MEPs’ deck of cards: who are the most influential ones?

A couple of weeks ago, VoteWatch Europe published an assessment of the most influential MEPs, which was based on a set of criteria weighted by more than 200 experts in EU Affairs. Drawing on that research, we designed a set of cards in order to highlight which are the most influential MEPs by activity. In fact, MEPs are influential in different ways and sometimes it might be very tricky to draw a comparison between their activities. There are MEPs with a high political influence (diffuse influence) such as the leaders of the political groups, whereas other MEPs are particularly influential on a policy area (concentrated influence) such as the committees’ chairs or the rapporteurs on specific files.

We decided to represent the most influential political leaders as Aces, whereas the most influential committee’s chairs are the Kings. As women are still underrepresented in the European Parliament (as in many other political institutions), we thought useful to highlight who are the most influential female MEPs (the Queens). Last but least, the MEPs receiving the highest scores for their activities as rapporteurs are the Jacks of our deck.

Finally, as some commentators pointed out, prominent political leaders such as Marine le Pen and Nigel Farage did not make it to the upper part of our list of the most influential MEPs. This is because our assessment focused on the level of influence within the European Parliament and particular attention was dedicated to the MEPs’ ability to shape EU policy from within the EP. Le Pen and Farage are member of political groups with low winning rates in the Parliament and do not hold important positions in either the committees or the institution as a whole. This explains their relatively low positions in our list.

However, their power outside the Parliament can have a considerable impact on European politics as a whole and their campaigns already had disruptive effects on the day-by-day policy making in the EU. Because of Nigel Farage’s longstanding (and ultimately successful) campaign to take the UK out of the European Union and the effects of Marine le Pen’s rise on the public debate on migration and Islam in France, these two political leaders are the Jokers in our set of cards.

The Aces (overall political influencers):

A Sculz, Germany, PJ12A Weber, Germany, PJ12

A Pittella, Italy, PJ12 (1)A Verhofstadt, Belgium, PJ12

Martin Schulz, member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (S&D), has been President of the European Parliament for almost five years, although he is now close to the end of his second mandate, which will expire at the end of the year. Whether Schulz will be reelected for an unprecedented third term or not, he will still have a considerable amount of clout on the legislative assembly, given his long political experience in the institution. Before starting his political career, he first worked as bookseller and then as a bookshop owner for more than ten years. He is now one of the most longstanding MEP as he was first elected in 1994. Schulz was the chair of S&D group (which is the second largest group in the EP) for 12 years before being elected President of the institution.

Manfred Weber, member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, is the chair of the European People’s Party (EPP). As with Schulz, he also worked in the private sector before becoming a politician, as he founded a consultancy firm in 1996. After a stint in the Bavarian Parliament, he was elected with the Christian Social Union to the European Parliament in 2007. Since the very beginning, he held positions of powers within the EPP: firstly as a member of the Bureau, then as the vice-chair of the group and, since 2014, he has been the chair of the largest group in the EP.

Gianni Pittella, member of the Italian Democratic Party, is the chair of the Socialist & Democrats group. S&D is the second largest group in the Parliament and its leader holds a considerable amount of clout on the shaping of EU policies. Gianni Pittella is a member of the Democratic Party, which is the largest Italian party in the EP. With a background in medicine, Pittella has been working in the European Parliament since 1999 and already held political positions in the group in the past, as he was the head of the Italian delegation within the S&D group in the previous terms. In addition to his position within the Social Democratic group, Pittella also played an important role as Vice-President of the European Parliament during the 7th Term.

Guy Verhofstadt, member of the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats, is the charismatic leader of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe) group in the EP. Before joining the EP in 2009, Verhofstadt held important positions at the national level. In fact, he was the Prime Minister of Belgium for almost ten years (from 1999 to 2008). When he was appointed as PM of Belgium, he had already been the chair of his political party for several years (firstly the Party for Freedom and Progress and then the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats). His long experience as the leader of a political party might explain why he has been leading the Liberal group in the European Parliament since the moment he joined the institution. The Belgian politician is also very popular and well-known across the EU bubble, in particular for his passionate speeches in favor of the establishment of a real European federation.

