UPDATED: Who holds the power in the European Parliament? Assessing the influence of individual MEPs

One year after the publication of our first assessment of the influence of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on EU policy-making, we are updating our findings in order to factor in the developments occurred over the last year. In this update, we also take into account the feedback that we received from our audience to improve the accuracy of our algorithm. This report shows which MEPs have been the most influential over the current parliamentary term and which national groups are punching above/below their weight when it comes to influencing European policies.

In the annexes of the overall report you will also find separate reports by country and by policy areas. 

Click here to skip to the Top 70 (top 10%) most influential Members of the European Parliament

Why are we doing this?

The information regarding who is influential, how and on which EU policies is fundamental to the public, who needs to be aware of the personalities that shape the laws that affect half a billion citizens. The institutions as a whole, and in this case the EU institutions, take responsibility for their decisions and their implementation. However, in order to strengthen the democratic processes, the citizens also need to know which politicians within the institutions are playing a bigger role in shaping these decisions. This is especially the case of EU’s institutions, whose complexity have led many citizens to feel disengaged with the political system, in the relative absence of (locally-known) human faces that they can easily associate decisions with.

Equally important, many MEPs have pointed out that they find it very difficult to communicate to their own constituents the importance of the work that they do in Brussels and Strasbourg. For this reason, MEPs argue that their contributions are not fully recognised by the local/national public arenas, hence their own leverage in the debates “at home” is sometimes disproportionally small compared to the local/national politicians’ ones. This process affects the European construction as a whole. Our initiative also aims at providing the public with a tool to get to know better the work of the MEPs, the areas they are active on and the level of influence they exert (other reports done by VoteWatch also show the actual views of the MEPs on several subjects).

Our first assessment, launched in 2016, was very much welcomed by the public and significantly contributed to increase the visibility of the activities of MEPs in the Member States. In fact, our work was quoted by media from all over the continent. Our subsequent assessments on the different policy sectors have also highlighted which MEPs are shaping specific laws. However, much more remains to be done in order to raise awareness about how the decisions are made within the EU institutions.

Our assessment is based on concrete facts (activities undertaken) combined with qualitative insights. Notably, the development of an algorithm requires a careful weighting of many criteria, which is a tremendous operation inherently vulnerable to subjectivity, as different people have different views as to which position is more important, or which legislative dossier carries a bigger weight. Nevertheless, this problem can be partially solved by asking a specialised public to contribute to this task:  by increasing the number of evaluators, the impact of personal biases has been marginalised.

This is why we decided last year to invite the EU affairs experts to help us with weighting the criteria. Our survey asked the respondents to weigh the importance of certain Parliamentary activities and key institutional positions on a scale from 1 (not important at all) to 7 (extremely important). We also invited the MEPs themselves and the EU Public Affairs Community to provide us with further criteria or insights into assessing influence. Consequently, over the past year we received suggestions on how to improve our algorithm by taking into account additional positions or adjusting the weight of certain activities. We have tried to include as many (reasonable) suggestions as possible in this updated version of our influence assessment and we warmly invite our readers to keep providing us with their valuable feedback.

 

How should the results be read?

This is not an assessment of the best and the worst, or the good and the bad. “Influence” is a neutral term in this context, indicating the level of power that an MEP masters in order to get things done at this point in time. The study does not tell whether he/she uses that power in line with the interests of a certain segment of the public (constituents) or a stakeholder group. For example, an MEP may be highly influential, but have different views than those promoted by a particular group of citizens (in which case he/she cannot be their champion). Or, the other way around, an MEP may be portraying himself/herself as the champion of the interests of a particular citizens group, but in reality it lacks the needed influence to get things done in the Parliament.

Notably, this is a snapshot of the situation at the start of the 2017 autumn season. The level of influence of each MEP changes continuously, due to the high dynamics in the EP (such as positions reshuffle, rapporteurship appointments), national politics (e.g. parties in power change, Brexit) and visibility of a topic on the current political agenda (e.g. when migration is high on the agenda, the MEPs dealing with it receive a boost in influence, after which their influence decreases).

