This analysis is part of the Influence Index: a new data-driven ranking of MEPs by VoteWatch Europe and BCW Brussels. It is the first MEP ranking to measure influence through two crucial dimensions, namely:
– Political influence: the ability to change legislation, win votes, and shape debates;
– Social influence: the ability to reach people, shift the public conversation, and build a community of support.
The following report sheds light on the top MEPs by political influence on EU health policy. The full results are available on the dedicated website.
When the Covid-19 pandemic ignited in the European Union, many worried this would shift the focus away from the climate agenda. However, although health policy started to occupy more space in the public debate, climate objectives were not abandoned during the scramble to address the economic downturn. Most acquiesce that the fiscal firepower needed for the economic recovery must respect some basic climate objectives. Indeed, some important climate-related legislation, such as the EU taxonomy for sustainable finance, have already been adopted in the EU legislatures.
Currently, the climate policy debate is focused on the Commission’s proposals for the European Green Deal, the European Climate Law and the Just Transition Fund (the latter being the Commission’s response to criticism from Central-Eastern Europe Member States on how the new climate policy will affect them). These proposals are still in their incipient phases in the legislative process, none being tabled yet in the Plenary. However, the Green Deal pillar is broader and it extends to issues such as genetically-modified organisms, the regulation of chemicals and pesticides, biodiversity and animal welfare.
Regarding the main focus of the Green Deal pillar, a large and consistent majority of MEPs showed their support for EU climate policy at various points during this parliamentary term. Quite dramatically, a large majority of MEPs declared a climate and environmental emergency in November 2019. This showed that the more climate-action sceptics from the right-wing of the EP (ID, ECR and a part of EPP) are outnumbered by a somewhat united left that is propped up by the Renew Europe group. Similarly, the European Green Deal was received with more or less fanfare in the European Parliament. Following the publication of the Commission’s proposal, a joint resolution by EPP, S&D, Renew and Greens/EFA welcoming the Green Deal was adopted in the legislature by a majority of MEPs.
However, in a context where a majority of MEPs seem to be onboard with climate protection, it might prove difficult to discern which MEPs are actually spearheading and shaping the debate from those who are just following suit. This is why careful thought has been given to our Influence Index, which accurately measures the impact of every MEP in this policy area.
VoteWatch has applied a comprehensive methodology to spot who these representatives of citizens’ interests are and the reasons that make certain MEPs more or less influential. Given that we are merely at the beginning of the legislative cycle, at this point in time the professional background and the political network are the most important indicators of potential influence. However, later on, we will see in which cases this will be transposed into actual influence on shaping dossiers. In some cases, as we advance towards the middle of the legislative cycle, other influencers also emerge, reason for which it is useful to keep an eye on the bigger picture. To read the full methodology, click here.
This is what we found at this point in time:
1. The research below does not include the views of the MEPs, i.e. the directions in which they are likely to push and pull EU legislation. To find out those, contact us at [email protected]
2. Always keep in mind that while individual MEPs are the visible signatories of initiatives or amendments, in reality, their views are shaped (and their margins of maneuver are limited) by bigger political and societal forces that converge when policy-making is done. Ignoring those forces can lead to surprises, so make sure you don’t just look at the visible MEPs, who are just the tip of the iceberg, but also look at their colleagues, networks and other stakeholders surrounding them, i.e. keep in mind that 90% of the iceberg is “below the sea level”. Feel free to contact us to learn more.
Top 5 MEPs
1) Bas Eickhout is currently the most influential MEP on climate and environmental policy. This can be counter-intuitive as he is not the Chair of the ENVI Committee, but one of the Vice-Chairs. Also, he is not a Chair of the Greens/EFA group, but one of its Vice-Chairs. Although Eickhout does not occupy the highest leadership positions in the ENVI Committee or his parliamentary group, the Dutch MEP has gained influence thanks to a strong network, seniority and concrete legislative work. Eickhout is currently serving his third parliamentary term and has represented the European Parliament in the last 3 COPs (COP23 through COP25) – for COP25 he was the Chair of the European delegation.
Eickhout has held the key position of rapporteur on crucial legislation related to climate and environmental policy, such as the EU taxonomy on sustainable finance. The latter was adopted by the European Parliament during the June 2020 EP Plenary, following rough negotiations. Most notably, during the previous term, the right-wing forces significantly watered-down this legislative proposal. Compared to the previous term, some centre-right MEPs and the centre became more favourable towards EU action in this policy area (as revealed by VoteWatch here).
2) Jytte Guteland is the second most influential MEP on climate and environmental policy. The Swedish MEP is the Coordinator of ENVI on behalf of S&D and the Vice-Chair of the Intergroup on Climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development. During the previous term, she was one of the main negotiators for the revision of the EU Emissions Trading System. Recently, she was appointed as the rapporteur for the Framework for achieving climate neutrality, also known as the European Climate Law, which is the EU legislation underpinning the EU goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Besides being the rapporteur of one of the most important pieces of climate legislation during this term, Guteland is influential on climate and environmental policy also due to her extensive network and her seniority. She is currently serving her second parliamentary term and, besides her membership in the ENVI Committee, she is active in numerous informal networks specialized in this policy area. Her national party, the Swedish Social Democratic Party, is part of a minority government alongside the Swedish Green Party.
