Examining donations ahead of European elections

Following the 2024 elections to the European Parliament, European Democracy Consulting is publishing the first ever analysis of donations received by European political parties and European political foundations during the six months leading to the election. This data shes useful and needed light on the funding of European parties and foundations at the crucial time of elections.

More than at any other moment of the political cycle, money lies at the heart of political campaigns. Modern campaigns are communications- and events-heavy, cash-intensive periods that require substantial fundraising effort and spending. And while financial reporting on spending is the best way to assess the cost of an election, information on donations is a reliable indicator of parties’ level of activity. This is particularly true for European political parties, which do not build up large war chests in the years leading to elections, and therefore periodically need fresh income to match their spending.

Even more importantly, however, the level of donations informs us on parties’ engagement with donors: are the sums raised substantial? Do donations peek ahead of elections? What are the key categories of donors? Do small donations play a significant role?

Using financial data published by the Authority for European political parties and European political foundations (APPF), we will try to answer these questions.

Main conclusions
  • The level of donations received by European parties and foundations is particularly low, with under €422,000 by all 20 entities combined.
  • The five parties ranging from the centre-right to the far-right receiving 86% of all donations; ALDE, the EPP, and the ECR gathered 80%.
  • Private companies are the largest category is donors to European parties and foundations, with over €227k donated or 54% of all donations. ALDE received a whopping 99.7% of its donations from private companies.
  • With a meagre €33,000, donations from individuals only account for under 8% of all donations; 8 ECR donors are solely responsible for over 64% of all donations from citizens.
  • Cyprus is the fourth largest source of donations, thanks to only three donations to the ECR.
  • European foundations received over 64% of all donations in the six months prior to European elections.
  • Publish the date of donations to simplify the analysis of donations across the campaign cycle
  • Publish and display contextual information to provide transparency beyond mere data
  • Improve the format of reporting to truly facilitate the data processing of machine-readable files
  • Increase the frequency of reporting because transparency requires the timely publication of information


The framework covering European political parties and foundations is found in Regulation 1141/2014 on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations.

In particular, Article 20 of Regulation 1141/2014 details European parties’ and foundations’ obligation to report the donations they receive. Article 20.2 states that “European political parties and European political foundations shall, at the time of the submission of their annual financial statements […], also transmit a list of all donors with their corresponding donations, indicating both the nature and the value of the individual donations.” European parties and foundations must therefore provide the APPF with a list of donors and the value of their donations once a year — alongside financial statements which are due by 30 June of the following year.

There are two exceptions to this general rule:

  • Single donations above €12,000 that have been accepted must be immediately reported (Article 20.4); and
  • Donations received within six months prior to elections to the European Parliament must be reported on a weekly basis (Article 20.3).

This last exception is the one providing the legal basis for our work. However, it is merely an obligation on European parties to reporting information to the APPF.

The APPF, for its part, is under transparency obligation found in Article 32. Among these, Article 32.1(e) requires the APPF to make public “the names of donors and their corresponding donations reported by European political parties and European political foundations in accordance with Article 20(2), (3) and (4)”. A caveat, applicable to all three streams of reporting, is that donations from individuals up to €1,500 (or €3,000, if written consent was not granted by the donor — which, in practice, never is) are grouped as “minor donations” and the identity of the donor is not revealed.

While the meaning of “in accordance with” does not precisely impose a deadline for reporting on the APPF, the Authority has sought to publish donations received within six months of European elections within a few days of receiving them. In order to increase transparency and speed up publication, it has even published reported donations before completing its verification process, marking these donations as pending verification.

It is this expedited reporting by the APPF that enabled our data collection and made this research possible.


On 6 December, the APPF began publishing donations under its expedited reporting stream. This was done by uploading two sets of XLS files: one for European parties, and one for foundations. Between 6 December and 19 June, the APPF thus updated its data 37 times for European parties, and over 42 times for foundations.1

Unfortunately, while the APPF did go beyond the text of the Regulation by publishing data quickly (sometimes pending verification), as well as by providing the country of origin of the donations, it nevertheless decided to stick to the text of the law by only publishing the identity of the donor (where applicable) and the value of the donation(s). This means that no information on the date of donations was provided. Additionally, each new file simply replaced the previous one, and donations were not entered in chronological order.

