MEP Network Analysis: who links with whom in the European Parliament?

This is the first instance of a series providing key insights from our network-analysis of MEPs. Stay tuned for the second part to be published next week. 

Due to the consensus-driven nature of the EP, amendments play a key role in bridging gaps between different factions and finding common positions on the way to the vote. As such, they provide crucial information about the bridge-builders and the hubs of influence. For this reason, we conducted a thorough network analysis that looked into all amendments drafted by MEPs since the beginning of this term (until August 2020). 

In order to comprehend the way alliances are forged in the EP and estimate what factors matter the most to whom, our analysis will provide both a macro-picture of the general overview of MEPs’ amendment-tabling behaviour, as well as several micro-pictures within political groups themselves. As our previous report on the current and future dynamics of the European Parliament shows, identifying both these sets of patterns is of paramount importance if stakeholders want to grasp the forces shaping European debates and accurately predict the direction these might take in the future. 

Notes on the terminology used: 

In this report, the term “connection” refers to two MEPs signing the same amendment. For example, if MEPs X, Y, Z signed the same amendment, then X has 2 new connections, i.e., 1 new connection with Y and 1 new connection with Z. At the same time, Y and Z also have 2 new connections. This report is based on the analysis of over 700.000 connections between MEPs. 

Similarly, the terms “inward”, “internal” or “intra-group” connections all refer to connections (co-authoring amendments) with MEPs from the same political group, while “outward”, “external” and “inter-group” are used interchangeably to define co-authorship of amendments by MEPs belonging to different groups. 

 

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Striking differences in networking patterns amongst political groups

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We observe a special behavior in case of S&D and Renew members, who, at first sight, develop many more connections (i.e. they co-author many more amendments) than MEPs from other groups. However, a closer look provides clues of what is going on: most of these “connections” are internal, i.e. with colleagues from the same political group, which means that the MEPs from S&D and Renew tend to table amendments in larger groups of signatories. One explanation for this behavior may be the preference of assuming collective responsibility for political actions (which is more present in the case of left-leaning politicians), while right-leaning politicians value more taking  individual responsibility. A second, more practical, explanation may be that some other organisations that track MEPs’ activities develop rankings of performance based on purely quantitative criteria, i.e. they communicate to the public that drafting more amendments equals the MEP being more active, which incentives the MEPs to draft endless amendments. Interestingly enough, this surge in “co-signing” behavior can be observed only within the S&D and Renew groups. 

Most of the other groups are in the average, while the Greens/EFA tends to do the opposite, i.e., table amendments with a smaller number of signatories. In this respect, Greens/EFA group trails even the non-attached MEPs, as the Italians from the 5Star Movement develop many connections (mostly among themselves, but also covering all the political spectrum). 

 

Remarkably however, Greens/EFA are the most likely to reach out to other groups, i.e., when they draft amendments, the tactics of the Greens is to secure co-signatories among MEPs from the other groups (rather than other Greens). As a smaller group, Greens/EFA needs to forge coalitions in order to advance its agenda, especially concerning the environment, but not only. 

This is confirmed by the behavior of the ECR MEPs, which are in a similar position as the Greens (i.e. smaller group trailing the main group that dominates their side of the political spectrum), but on the center-right side. ECR MEPs are also looking to develop inter-group connections to increase their leverage.  

The chart below shows the proportion of inter-group cooperation when signing amendments vs. intra-group cooperation. 

Conversely, ID, S&D and Renew members have high numbers of inward (intra-group) connections. Preliminary research shows that this proportion is increasing compared to the previous EP term. In the case of ID, the significantly low number of external connections is an effect of the cordon sanitaire by the other groups, which have also blocked the ID group from securing any leadership positions at the beginning of the term. In effect, the cordon sanitaire is making it almost impossible for the ID MEPs to pass any of their amendments, which means that if parties belonging to this group want to exert influence in EU policy making, they need to seriously re-assess their strategy. 

Renew Europe, for its part, is probably experiencing this increased inward-looking cooperation as a result of its gain of seats in European elections (the more MEPs inside the group, the less need for external cooperation, as in the case of S&D and the EPP).

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EPP dynamics: Temporary shift towards the left___________________________________________________________________________

To some extent, EPP has yielded to the left-leaning dynamics of the new Parliament. EPP members have increased their connections with S&D and Renew during the first 6 months of this parliamentary term – a period in which the policy agenda was dominated by migration and environmental/climate issues, where the EPP tends to be divided. However, as the policy agenda shifted towards the EU budget and the economy (where EPP is much more of a united front), this trend shifted back. 

