent parliamentary election, which took place later that year.
The Armenian Environmental Front is an activist group independent of the Green Party of Armenia. It has regularly staged protests to block mining projects from proceeding, including the Amulsar Gold Mine.
The Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung is a foundation associated with Germany’s Green Party. It is a funding partner for a literary series with EVN Report. In 2018, it funded a study on the impact of the Velvet Revolution on LGBT rights in Armenia.
European Free Alliance (EFA)
The junior partner of the Greens-EFA group is the European Free Alliance (EFA). This European political party stands to defend the interests of regional peoples, many of which make calls for greater autonomy or even full national sovereignty. Its member parties include the Scottish National Party, Wales’ Plaid Cymru, the Breton Democratic Union, Belgium’s New Flemish Alliance, the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina in Serbia, the Party of the Corsican Nation and the Republican Left of Catalonia, among others. The EFA is the only European political party to include a member party from Artsakh, the Democratic Party of Artsakh. (Although the ARF is active in Artsakh, only its Armenian branch is officially a member of PES.)
Note that breakaway regions hosting Russian military troops (Abkhazia, Crimea, Donetsk, Lugansk, South Ossetia and Transnistria) do not have any political parties affiliated with the EFA.
Identity and Democracy Party (ID)
The next-largest political group in the EP is that of the Identity and Democracy (ID) Party. Whereas all previously-mentioned political groups generally support the European Union project, ID is the home of euroskeptic parties, many of whom want to take their country out of the euro currency zone or even the EU entirely.
The party is relatively new to the European scene and has its origins in the previous political group called Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), which counted the UK Independence Party (UKIP), France’s National Rally, the Freedom Party of Austria, Italy’s Northern League and the Netherlands’ Party for Freedom as members. After the 2019 European Parliament election, where euroskeptic parties saw unprecedented gains, the political group was reformed under the ID banner and included the Alternative for Germany (AfD). This grouping’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and association with xenophobic groups are alarming to their opponents as reminders of darker days in Europe’s history. They are described as right-wing to far-right adherents of the identitarian ideology.
Many individual politicians that belong to the ID party are sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Conversely, online information campaigns originating in Russia aim to sow distrust in the EU, which aligns with the ID party’s objectives.
The group does not have an official affiliate in Armenia; however, there is an upstart anti-globalist group that has registered its own political party. The Adequate Party (Adekvad, in Armenian) started as a Facebook Page by Artur Danielyan, a former member of Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, who later left to lead an anti-Pashinyan social media campaign in June 2018. While putting an emphasis on national and traditional values, the group simultaneously holds a pro-Russia outlook, especially in contrast to its generally anti-Western attitude. It also holds a fiercely anti-LGBT stance.
European Conservatives and Reformists Party (ECR)
The next-largest political group also leans on the euroskeptic side. The European Conservatives and Reformists political group in the European Parliament consists of the eponymous European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Party and the European Christian Political Movement. The ECR has changed its official name several times. It used to be called the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) from 2016 to 2019 and the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists (AECR) from 2009 to 2016. Though its current members are not as extreme as those of the ID party, they are described as national conservatives and generally more socially conservative than those of the EPP. They are opposed to increasing EU integration and prioritize the national sovereignty of their member countries over their own affairs, especially immigration. Although they do not call for the complete abolition of the EU, they wish to limit its reach under the slogan “Doing less but better.”
Current members of the ECR include the UK’s Conservative Party, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) Party, Spain’s Vox Party, the Ulster Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, the Sweden Democrats, Georgia’s Conservative Party and Moldova’s Sor Party, led by businessman-politician Ilan Shor. ECR also has several affiliates beyond Europe, especially in English-speaking countries, including the U.S. Republican Party, Canada’s Conservative Party, Australia’s Liberal Party, New Zealand’s National Party and Israel’s Likud Movement. They also have an affiliate in the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus: the National Unity Party, which is part of the current governing coalition.
Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia Party is the sole member party of the ECR in Armenia. Notably, the ECR’s logo prominently features a lion, which is also the symbol of Tsarukyan’s Multi Group business conglomerate.
European Christian Political Movement (ECPM)
The European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) is the junior partner in the ECR political group. It shares the ECR Party’s euroskepticism and social conservative tendency, and is particularly influenced by faith-based Christian doctrine. Its slogan is “Promoting Christian values in European politics.”
Among its member parties is the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Armenia, which is a minor political party. It was first represented in the 1990 election of Armenia’s Supreme Council and then elected 3 MPs to the National Assembly’s first convocation, following the 1995 election. Throughout this time, Khosrov Harutyunyan was an MP but not a member of the party. In 2003, Harutyunyan came to lead the CDU, making it one of the very few Armenian parties to successfully complete a leadership transition (though it did not have any MPs at the time). In 2012, Harutyunyan returned to the National Assembly as a CDU member, off the Republican Party of Armenia’s proportional candidate list, and was re-elected in 2017. He was not a candidate in the 2018 parliamentary election and the Christian Democratic Union Party of Armenia should not be confused with the unrelated Christian Democratic Renaissance Party, which finished in tenth place in the election that year, with a total of 6,458 votes nationwide.
For clarity, Germany’s CDU party is in the EPP and not the ECPM; it adheres to Christian democracy in a more historical and less literal sense.
Party of the European Left (PEL)
The smallest political group in the European Parliament is the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), whose main European political party is the Party of the European Left (PEL). On the political spectrum, the PEL is more left-wing than the PES and is also described as far-left. Some of its member parties do not hesitate to use the word “communist” right in their name, such as the Communist Parties of Belgium, Moldova, Austria, Spain, France and Italy. In Germany, their affiliate is the Die Linke (The Left) Party, whose foundation is the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, named after a founder of the German Communist Party. The PEL does not have a member party from Armenia.
After independence, the Armenian branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was dissolved; however, a number of “new” communist parties formed, claiming to be the successors of the regime that dominated Armenia for 70 years under Soviet occupation. Among these, the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA) performed the best in elections; it took 12% of the vote in both the 1995 and 1999 parliamentary elections, making it the largest opposition party. It was then shut out of Parliament receiving 2.1%, 0.7%, 1.1% and 0.8% in the 2003, 2007, 2012 and 2017 elections, respectively. It did not field any candidates in the 2018 election.
In Artsakh, the Communist Party of Nagorno-Karabakh (CPNK) similarly continues to operate but without electoral success. In the previous three parliamentary elections of 2010, 2015 and 2020, it received 4.9%, 1.7% and 0.6% respectively; whereas, there is a 5% threshold to gain any proportional list seats.
Neither the CPA nor the CPNK are members of the PEL.
Prospects for the My Step Alliance
Nikol Pashinyan has made it clear that his Civil Contract Party, the senior member of the My Step Alliance, looks beyond “-isms.” It is a big-tent party that draws candidates from different sections of the political spectrum, united in their conviction that Armenia needs to undergo a deep institutional renewal to root out corruption. As such, the Civil Contract Party has not indicated any intention to apply for membership in one of the European political parties. An unintended result, though, is that all the major groupings have a member party in Armenia that is in opposition to the current government.
Individual My Step MPs do make an effort to network with their European counterparts at gatherings such as the sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in order to maintain parliamentary diplomacy. Prime Minister Pashinyan has also forged personal ties with Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau during their visits to Armenia.
European political parties remain, however, another important channel for raising awareness about issues that impact Armenia, sharing best practices in running campaigns and political messaging, and influencing decision-making at the EU institution level.