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The European Union and Beyond

Criminal Liability of Political Parties: A New Instrument of Militant Democracies

Political Parties
Political Violence
European Union
Aleksandar Marsavelski
University of Zagreb
Aleksandar Marsavelski
University of Zagreb

Political parties have the highest responsibilities when governing states, but they bear little accountability when they abuse the given powers, even in cases when such abuses amount to crimes. The main factor inhibiting this study is the capability of political parties to orchestrate some of the worst human rights violations—extrajudicial killings, torture, terrorism, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide—preceded by populist hate speech inducing hate crime. Political parties provide not only ideological justification for such crimes, but often contribute to their perpetration by governing the state security, police and defense departments, or through party activists and military wings.
This paper presents criminal liability of political parties as a new instrument of militant democracies. A qualitative study of four recent cases—from Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania and Spain—in which political parties have been prosecuted as legal entities under statutes implementing the most recent EU legislation, elucidates two opposing interests at stake when applying this new instrument: interests of justice vs. interests of democracy. On the one hand, there is an aspiration to punish the wrongdoer—in this case a political party. On the other hand, there is a need of ensuring the effective functioning of the democratically elected bodies, governed by political parties.
Therefore, it is necessary to determinate the correct balance of the spectrum of political party liability and applicable sanctions to prevent irresponsible political structures on the one hand, while ensuring the functioning of democratic processes on the other. The new instrument also shows the capacity to tackle corrupt political parties using populist narrative to distract the voters from their corruption scandals. There has never been a more urgent time for developing a systematic range of responses to political party crime. This includes a paradigm shift in political party regulation—towards responsibility with accountability.
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