The Kings (gatekeepers of the powerful committees):

K La Via, Italy, PJ12 (1)K Lange, Germany, PJ12 (1)

K Buzek, Poland, PJ12K Gualtieri, Italy, PJ12

Giovanni la Via is a member of the Italian New Centre-Right (EPP). Despite being a member of a relatively small party, Giovanni La Via played an important role because of his chairmanship of one of the busiest committees of the European Parliament: the Committee on Environment, Health and Public Safety. La Via started his career in the academia, as a professor of Agricultural Politics and Economics. His expertise in the field might account for the high number of reports drafted by the Sicilian politician, usually related to food issues. In particular, he was the rapporteur on the controversial proposal by the Commission on the possibility for the Member States to restrict or prohibit the use of genetically modified food and feed on their territory, which has been eventually rejected by the European Parliament.

Bernd Lange is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (S&D). He is a longstanding member of the institution, which he first joined in 1994. Before then, Lange worked as a high school teacher for more than 10 years. He is now the head of the Committee on International Trade, which is now one of the busiest committees in the European Parliament. Furthermore, he also drafted a few reports about trade over the last two years and a half, such as the recommendations to the European Commission on the Negotiations on TTIP, a resolution on the negotiation for a EU-Tunisia Free Trade Agreement and a resolution of the state of play of the Doha Development Agenda.

Jerzy Buzek, member of the Polish Civic Platform (EPP), is a former President of the European Parliament. Buzek can boast more than ten years of Parliamentary service as he was first elected to the Brussels-based institution in 2004. His previous role as EP President gained him some bonus points, even though Buzek still holds very important positions in the EP. He is the chair of the Committee on Internal Market, Industry and Energy as well as the chair of the Conference of the Committee Chairs which gathers all the Committee’s chairs of the EP. In addition to these positions, he also drafted a report on an issue with broad geopolitical and economic implication: the adoption of measures to safeguard European gas supplies.

Roberto Gualtieri is a member of the Italian Democratic Party (S&D). He is the Chair of one of the most important committees of the EP, namely the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. Before becoming MEP in 2009, he wrote several books about European history. In addition to the chairmanship of ECON, he was also the rapporteur on the annual report on the Banking Union in 2015. In the previous term, Gualtieri was appointed as a member of the negotiating team for the Parliament on key policy initiatives, such as the creation of the European External Action Service and the establishment of the European Fiscal Compact.

The Queens (most influential women in the EP):

Q Grassle, Germany, PJ12Q Wilkstrom, Sweden, PJ12

Q Gardiazabal Rubial, Spain, PJ12 (1)Q Guillaume, France, PJ12

Ingeborg Grässle is a member of the German Christian Democratic Union (EPP). Before joining the European Parliament in 2004, she studied political sciences and was a member of the regional assembly of her Land of provenance, Baden-Württemberg . In the European Parliament, she is specialized in budgetary issues and she currently chairs the powerful Committee on Budgetary Control. In addition to this position, Grässle drafted many reports on discharge-related issues, in particular regarding the fight against financial frauds and the role of European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

Cecilia Wikström is a member of the Swedish Liberal Party (ALDE).  Before joining the European Parliament in 2009, she studied Theology in the University of Uppsala and has been practicing as a priest for the Swedish Church since 1994. She holds important positions within both her own political group and the the European Parliament as a whole. In fact she is the political coordinator for ALDE in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs as well as the Chair of the Petitions Committee. Recently, Wikström has also worked on migration, in particular she was rapporteur on a file concerning the facilitation of entry and residence of non-EU nationals for research, study and voluntary purposes.

