Concentration of nationalities in key EP committees reveals agendas

© European Union 2019 – Source : EP

*This is the second part of a series covering the political changes within EP Committees. Click here to read the first part

The composition of EP committees aims to mirror the balance of power among political factions in the European Parliament as a whole. However, the same proportional distribution is not applied with regards to the representation of different national groups, which allows more freedom to MEPs. An analysis of the outcome reveals the dominant agendas of each nationality, or what they think “the EU can be useful for”, ie. how they can leverage the EU structures to defend or advance their interests. The breakdown by nationality is also useful to understand the likely level of influence that each of them will exert on the policies coming out of key committees.

For instance, Dutch, Swedish and Finnish MEPs are significantly over-represented (compared to the proportion of their MEPs) in the Committee on Environment, Health and Food Safety. This will provide these national groups with the opportunity to punch above their weight on EU climate policy. Such dynamics are likely to contribute to driving wedges between different Parliamentary committees, as in some cases committees like ENVI and ITRE are in competition with one another to take over key legislative proposals coming from the European Commission.

We crunched the numbers and analysed the main trends. Firstly, we focused on the broader differences between Western Europe and Central-Eastern Europe (CEE). Then, we also looked into the distribution of Committee membership across the biggest national groups in the European Parliament. These are our main findings: 

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1) Top priorities for CEE MEPs: Internal Market, Security and Defence Policy

Our research shows that MEPs from Central and Eastern Europe tend to be substantially over-represented in the committee on Foreign Affairs and, in particular, in the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE). On the other hand, it is quite remarkable to notice that, despite their high share of MEPs in AFET, CEE is under-represented in the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), which deals with monitoring human rights developments outside of the EU. This provides clear indications on the different foreign policy priorities between Western and CEE Europe: the former prioritises the promotion of a pro-active EU role on the world stage, whereas the latter prioritises strengthening the internal defence capabilities of the Union. The perceived threat from the big Russian neighbour, instability in the post-Soviet geopolitical space and the frictions within NATO are key sources of concern for CEE lawmakers, which leads them to get into the driving seat of the debate on EU Defence.

Additionally, CEE MEPs have a strong interest in policies concerning the internal market, in particular with regards to the IMCO Committee and the EMPL Committee (NB: EMPL Committee is one of two committees chaired by an MEP from CEE, namely Slovak Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová). Importantly, EU social initiatives passing through the EMPL committee can have a strong impact on the competitiveness of CEE economies, as harmonisation of social protection rules at the EU level are often perceived, in particular by the more conservative factions, as a threat, as this would reduce the competitive advantage of producing goods and services in CEE. That this is the case is confirmed by the relatively low interest of the CEE MEPs in trade policy of EU with its foreign counterparts: CEE countries are weakly represented in the key Committee on International Trade, which will contribute to shaping the future direction of the EU international trade liberalisation agenda. Therefore, it seems that policies related to the single market are still seen as the main source of challenges and opportunities for CEE, rather than those concerning the overall international outreach of EU economy.

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2) Germans want to have a say on the money, as well as the interpretation and application of EU law

Germans are strongly represented in committees dealing with budgetary matters, namely BUDG and CONT. As Germany is the biggest net contributor to the EU budget, German politicians are clearly keen on having a strong say on how the money is being spent (NB: the previous German Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, was in charge of the Budget portfolio). Decisions on the funding for different policy programs will also allow German MEPs to influence indirectly other policy areas.

Similarly, Germans are also over-represented in another cross-cutting committee which exerts influence on several policy areas, namely the Committee on Legal Affairs. While this committee does not focus on specific issues, it deals with the legal implications of a diverse array of regulatory measures, such as trade, environment, intellectual property, taxation, but also issues concerning the immunity and privileges of MEPs.

However, Germans are significantly under-represented in the biggest, as well as one of the most powerful, committee in the European Parliament, namely the ENVI Committee. While the Committee is expected to perform a lot of work due to the increasing importance of environmental issues, the German national group will have a lower leverage than its overall size would indicate on initiatives that are set to affect key sectors of the German economy, such as the car industry.

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3) Few French members in Committees dealing with Macron’s priorities (Eurozone, taxation and social harmonization)

The strongest representation of French MEPs is found in the Committee on Legal Affairs, which is also facilitated by the high share of French MEPs with a legal background. As mentioned above, this small committee deals with different policy areas. French politicians can also be found within committees dealing with development (key for African relations), defence and agriculture. The strong focus of French MEPs on defence mirrors the portfolio of the new French Commissioner, Sylvie Goulard, which notably includes defence.

However, the French are under-represented in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which is the key venue in the EP for those willing to scrutinise the economic governance of the EU (tax harmonisation and monetary union), which Macron aims to reform. Similarly, not many French MEPs are found in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, which is set to debate Macron-backed proposals for harmonisation and centralisation of the social policy systems of EU Member States.

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4) ‘Departing’ British MEPs keen on debating EU institutional future, but also fisheries, economic affairs and trade

This looks paradoxical, since the UK is set to leave the European Union, but British MEPs seem to be very keen on debating the future institutional setting of the Union. MEPs from the UK are strongly represented in the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, as the British represent the biggest national group in the AFCO Committee by far. Moreover, British MEPs are also over-represented in key committees whose decisions are likely to affect the UK’s economy, namely the Committee on Fisheries, the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Committee on International Trade.