Importantly, this is an overall assessment that measures dissipated influence. This means that if MEP X comes out as being overall more influential than MEP Y, this does not mean that X is more influential that Y on every single issue. On the contrary, MEP Y can hold substantial concentrated influence (more so than X) on a specific area or particular dossier, as political influence is highly dependent on the context and the timing.

For examples of how MEPs are influential on specific topics, read our separate sector-specific studies: Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy – Digital and Telecommunication policy – Constitutional Affairs – Environmental Policy – Energy Policy – Trade Policy

In order to assess to what extent an MEP is a champion of a cause or a citizens group, a more complex analysis is required, that would combine 1) the MEP’s true views (e.g. how he/she votes on specific points of interest) and 2) his/her level of influence on that particular topic.  If you are interested in this kind of analysis, feel free to contact us at [email protected].

Who are the most influential MEPs overall?

Below we are showing who are the top 15 most influential MEPs out of the total 751 at this point in time. Check our dynamic infographics to see who are the top 70 (ie. top 10%) most influential MEPs. 

PJvw62 MEPs 2017 TOP15 (1)

The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani (EPP), exerts the most influence because of his key role as the head of the institution. The second and third most influential MEPs are the leaders of the two largest political groups, the German Manfred Weber (EEP leader) and Italian Gianni Pittella (S&D leader). Weber and Pittella are also members of the largest national delegations within their groups and their parties are currently in government in Germany and Italy, respectively.

The fourth most influential MEP, the Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, is the chair of the Liberal group (ALDE) as well as the representative of the European Parliament for the Brexit negotiations. The Italian Roberto Gualtieri (S&D) is number five, thanks to his role as the chair of the Economic and Monetary Affairs, as well as his contribution in shaping a high number of reports on economic policy.

The chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, Claude Moraes  (S&D), is the sixth classified in our list. The Spanish Inés Ayala Sender, political coordinator of S&D in the Committee on Budgetary Control, is seventh. The Spanish Gabriel Mato (EPP), political coordinator of EPP in the Committee on Fisheries, occupies the eighth position in our list. 

The Polish Jerzy Buzek (EPP), chair of the key Committee on Industry, Research and Energy is ninth. He is also a former President of the European Parliament.  The top 10 is closed by a Spanish Social Democrat, Eider Gardiazabal Rubial (S&D). She is the political coordinator of S&D in the Committee on Budgets. 

Which MEPs saw an increase in their influence? 

Some MEPs jumped to the top, others saw a decline in their clout. This is due to the changes that took place over the last year, such as the reshuffle of key positions in the EP, as well as the assignment of new legislative reports. Keeping track of the performance of all MEPs is challenging, therefore we decided to focus our attention on the fastest rising MEPs, namely the MEPs which obtained the largest increase in their influence over the last year.

PJvw62 MEPs 2017 fastest

– Antonio Tajani: the former Vice-President of the European Parliament saw a boost in his power and visibility after his election to the helm of the legislative institution.

– Anneleen van Bossuyt: the Flemish Conservative MEP was elected as the new chair of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (check our dedicated analysis on her views). 

– Pavel Telička: the member of Czech ANO 2011 was elected Vice-President of the European Parliament during the reshuffle. He is also a vice-chair of the ALDE/ADLE group.

– Claude Moraes: the British MEP from the Labour Party was re-elected at the helm of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. He also drafted several reports regarding automated exchanges of personal data.

Bogusław Liberadzki: the member of the Polish Left was elected Vice-President of the European Parliament last January. Previously, he was one of the four quaestors of the institution.

However, not all changes in the positions of MEPs are the consequence of a loss of influence, as their scores were also affected by the adjustments that were applied to the algorithm.

As mentioned in the methodology, this study is a snapshot of the situation in the summer of 2017. The dynamics of influence in the EU institutions change continuously and depend on many political, economic and societal developments across the continent. For this reason, we will keep updating this study at regular intervals.

Check who are the top 70 (ie. top 10%) most influential EU Parliamentarians.

What are the trends by country?

If we look at the influence by EU Member State, the size of the country, or more concretely its population (translated into the number of MEPs), plays a key role. However, there are differences between the big Member States: Germany and Italy seem to exert the biggest level of influence in the European Parliament, more so than other big countries like France, the UK or Spain. This is explained mainly through the fact that Germany has the biggest national delegation in the biggest political group, EPP, while Italy in the S&D, which give them a competitive advantage for the allocation of key positions and even rapporteurship.