3) Pascal Canfin is the Chair of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). The French MEP was one of the rapporteurs on the COP25 motion for resolution and is currently the shadow rapporteur on the WTO-compatible EU carbon border adjustment mechanism. As observed before, Canfin is a key MEP to watch regarding EU climate policy. However, Canfin did not make the top position because of his relatively lower network and legislative work – compared to the two front-runners.
Before joining the Renew Europe group, the French MEP was part of the Greens/EFA group. His previous political membership, as well as his leadership of the ENVI Committee, is the symbolic bridge between the Greens/EFA and Renew Europe. The centrist group, after its post-election make-over, has become more vocal on climate policy. As a result, members of Greens/EFA are increasingly more open to Renew Europe. This trend will likely further increase considering the defeat of Macron’s party by the Greens in the French local elections.
Stay tuned for our incoming report on the overall increased cooperation between Greens/EFA and Renew Europe, as well as on the patterns of tabling amendments of the other MEPs.
4) Finnish Nils Torvalds is serving his third term in Parliament. This MEP is the fourth most influential MEP in the Green Deal pillar because of his leadership positions, legislative work, network and seniority. Torvalds is the coordinator of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety for Renew Europe, which is especially important because the Renew group is the kingmaker in this policy area. He was one of the rapporteurs on the COP25 motion for resolution and a member of the delegation which attended the conference. He is also a member of the intergroup on Seas, Rivers, Islands, and Coastal Areas (SEARICA) and the European Forum for Renewable Energy Sources (EUFORES).
The Finnish MEP maintains his influence in EU climate and environmental policy – our previous influence assessment also ranked him among the 10 most influential MEPs in this policy area. Back home, his Swedish People’s Party is part of the ruling coalition. He is quite well-known both in the European Parliament and in Finland, having been a candidate in the country’s latest presidential elections.
5) Anja Hazekamp is serving her second term in the EP and is the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. Although she belongs to GUE/NGL group, a relatively fringe parliamentary group, her national party (Party for Animals) is specialised in animal welfare. Hazekamp’s experience and involvement on this matter make the MEP the fifth most influential MEP in the Green Deal pillar. She chairs the Welfare and Animal Conservation group and is a member of the Committee on Fisheries and the intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development. Furthermore, in Parliament, she has been involved in multiple objections relating to the putting on the market of various types of genetically modified grains.
A look from the political groups’ perspective
The distribution of political influence in the Green Deal pillar is substantially different from the one in health policy, where S&D and EPP dominate the top 5. When it comes to the Green Deal pillar, no EPP members made it into the top 5, which is quite remarkable considering that the EPP is the largest European political group.
MEPs from the centre-to-the-left side of the EP give more weight to climate action than those from the right-wing. This can be seen also in the MEPs’ current influence on this topic as members of Renew Europe, S&D, Greens/EFA and, to a lesser extent GUE/NGL, “overpopulate” the top of our influence index. Most notably, Greens/EFA outperforms the centre-right group, in spite of the latter’s evident numerical advantage. The underperfomance of the EPP is confirmed by the overall statistics on the proportional influence by political group (since we are looking at the average influence of the groups’ members, the different sizes of the groups are being factored in).
This is not a surprise, as the centre-to-the-left has made addressing climate change an essential part of their “mandate”. On the other hand, the influence of the right-side of the EP is dented by internal division due to economic considerations. While EPP officially has a common position on climate policy, this group is often split when it comes to voting on actual decisions. The position of ECR is shaped to a large extent by the Polish delegation. The Polish have been reticent to the sacrifices their coal-dependent country has to make in order for the EU to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and, therefore, have a position that tends to be on the minority side. For its part, the ID group lacks influence in this policy area, as well as many others, because it has not secured leadership positions in the EP (it is surrounded by the famous cordon sanitaire made up by the other political groups).
A look from the national perspective
Our influence index regarding climate policy shows a remarkable geographical imbalance in its distribution, which was not present in the previous assessment on health. Western, Nordic and Southern MEPs tend to be substantially more influential than MEPs from Central-Eastern Europe. This can be explained by the importance that is given to climate change in these regions. Polls consistently indicate that citizens from CEE are much less preoccupied by the climate debate than their neighbours in the West (a phenomenon that has to do with the difference in the stage of economic development). This trend is transposed in the diminished interest of their representatives in the EP on this topic.
However, as it was the case of health policy, German and French MEPs punch well below their potential of influence on the Green Deal pillar, and so do Italian MEPs.
Conversely, the Finish are overwhelmingly influential in this policy area. Considering the relative size of their delegation, it is quite surprising that no less than 5 politically-diverse Finnish MEPs made it into our top 30 most influential MEPs. VoteWatch anticipated this trend in the beginning of the term – the Finnish, as well as the Dutch and Swedish, are overrepresented in the ENVI Committee.
Click HERE for more detailed information on the methodology for the assessment of political influence.
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