As a result, not only can one not know when a donation was made, but chronological information was lost with every update.

In order to gather some amount of information on the timing of donations across the six-months period, we checked the website of the APPF on a daily basis for six months, and worked successively on 79 versions of the APPF’s files. While time-consuming, this method allowed us to assign a reasonable time bracket to each donation (the time between two uploads, assuming no backlog of donations was kept).

In addition to providing chronological data, we specified the type of donation (minor donation or identified donation), and researched donors to link them to one of the following categories: individual, interest group, NGO, political foundation or organisation, political party, politician, private company, and think tank or research institute.

This enriched data allows us to analyse donations to European parties and foundations from complementary dimensions: the breakdown by ideological family, by category of donor, by member state, and finally the relative importance of donations to parties and foundations.

Donations by ideological family

The first dimension of analysis is by ideological family. Here, we departed from the APPF’s own data and merged donations to a European party with those to its affiliated foundation, and grouped the amounts under the label of European parties. We chose to use the labels of European parties, and not actually ideologies, to both make it clear which entities received these donations and to avoid a discussion on the precise ideologies of each European party or foundation.

Of course, European parties and foundations are separate and independent entities. However, both share the same ideology (with each foundation being directly and officially affiliated to a single European party), and we sought to contrast the donations received by ideology more than by a specific entity.

For instance, within the framework of the European elections, it is more enlightening to see what how much the center-right received, rather than what the European People’s Party (EPP) or the Wilfried Martens foundation separately received. This is especially true given the comparatively high amounts received by foundations (more on that below) and the relative obscurity of European foundations for the general public. Finally, the data remains disaggregated by entity in the data table provided at the end of our review.

Below are the amounts received by the various ideological families.

The first conclusion from this data is the impressively low amount of donations to European parties and foundations, with a grand total under €422,000. For 20 entities and 450 million citizens. While the EU’s €18,000 cap on donations prevents the equivalent of the US’s million-dollar donations by “mega-donors”, this limit nevertheless allows, in theory, for far greater donations to European parties and foundations.

For reference, for the 2019 European elections, France alone recorded over €930,000 in financial donations, and another €519,000 in in-kind support, which would be grouped under the definition of donations of Regulation 1141/2014 — and there too donations only accounted for 1 to 1.5% of lists/candidates’ income.2

The second conclusion is that there seems to be no strategic time factor for these donations: donations peaked on a number of occasions (end of 2023, early March, early April, early June), but with no single key moment or trends for increases as the campaigns picked up speed. Donations simply remained low throughout the campaign; at best do we see donations slightly decreasing for foundations, while donations to parties slightly increased in frequency.

Reminder: unless indicated otherwise, the mentions of European parties below actually group donations received by parties and their affiliated foundation.

The third conclusion is the political make-up of the donations, with the five parties ranging from the centre-right to the far-right receiving 86% of all donations. In particular, center-right and liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) places first with €151k (36%), the christian-democrat EPP places second with €105k (25%), and the nationalist-conservative European Conservative and Reformist party (ECR) places third with €79k (19%). These three parties alone gather 80% of all donations, and, with 7%, the European Green Party (EGP) is only a very distant fourth.

Meanwhile, the centrist European Democracy Party (EDP) — which claims not to seek out donations — did not receive any funding, and the Party of European Socialists (PES) only received €1,000 for its foundation, despite being the second-largest European party.

When only looking at European political parties, we note that only five received donations: ALDE (46.3%), the ECR (31.4%), the EGP (14.6%), the ECPM (7.7%), and the European Left (EL, negligible). Neither the EPP, nor the PES, nor the far-right Identity and Democracy party (ID), the three largest parties by votes cast, received donations.