UK MEPs are clearly under-represented in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (this sector plays a less important role in the UK’s economy compared to other EU Member States) and also the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, which is set to take key decisions affecting the Single Market. Finally, because of the UK’s opt-outs, British MEPs are less concerned by the decisions of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, which explains their under-representation in this Committee.

5) Italian MEPs want to shape policies on fisheries and agriculture, snub foreign policy and migration

Italian MEPs are strongly represented in the committees dealing with Fisheries Policy (PECH) and Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI). While these committees have a narrow focus, they are quite influential as they deal with two policy areas where the EU has substantial powers (and a significant spending capacity). By focusing on such policy issues, Italian MEPs hope to deliver concrete benefits to their rural constituents. Italians are also strongly represented in the committees on Constitutional Affairs (alongside the British) and Budgetary Control. 

Conversely, few Italian MEPs are found in the AFET Committee, showing that EU foreign affairs are not seen as a priority. Quite interestingly, Italian MEPs are significantly under-represented in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, a powerful committee that will deal with the future legislation on migration and asylum issues. While these issues are quite prominent in the Italian public debate (in particular with regards to the need to reform the EU asylum system), Italian MEPs will have less leverage in this dedicated committee than the overall size of the Italian delegation would indicate.

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6) Spanish MEPs snub budgetary committees, focus on fisheries, human rights and gender equality

A substantial share of Spanish MEPs went for more ‘deliberative’ committees such as foreign affairs (mirroring the portfolio of the new Spanish Commissioner), human rights and gender equality. However, Spanish MEPs are strongly represented in the Fisheries Committee (alongside Italian and British MEPs), and ‘legislative’ Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, which will deal with key proposals on migration, border control and rule of law. While these are key topics for Spain, this is also the venue where issues concerning the Catalonian crisis could potentially be discussed.

Conversely, Spanish MEPs are under-represented in the two committees dealing with budgetary issues (BUDG and CONT). Since the difference between the Spanish contribution and reception of EU budget is rather small, budgetary discussions seem to trigger little interest among the Spaniards. However, during the previous term, the two most influential Spanish MEPs, Eider Rubial Gardiazabal and Inés Ayala Sender (both from S&D), focused on Budget and Budgetary Control, respectively. While uneven representation of MEPs implies uneven influence of specific national groups across Parliamentary committees, the presence of experienced MEPs (such as Gardiazabal in BUDG) will also play a key role in the equation.

** Our future assessment of the new MEPs will provide further details on the level of influence of both individuals and national groups as a whole on EU legislation. Keep following us for more updates. For any questions, feel free to contact us at [email protected] 

7) Budgetary committees top priority for ‘net beneficiary’ Polish and Romanians

Unlike Spanish MEPs, Polish and Romanian representatives display a stronger interest in budgetary committees: the Polish are strongly represented in the Committee on Budgets, whereas Romanians are strongly represented in the Committee on Budgetary Control. Since EU funding plays an important role in the two countries’ economies, it is understandable that their MEPs want to have a say on the future outlook of the common budget.

Interestingly, Polish MEPs are also strongly represented in the Committee on Development, as well as the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. This stronger representation of the Polish will partly compensate the overall under-representation of CEE MEPs in these two committees (for instance, there are no Romanian, Bulgarian or Czech MEPs in the DEVE and FEMM Committee – just to mention some of the biggest national delegations from CEE). While the outcome of these committees’ deliberations tend to be favourable to the progressive side of the political spectrum, the more conservative outlook of Polish MEPs is expected to act as a counter-balance.

However, there are also a few committees where Polish MEPs are not represented at all. For example, there are no Poles within the Committee on Fisheries, despite the fact that Poland borders the Baltic Sea. This can be explained by the fact that the weight of fisheries in the Polish economy is smaller compared to the weight of this sector in Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal) and the UK. Similarly, no Romanian MEPs are found in the PECH Committee, despite Romania having access to the Black Sea.

Similarly, no Romanian and Polish MEPs joined the Committee on Legal Affairs, contributing to the strong under-representation of Central and Eastern European MEPs in this committee.

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A few final words: these discrepancies between the total size of a national delegation and the over/under-representation in specific committees might lead, occasionally, to “conflicting” majorities among different committees, as well as between the committees and the EP plenary as a whole. More generally, with a more fragmented and polarised Parliament, we expect the plenary to play a stronger role in the internal decision-making of the EP, a trend that was already visible towards the end of the previous term, which saw the plenary challenging the proposals by the dedicated EP committees on some of the most disputed files (i.e. copyright reform and mobility package). Similarly, we expect the EP to be less predictable and hence “harder to convince” by either the Commission or the Council. This means that the EP (and especially its plenary) will play a stronger role in the relation with the other institutions. That this is likely to be the case is confirmed by the statement of the new Commission President that she wants the EP to have the right of initiative: by allowing the EP to move first, the Commission can test where the majorities are before it comes out with concrete proposals, thus taking a much more precautionary approach that can spare conflict and embarrassment.

Stay tuned to our analyses or contact us at [email protected] for deeper insights (NB: we provide tailored training and research upon request).

*This is the second part of a series covering the political changes within EP Committees. Click here to read the first part

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