 

Considering its numerical domination within the group, it is unsurprising that CDU/CSU is forging relatively more connections than other centre-right parties. However, most of these connections are with other members of EPP, with the German centre-right trailing the other delegations in terms of connections with other political groups. As one of Europe’s most successful parties, CDU MEPs are likely to concentrate on liaising with one another and maintaining their position as the leading party of the most important group in the parliament. 

Instead, the Romanian EPP delegation, home to three very different national parties, leads in terms of inter-group connections. At the same time, the Romanian delegation records below-average connections within EPP. PNL members, currently in power in Romania, are ‘responsible’ for the overwhelming bulk of inter-group bridging (mainly with fellow Romanians MEPs from other groups or other MEPs from neighbouring countries), while the smaller PMP and UDMR members prefer to co-sign amendments with fellow EPP-ers. 

The Polish centre-right delegation is also among the leaders in terms of inter-group connections. However, a closer look reveals that this increase is not (mainly) due to more Europe-wide networking, but due to intra-national connections: almost 40% of EPP Polish connections are with fellow Polish members, both within and outside EPP. 

Signaling the political rift between the EPP and Fidesz, the Hungarian centre-right delegation has below average connections within the EPP. However, this is not compensated by higher cooperation with other political groups – Andor Deli is the only Fidesz member that connects across political lines, both to the left and to the right.

With a numerically diminished delegation after the 2019 European elections, the Spanish Partido Popular seems to continue to be reeling, with preliminary research showing that the connections of its members are decreasing substantially compared to the previous term. Outside EPP, Partido Popular has scarce connections with other parliamentary groups; their MEP Gabriel Mato is the only one who has significant connections to S&D.

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Renew Europe: more French and inward-looking than before

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Renew Europe sees an increase in the share of inward connections compared to the previous term. As a “refreshed” and more pivotal political group, Renew Europe is still adjusting to its enhanced role in the parliament. Moreover, it counts a high proportion of new MEPs whose networks are still to be developed. 

All in all, the success of La République en Marche (LREM) in France has given new life to the centrists on the continent, which is also reflected in the behavior in the EP. LREM is the hub for most other national delegations when tabling amendments, e.g., Spanish Ciudadanos or Romanian USR, but even for more right-leaning delegations, such as the Dutch VVD. However, the Dutch have a strong so-called “frugal” position when it comes to the EU budget, which differs from that of the French. Once the EP sets out to discuss this topic, VVD might start liaising with like-minded parties more to the right and to the north.

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S&D – Increasing influence of Southern Europe

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S&D delegations that are in charge back at home are less prone to reach outwards: they have less incentives to reach out to find potential new allies if they already enjoy a strong position within their own group. As can be seen in the graph below, this is the case for Spain, Italy and Portugal, whose MEPs mostly liaise with their fellow Southern European Social Democrats. 

The domination of Southern Europe is reflected even in the behavior of German MEPs: SPD MEPs mostly network with PSOE, followed by Italian and Portuguese MEPs, all governing parties in their respective countries.

The only exception to this trend is the Romanian delegation, which accounts for almost a fifth of the external connections of the S&D group (four times more than the next delegations in terms of inter-group connections). The Romanian PSD has a rocky relationship with the S&D group, coming under fire for rule of law issues and feeling a push to take distance from their S&D colleagues for failing to support PSD’s Commissioner-designate in 2019, Rovana Plumb, as well as policy disagreements in various areas. PSD members connect mostly, besides S&D, with the right-side of the EP (especially EPP, but also ECR). Confirming this (counter-intuitive) “bridge”, a former member of PSD, Cristian Terheș, recently left the S&D group to join ECR. 

On the other hand, PRO Romania also connects relatively more with Renew Europe and the left-wing (GUE/NGL and Greens/EFA) than with its own parliamentary group. PRO Romania is a splinter from PSD founded by a former Prime-Minister (Victor Ponta). It’s worth remembering that PRO Romania is not a member of PES, but of the EDP (European Democratic Party), whose parties usually sit in the centrist parliamentary group.

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The left wing of the EP: looking at the centre, not at one another

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The EP’s left forces are not as cohesive as their ideological position would suggest. As a matter of fact, when it comes to reaching out for support for their amendments, all parties on the left of the spectrum are leaning to the centre as much as possible. This applies to the left’s mainstream parties, such as the Social Democrats – and, growingly, the Greens – as well as the far-left. 

All in all, this seems to suggest that their coalition-building behaviour tends to favour the centre, particularly Renew Europe and, to a lesser extent, even the EPP. 

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Greens/EFA – Reaching outward as much as possible ___________________________________________________________________________

Almost a third of the co-signatories of amendments signed by members of Greens/EFA are from outside their group. This is by far the largest percentage of inter-group connections amongst European political groups. 