Given the limited donations received by European parties, donations received by foundations closely resemble the overall pattern, with the exception of the EPP overtaking ALDE as first recipient, and EL and the regionalist European Free Alliance moving up to fourth and fifth place respectively — thereby overtaking the EGP and the christian-conservative European Christian Political Movement (ECPM).

Donations by donor category

The key differentiating criteria between “donations” and “contributions” to European parties and foundations is the membership status: members make contributions, while non-members make donations.3 Donations therefore do not include full members and individual members. But who are they?

Below is the breakdown of donations received by donor category.

By far, the largest category is donors to European parties and foundations is private companies, with over €227k donated or 54% of all donations. The remaining 46% are more fairly distributed: think tanks and research institutes make up 11.7%, followed by political parties (11.1%), individuals (7.8%), political foundations and organisations (6.3%), and interest organisations (6.0%). Finally, politicians and NGOs make up around 1.5% each.

But this breakdown varies greatly when data is disaggregated. For instance, when looking only at European parties, the share of private companies rises to 62.6%, and political parties place second with 23.1%. Conversely, for foundations, think tanks and political foundations/organisations increase to 18.2% and 9.8%, respectively.

The data becomes even more extreme when focusing on specific parties. A prime example is ALDE, which received a whopping 99.7% of its donations from private companies, and almost exactly 100% for its foundation. Likewise, EL, ID, and the PES also received 99 to 100% of their donations from a single donor category (private companies, political parties, and think tanks, respectively), but only because they only ever received one donation (to their foundations).

For its part, the EPP is more balanced with 38% of donations coming from think tanks, and 34% from private companies, with interest organisations and political foundations/organisations making up the remaining quarter. For its part, the EGP receives a majority of its funding from observer parties (55%), with political green foundations and individuals making up around another 20% each, while the ECPM relies mostly on interest groups and individuals. Finally, the ECR is arguably the most diverse party, with private companies, individuals, and political parties contributing 20 to 30% each, and think tanks and politicians another 10% each. However, the low level of contributions also means that these shares are not always statistically significant.

Observations are also relevant in relation to donations from European citizens. Firstly, with a meagre total of €33,000, donations from individuals only account for under 8% of all donations. Almost half of these are identified donations above €3,000 made by only 3 individuals who all gave to the ECR. The other half is made up of donations under €3,000 (minor donations) from 376 European citizens (for 355 million registered voters). Interestingly, the value of these small donations goes almost in equal parts (31-34%) to the EGP, the ECPM, and the ECR. However, where it takes 233 donors for the EGP to reach this share, it only takes 108 for the ECPM, and only 5 for the ECR. Overall, these 8 ECR donors are solely responsible for over 64% of all donations from citizens.

Finally, we can look at general patterns of flows from donor categories to parties and foundations.

With the exception of a donation to EL, we first note that private companies (the largest category of donors) support exclusively right-of-the-spectrum European parties — mostly ALDE, but also the EPP and ECR.

Likewise, the bulk of donations from think tanks go to the EPP, and to the ECR as a distant second, while interest groups support the EPP and ECPM. Conversely, the only NGO donation was to the EFA.

Other categories are more diverse in their support, such as political parties (ECR, EGP and ID in almost equal parts), and citizens (mostly the ECR, but also ECPM and EGP).

Donations by country

Apart from minor donations, the APPF provides the country of origin of all donations. Below is the breakdown of donations received from each member state.

The main conclusion from this analysis is that funding is in no way proportional to member states’ size, whether we refer to therir population or size of their economy. Topping the ranking is Belgium with €109k (27%) which benefits from its status as the capital of Europe to be the seat of many private companies and interest organisations. Likewise, Ireland places second with €69k (17%), as the seat of numerous tech companies.

France, Poland, Spain, Germany naturally find themselves in the top 10 member states, which is in line with their size, but more surprising is the presence of Cyprus (#4; 9.9%), the Czech Republic (#6; 5.3%), Slovakia (#9; 2.6%), and Luxembourg (#10; 2%).