PJvw62 MEPs September 01 Regular Accumulated (2)

The influence of France and Spain has been reduced (more than the ones of Italy and Germany) after the 2014 elections due to the substantial fragmentation of their groups’ delegations, ie. the loss of members by the delegations in the big centrist groups at the gain of those at the fringes. In the case of France, the victory of the National Front in the French elections for the European Parliament led to a decrease in the size of the French delegations in the other groups, therefore diminishing their clout in the overall assembly. As the political group of the National Front is rather isolated in the EP, their MEPs struggle to be influential in shaping legislation. This observation is highly relevant in the context of the upcoming 2019, when other countries may follow the same path.

Similarly, UKIP won the EU elections in the UK in 2014, which also contributed to the Brexit process. The UK delegation is now suffering from the effect of Brexit, which is impacting negatively on the level of influence exerted by British MEPs on EU policy-making. This phenomenon has also been accelerated by the departure of some key British members, who left the European Parliament to take on positions at the national level. The newcomer British MEPs do not always enjoy the same respect and strength of personal relations of the outgoing MEPs, which provides the continentals with the opportunity to take over key positions without too much hassle (as in the case of the chair of the Committee on the Internal Market). 

According to our assessment, British MEPs lost the most influence over the last year and they are now as influential as the Polish, despite the way smaller size of the latter delegation. Furthermore, the overall group of Polish MEPs gained influence since last September, despite the current problems between Brussels and Warsaw. However, the Italians gained the most influence (thanks to the elections of Tajani to the Presidency of the EP, but also the key coordinating positions obtained by the Italians in S&D).

On the other hand, when we look at the average performances of individual MEPs(which filters out the size of the country), the picture is quite different. Belgian and Finnish MEPs are the most influential when the average scores are considered. This means that the influence exerted by these national delegation is higher than the size of their national groups in the EP would suggest. German, Romanian and Maltese MEPs are also punching above their weight. On the other hand, Greek, Cypriot, Lithuanian and British MEPs punch  way below their weight when influencing EU legislation.

PJvw62 MEPs September 02 Regular Average (2)

When looking into detail at the influence exerted by different national delegations, we spotted that certain groups of MEPs are much better at getting their hands on important positions in the EP, whereas others are keener on drafting and shaping pieces of legislation. The MEPs from Nordic countries (Estonia, Finland and Sweden), as well as from Belgium, Czechia and Italy are punching above their weight when it comes to rapporteurship, as they have the highest average of rapporteurship influence per MEP. That is to say, the MEPs from these countries get to shape more EU laws than the size of their country would normally allow them to do. At the other end, Greece, Lithuania and Cyprus are less influential than their “normal” (size-based) potential.

PJvw62 MEPs September 03 Rapporteurship Average (1)

However, when we look at the occupation of leadership positions, Germany is even more influential than its (already very big) size. For example, German MEPs head the largest political group, the EPP, the Greens group and the far-left group GUE-NGL. Additionally, German MEPs chair five committees in the European Parliament, such as the Committee on International Trade (INTA) and Budgetary Control (CONT). Other countries that end up being over-represented in positions of leadership in the European Parliament are Malta, Belgium, The Netherlands, Czechia and Romania. On the other hand, from among the big countries, France and the UK are less represented at the top of the EU Parliament, while the countries whose MEPs exert least influence from the leadership positions are Croatia and Greece.

PJvw62 MEPs September 04 Leadership (1)

Interestingly, the findings of this study on the influence in the EP are in stark contrast with our similar study that looked into the influence in the Council of the EU (France more likely to lead the EU Council after Brexit): while France looks very influential in the Council (more so than Germany) due to its coalition building strategy, France is much less influential, proportionally, in the EP. In the case of Germany, it is the other way around: Germany seems to leverage the advantage of its size much better in the EP (where the numbers matter more) than in the Council.

For specific analysis or suggestions, contact us at [email protected]votewatcheurope.eu.