This behavior reflects a change of tactics by the Greens/EFA: while continuing to be highly confrontational towards the center in terms of discourse, the Greens are becoming more pragmatic when it comes to getting things done. In particular, the Greens developed a special interest in European centrists: 11% of amendments signed by members of Greens/EFA are with Renew members – more than during the previous term. 

This network potential has been aided by French Pascal Canfin and Pascal Durand, who used to belong to the Greens but joined Renew Europe for the current parliamentary term. Canfin is the chair of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. As such, he has been instrumental in fostering inter-party support on the topic.

A special role is played by the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, i.e., the German Green party, which has emerged as the largest delegation within Greens/EFA. In an effort to establish itself as a mainstream party and thus increase its electoral base, the German Greens have been trying to strengthen their networks with centrist groups, such as Renew Europe, but also S&D and EPP. Indeed, over 40% of Greens/EFA’s external connections are “brought home” by its German delegation. 

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GUE/NGL: smaller delegations punching above their weight

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The far-left camp in Parliament is dominated by the Irish delegation in terms of in-group connections. When it comes to out-group cooperation, Irish MEP Luke Ming Flanagan has expressed an interest in liaising with Renew Europe MEPs and, to a lesser degree, with EPP. This can be explained by the fact that the Irish GUE/NGL delegation is composed of various parties, some more leftist than others. As such, some Irish MEPs have been keen to connect with more centrist parties in a bid to strike compromises and advance their interests. 

Another delegation that punches above its weight is the Spanish one. This is perhaps unsurprising given that its main party in GUE/NGL – Podemos – is serving as junior coalition partner in Spain. As such, it plays a key role in articulating the demands of GUE/NGL. Yet, the other main delegations within GUE/NGL, especially the Germans and the French retain significant influence.

Interestingly, Greek SYRIZA is more outward-looking compared to the other main parties within GUE/NGL, which is not very surprising, since the Greeks moderated their positions significantly during their stint in government in Athens. Yet, while SYRIZA got increasingly closer to S&D, this has led to frictions with more radical members of GUE/NGL.

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ECR: Polish stronghold, with connections to CEE further afield 

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The European Conservatives display largely similar behaviour to that of the previous term. This might come across as surprising, since the group underwent significant changes since the 8th term, particularly after one of ECR’s major delegations – the British Conservatives – left due to Brexit. Currently, Polish MEPs account for almost half the MEPs in the group.

This explains why Polish MEPs are the influence hub and they account for most of the group’s internal and external connections. As the largest delegation by far, Polish ECR MEPs are represented in a varied array of parliamentary committees, and therefore hold considerable networking power for other ECR members. 

 

 

The rest of the Conservatives’ external connections are taken up by three delegations, i.e., the Bulgarians, the Latvians and the Swedes. Swedish Democrats have been tabling amendments mainly with the AfD party from the ID group.

As for the Bulgarian and Latvian MEPs, their networking goes in the direction of EPP and S&D and overwhelmingly towards fellow CEE countries, particularly Bulgarian, Romanian and, to a lesser extent, Latvian MEPs. 

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ID group: still surrounded by a cordon sanitaire

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The cordon sanitaire surrounding ID is still very much in place, effectively blocking the party from accessing leadership positions in the EP. The cordon sanitaire also has effects on the connections of far-right MEPs. During the previous term, ID’s predecessor ENF had connections with like-minded EFDD MEPs. With the absence of the latter in this term, ID has reduced its number of outward connections dramatically.

With the exception of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Finns Party, national delegations in the ID have extremely high levels of inward connections. The Finns Party faced a cordon sanitaire of its own at home after the party abruptly left the previous centre-right government. This resulted in it being subsequently kept out of coalition negotiations in the aftermath of the last election in 2019, in spite of becoming the second-largest party in the parliament. This desire to become once again a legitimate coalition partner might be behind these Finnish MEPs’ interest in reaching outwards, particularly as the main targets have been mainstream groups such as ECR and, to a lesser extent, EPP and Renew Europe. 

It is the Germans, however, who make the bulk of the group’s external connections. These are mainly to ECR, which signals a strategy to strengthen relations with parties belonging to a more moderate group, including those with experience in government. This pattern is also reflected inwards: it concentrates on tabling amendments with itself as well as with Italian MEPs: La Lega is amongst the few far-right parties that have had experience in government. AfD has been making gains on other parties at a significant pace since its foundation in 2013, and is attempting to become coalition material in domestic politics. This amendment-tabling pattern reflects these ambitions accordingly. 

 

This is just a summary of our findings from our network-analysis based on co-authorship of amendments in the EP. For more information and tailored reports, feel free to contact us at [email protected]

We are also looking for experts who can help us better understand the drivers of the positions of MEPs and governments in the EU decision-making on a variety of topics (click here for more information). 

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