In one of the most surprising cases, Cyprus’ fourth place is due to only three donations, all made at the same time, to the ECR: €18,000 (the maximum allowed) from a Cypriot far-right party seeking to join the ECR (ELAM), another €4,000 from a politician member of ELAM, and another €18,000 from a local travel agency. Via these three donations, Cyprus alone accounted for over 54% of all donations to the ECR.

For its part, the Czech Republic’s fifth place is owed to a number of think tanks and political foundations based in the country and donating to a variety of European parties, including the ECR, EGP, EPP, and PES.

A sankey chart allows a better understanding of the flows of donations from member states to parties and foundations.

Immediately, we note that the majority of donations from Western Europe — itself the source of over 63% of donations — flow to ALDE (supported by many private companies from Belgium and Ireland), and secondly to the EPP. For instance, Belgium and Ireland alone are the source of over 76% of all donations to ALDE. More limited support flows to EL and ID.

The situation of other regions is less clear-cut. Southern Europe (second-largest donor with under 18%) funds the ECR (mostly via Cyprus), the EGP, and the EFA; Central Europe (10%) supports above all the EPP, then the EGP, and the EFA and ECR; and, finally, Eastern Europe (7%) finances mostly the EPP and ECR.

Donations breakdown between parties and foundations

In the visualisations above, we have mostly grouped European parties with their affiliated foundations, in order to get a better sense of how much an ideological group received, instead of focusing too much on specific entities. However, it is relevant to also look at the funding received by all parties combined versus funding received by foundations.

Below is the breakdown of donations received by parties and by foundations.

Surprisingly, given their limited visibility, European political foundations received over 64% of all donations in the six months prior to European elections. This hints at a larger behind-the-scenes role for European foundations, and their use by private actors to influence the development of EU policies and campaigns.

For instance, private companies donated €133k to European foundations, compared to €94k to European parties. And while private companies donating to European parties include Microsoft, Sky, Qualcomm, and AbbVie (a large pharmaceutical company), the list of donors to European foundations brings together Google, Apple, Vodafone, Intel, Microsoft, 3M and InterDigital (tech R&D).

Interestingly, and while information on donations for the first eleven months of 2023 is limited to donations above €12,000 (which skews the donor base to larger private companies (49.9%), interest organisations (13.0%), and NGOs (10.3%)), the ratio before 6 December stood at 66% of donations to European political parties and 34% to European foundations, highlighting a special role of foundations during the electoral period.

Ways forward

The analysis of data on donations within six months of the European elections offers unique, and unprecedented, insights into European party and foundation funding.

And while the main conclusion remains that these donations are dramatically low (hinting both at the greater importance of other sources of funding, and at the curtailed role of these actors in the European campaign), the APPF’s data, and what we can infer from it, remains informative for our understanding of the European party system.

Let us now go through pointed recommendations to build upon this work.

Publish the date of donations

The most frustrating part of this six-months endeavour was the need to check on APPF publications on a daily basis to see whether new data had been published over the past 24 hours.

In the absence of an automated warning system allowing interested users to be notified when new data is posted online (be it via email or RSS subscriptions), manual look-ups are the only reliable means not to miss an update. This is especially true in light of the APPF’s reluctance to engage with third parties and to provide documents upon request — in our case, our late decision, in early January, to extend the scope of our analysis to European foundations meant that we were never able to obtain data on donations to foundations for the month of December, despite repeated inquiries.

Given the APPF’s willingness to publish data before it is fully verified, as well as to publish the member state of origin of donations despite no requirement to do so, the decision no publish the date of identified donations (where the full name of the donor is already provided) is quite incomprehensible. The information would go a long way to simplifying this analysis, which would then only need to be carried out once, after the close of the six-month period. The decision not to publish this information does nothing but needlessly complicate analysis and limit transparency.

In case publishing the exact date of minor donations (where the identity of the donor is not known) is somehow problematic, the total value of these donations and their number can always be provided on a weekly basis.