Also read the other updated assessments by country:

Austria – Belgium – Bulgaria – Croatia – Cyprus – Czechia – Denmark – Estonia – Finland – France – Germany – Greece – Hungary – Ireland – Italy – Latvia –Lithuania – Luxembourg – Malta – Netherlands – Poland – Portugal – Romania – Slovakia – Slovenia –Spain – Sweden – United Kingdom

Also read the assessments on the most influential MEPs by policy area:

Neighbourhood and Enlargement PolicyDigital and Telecommunication policyConstitutional AffairsEnvironmental PolicyEnergy PolicyTrade Policy

Annex: how was the algorithm built?

Our initial survey was answered by 234 respondents, out of whom 42% are interacting with MEPs on a daily basis, whereas 24% of respondents do the same on a weekly basis.

survey-meeting-MEPs2-725x1024

A relative majority of answers came from people working in the EU institutions (42%), while the rest of the contributors work in the private sector (17%), academia and think tanks (13%), NGOs (9%) and others.

survey-sector-of-activity3

The public pointed out some interesting elements, such as the different importance of Committees in the EP, for example chairing ECON or ENVI is deemed to be more important than chairing CULT or DEVE (we have granted different weight to the committees). Also the low or no relevance of some criteria was noticed by the respondents, such as the number of questions asked to the Commission. In fact, according to some respondents, the quality of the questions is more important than the number, as asking “hundreds of silly questions cannot be compared to more tailored and well-thought requests”. At the end, we have decided to exclude Parliamentary questions from the set of criteria.

According to the respondents, important offices held in the past do not play such an important role when shaping policies in the European Parliament. In fact, being a former Commissioner, Minister or even former President of the European Parliament was deemed to be less important than being the current coordinator of a political group in a Committee. Indeed, both political coordinators and Committee chairs were deemed to be highly influential. Instead, among the different positions in the EP, chairs and deputy chairs of EP interparliamentary delegations are among the least influential.

Rapporteurship-wise, the higher importance of the reports under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (previously known as co-decision) is shown by the higher score assigned to the shadow rapporteurs on these files than the ones to the lead rapporteurs of other types of files. However, as the comments pointed out, the shadow rapporteurs are not created equal, as the members of the two largest groups, EPP and S&D, are more influential than the others due to sheer numbers behind them.

Some suggestions from our respondents could not be fed into the algorithm, mainly because certain factors are difficult to quantify (such as measuring the in-depth knowledge by the MEP of a certain topic). The suggestion to include the number of languages spoken by MEPs as a crucial factor for assessing their influence was raised by a few respondents. We acknowledge that this is the case, but unfortunately, this is hard to measure accurately (unless language tests are applied to all MEPs).

The participants also mentioned a number of individual MEPs as deserving extra points for their achievements or for their “behind the scene” influence (ie. influence not highlighted by the numbers, but felt in interactions). For this reason, we have created a category called “EP insights”, which takes into account the qualitative assessment of MEPs by insiders.

Political groups-wise, some respondents pointed out at the dominance of the two largest political groups in the Parliament, EPP and S&D. Indeed, this dominance is taken into account in our algorithm, as, for instance, shadow rapporteurs from these groups are being granted extra points vis-à-vis the shadow rapporteurs of the other political groups.

MEPs who are performing well in terms of participation in votes and being on the winning side in votes within their own political group, and within the EP plenary as a whole, have also received influence points, according to clear thresholds. Lastly, upon suggestions from the public, we have also assigned influence points to those MEPs whose parties control the government in their own Member State (both senior and junior coalition partners).

What’s new about the algorithm? Upon suggestions from the public, we added the quaestors to the list of key positions considered for the algorithm. The scores assigned to the Vice-Presidents of the EP, as well as the leaders of the political groups, have also been increased.  

In our previous assessment, we also assigned additional points to the rapporteurs on files that were deemed to be particularly important by the respondents to our survey. In this case, we decided not to arbitrarily classify some of the most recent reports as deserving additional points. For this reason, bonus points for special reports have not been included in this updated version of our assessment. We will add these points after collecting a substantial number of suggestions on which reports should be considered as particularly important.

PJvw62 MEPs 2017 Algorithm (6)

One thought on “UPDATED: Who holds the power in the European Parliament? Assessing the influence of individual MEPs”

  1. Only men are influential???, that’s kinda embarassing in the 21st century for a parliament that represents all the member states voters (male, female and others)

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