Fringe, populist and Eurosceptic parties attracting highest proportion of donations across EU

Donations to Sinn Féin in Ireland increased every year between 2019 and 2022.

By Muiris O'Cearbhaill

 Noteworthy and The Journal logos, with arrows and a rolling euro design.

FRINGE, POPULIST AND Eurosceptic parties are attracting increasingly higher proportions of political donations across the EU, a pan-European investigation has found.

The analysis comes ahead of the European elections next week, where a surge of anti-European, populist candidates are expected to top polls – which has spiked fears that many European values will be left behind during the next Parliament’s term.

Data collected as part of a major investigation found that political funding of parties on the fringes in the EU is consistently rising, unlike mainstream parties who have experienced funding fluctuations. 

Noteworthy also found lapses in clarity relating to requirements to declare political donations. This cross-European project was led by Follow The Money in collaboration with 26 media partners, including Noteworthy and The Journal.

Across all 27 member states, private donations, membership fees and other sources of income to political parties increased between 2019 and 2022. Public money by way of State subsidies and other means were excluded from the analysis. 

In Ireland, Sinn Féin was the only party to be listed as populist and Eurosceptic under the academically-acclaimed ‘PopuList’ methodology.

The methodology sorts parties into four groups – far left, far right, populist and Eurosceptic – by comparing their manifestos to strict, accredited definitions. 

Since the last general election in 2020, Sinn Féin was the only Irish party whose total donations have increased year-on-year.

In 2020, a total of €179,956 was donated to Sinn Féin which equated to 10.2% of all donations given to political parties during the year. Donations are recorded separately to party memberships.

In 2021, donations from the public increased almost 50% to €262,974 and were up another 20% in 2022 to €317,194.

Between 2019 and 2022, Sinn Féin received 12.1% of all donations given to political parties during the period.

Including membership payments, the party saw the largest and most sustainable growth in publicly-backed payments when compared to any other party.

Noteworthy, the crowdfunded community-led investigative platform from The Journal, supports independent and impactful public interest journalism.

While the majority of donations were given to the parties who currently make up the Government coalition, their figures fluctuated year-on-year.

Meanwhile, money given to Sinn Féin increased and the party received 15.2% of donations in 2022.

This suggests, along with polling which has placed Sinn Féin as the most popular with the public at times during the same period, that the electorate are much more likely to consistently support oppositional parties over traditional, legacy groups with donations.

Funding trend continues throughout Europe

Across the European Union, the trend continued.

The far-right, Eurosceptic Fidesz party in Hungary received 46.1% of the total funds given to all parties in the country between 2019 and 2022. In some individual years, Fidesz received more than 60% of the total funds given to politicians.

Though the group is currently in power, the EU has warned that the country is no longer a “full democracy”. This is due to concerns from those in Brussels that Fidesz and its leader Viktor Orbán have devalued the democratic standards.

These concerns had enough evidence that the EU stripped the State of its funding in 2022. There have also been frequent controversies over the mismanagement of public funds and claims of corruption in the country over the last decade.

Despite this, polling suggests that it has been the most-popular party with the public over, at least, the last three years.

In Spain, far-right, populist and Eurosceptic party Vox have earned more than €23.2 million over the last five years or 10.3% of all political donations made in the country.

These figures are in line with the party’s overall growth, as roughly 10% of the public support them.

Stock photo of Mary Lou McDonald wearing a dark top and light jacket. Donations to Sinn Féin increased every year between 2019 and 2022.
Source: Alamy (Photo)

Despite making up less than a third of the opposition in the Spanish parliament, Vox has maintained their position as the third-most-popular party ahead of the European elections since November 2023.

The Progressive Party of Working People (Akel), a far-left, populist and Eurosceptic party in Cyprus, have managed to rake in just under a third of all donations to politicians since 2019.

Despite not being in power, and being the second-largest part in opposition, more than €3.35 million was donated to Akel since the last European elections.

According to local and pan-European polling, the party is currently the most-popular party with the public.

‘Knowing where funds come from is hugely important’

Dr Tanya Lokot is a digital media professor at Dublin City University (DCU) whose work focuses on the manipulation of journalism by the political elite in the EU.

She said that politicians not only play a role at drafting national and European policy, but also have influence over the public’s perception of the EU and other wider societal issues.

Lokot told Noteworthy: “Knowing where the funding for political parties comes from is hugely important. It’s part of this overall ethos for accountability and transparency.

“This is especially true when you talk about the extreme – like far-left, far-right – because their policies are outside of what we’ve come to think of the middle ground.”

“The fact that their influence has grown in the last few years gives us even more reason for us to worry about where the funding is coming from,” she added.

Lokot said that the less transparent these funding models are, the greater risk there is of interference.

While there are a variety of ways to create these donation systems, if a loophole is available then the model is null and void.

 

Read more articles in this series >>

Cartoon of a hand putting coins in another hand with headline - The Transparency Gap - The Funding of Political Parties in Europe - Powered by Follow the Money.

By Muiris O’Cearbhaill for Noteworthy

This article is part of The Transparency Gap investigation with 26 media outlets across Europe, led by Follow the Money. Noteworthy and The Journal are the project’s Irish partners. Find out more about the collaboration here

Design of arrows with a rolling euro.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here. 

 

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