Publish and display contextual information

As part of its verifications, the APPF obtains information on donors, including on who they are — a private citizen, a company, an NGO, etc. As shown by our analysis, this categorisation of donor (regardless of the precise categories used) is a useful indicator for transparency, in order to know who supports European parties and foundations, beyond a simple name.

We therefore encourage the APPF to develop a methodology in order to provide contextual information on donations and to include this information in its reporting. This means not only adding information to the data tables it releases, but also displaying this information graphically (donor categories, number/share of donations by value brackets, donations by countries, etc.).

Beyond the mere uploading of updated tables, the visual display of this information, such as the one our project provides, is essential to provide proper transparency. Additionally, with the proper infrastructure, this does not need to require substantial additional work, as once the visualisations are established, they can be made to automatically reflect any new data.

Improve the format of reporting

A few years ago, the APPF decided to publish, alongside the PDF files listing donations, machine-readable XLS files. Given the difficulty to extract data from PDF files, this was a welcome development.

However, several hurdles remain in place. Firstly, this does not apply to all years and data for the years 2018 and 2019 remains missing to this day.

Secondly, this does not apply to all files. For instance, while the lists of MEPs members of European parties are also provided in XLS format, other similar files, such as the lists of member parties or of members of the board are not.

Finally, these files are not properly formatted for data exploitation. The XLS files reflect the graphical layout that is sought for the PDF files. By contrast, useful machine-readable files should consist simply of columns capped with headers and filled with data. Skipped lines, logos, introductory texts all hinder the processing of data and run counter to the very purpose of these data files.

We therefore encourage the APPF to review the formatting of its XLS and to strip them of decoration and non-data fields (which can all fit in non-data tabs). Data for all years should fit in a single file. This would go a long way into making these files directly usable for data processing.

Increase the frequency of reporting

We have seen that, under the pre-electoral expedited reporting framework, European parties and foundations are required to publish information on the donations they have received on a weekly basis, and that the APPF strives to publish this information shortly.

By contrast, under the regular reporting framework, donations are reported once a year, together with financial documents which are due by 30 June of the following year. These documents are then reviewed, and information on donations is published around 4 months later, sometimes noticeably more. This means that information on donations made in January of year N is not made public before the very end of year N+1. This long and undue delay is particularly damaging to transparency, which relies on information being made available in a timely manner.

In order to improve this situation, many options are possible. Firstly, European parties and foundations could be required to provide their list of donations separately from (and ahead of) their financial documents. Annual financial documents are far more complex than lists of donations, and requiring these lists to be submitted together with financial documents is a needless source of delay.

Secondly, as is the case in several member states, information on donations could be reported several times a year, for instance every six months or on a quarterly basis. This would greatly reduce the delay between the reception of donations and their publication. And since the reported information would be more limited, this would not create an undue burden on the APPF.

Finally, the most useful and efficient solution would be to replace then current sending of files by email or file transfer systems from European parties and foundations to the APPF by a digital reporting system. Parties and foundations would either enter information on their donations manually or upload data files using a pre-approved template, and the information would be fed into a database located with the APPF.

This mechanism would remove the need for APPF staff to manually handle donations data, and streamline the verification process. Since the APPF has already published data pending verification (with information marked as such), this could allow the near-real-time publication of donations data, all the while simplifying data reporting by European parties and foundations and processing by the APPF.

Finally, the benefits from an online reporting system could be extended to the submission of financial documents, as well as to other administrative and financial reporting requirements, from the number of member MEPs, the list of member parties, statutes, etc.

Overall, transparency on the private funding of European parties and foundations is an essential matter that is currently not given enough attention. An improved legal basis should be provided in a review of Regulation 1141/2014 and the APPF should explore all possible avenues in the meantime. This unique review of the funding of European parties and foundations highlights just how much insight could be gain from additional political will.

  1. We started collecting files on donations to European foundations in early January 2024.
  2. Vingt-et-unième rapport d’activité, CNCCFP, 2019, p.41
  3. With regards to national parties, only full members are entitled to make contributions, and income from observer members (or similar non-full members) is considered donations.