Eider Gardiazabal Rubial is a member of the Socialist Party of Spanish Workers (S&D). She joined the Parliament in 2009. Prior to that, she has been the Secretary General of the Socialists Youths in her hometown, Bilbao, and a counselor in the same city. She is mostly focused on budgetary issues and, notably, she was the rapporteur on 2015 General Budget (together with Monika Hohlmeier). Gardiazabal Rubial is also the political coordinator of S&D in the Committee on Budgets, which she served as Vice-chair for more than a year during the 7th Parliamentary term. In addition to budgetary policy, she is also active on the policies for young people, as she is the co-chair of the Intergroup on Youth Issues.

Sylvie Guillaume is a member of the French Socialist Party (S&D). She joined the European Parliament in 2009, after many years of political experience at both local, regional and national level. Before becoming Vice-President of the European Parliament, she was the vice-chair of her political group, the Socialist and Democrats (from 2012 to 2014). In addition to her political position in the Parliament, she is specialized in the procedures for granting international protection. The issue is particularly salient at the moment because of the ongoing refugee crisis. Just few months ago, she drafted a report on the EU common list for safe countries of origin, which is a cornerstone of the European Agenda on Migration.

The Jacks (the keyholders, ie. the rapporteurs of key dossiers):

J Czarnecki, Poland, PJ12 (1)J Walesa, Poland, PJ12

J Kirkhope, UK, PJ12J Mato, Spain, PJ12

Ryszard Czarnecki is a member of the Polish Law and Justice (ECR). Born in London and with a background in journalism, Czarnecki was first elected in the EP in 2004, as a member of the nationalist Self-Defense Party. He is now a Vice-President of the European Parliament (the only one from ECR) and the political coordinator for ECR in the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT). Furthermore, Czarnecki has played an important role in CONT as he has been the rapporteur on many discharge-related files over the last 8 years. He is also active in neighbourhood policy in his role of Vice-Chair of the EP Delegation to the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly.

Jarosław Wałęsa is a member of the Polish Civic Platform (EPP). He joined the EP in 2009, after a few years spent in the Lower House of Poland (Sejm). Differently from Czarnecki and Buzek, Wałęsa does not hold many positions within the European Parliament, apart from the vice-chairmanship of the Committee on Fisheries. However, Wałęsa has been very active in drafting reports, as he was assigned a high number of rapporteurships on files under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure. In particular, he drafted reports on fisheries (in particular regarding the protection of stocks of certain species in the Baltic Sea) and on international trade (with a focus on the imports of products from third countries).

Timothy Kirkhope is a member of the UK’s Conservative Party (ECR). Kirkhope has been serving as an MEP in the EP since 1999, when he was first elected with the Conservative Party. He was the head of the British delegation in the EPP until the exit of Tories from the political group in 2010. Now he is political coordinator of ECR in the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, that notably deals with the issue of migration, terrorism and data protection. However, the high score obtained by Kirkhope is mostly based on his work as a rapporteur on many (files under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (OLP), in particular on police cooperation, on the use of passenger name records for security purposes and on the relocation mechanisms for person asking for international protection.

Gabriel Mato is a member of Spanish People’s Party (EPP). Before joining the European Parliament in 2009, he held several political offices in the Government of Canary Islands and he was the President of Canary Islands Regional Parliament for almost 5 years. In the EP, he specialized in fisheries and was the chair of the Committee on Fisheries for two years over the last term. Currently, Mato is the political coordinator of the EPP group (European People’s Party) in the Committee on Fisheries Committee. His high score also stems from the number of reports under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure that he drafted. In fact, he was appointed rapporteur on files concerning the conservation and recovering of fishing resources and marine ecosystems. Finally, he is also the Vice-Chair of the EP Delegation to Central America’s countries.

The Jokers (strategically positioned to shape the debate outside the EP):

Joker Le Pen, France, PJ12 (2)Joker Farage, UK, PJ12 (3)

Marine le Pen is the leader of the French National Front (ENF) and she is one of the candidates for the upcoming French presidential elections in 2017. Before starting her political career in 1999, she worked as a lawyer for a few years in Paris. Afterwards, Le Pen joined the political bureau of the National Front (which was founded by his father Jean-Marie le Pen), before becoming firstly vice-president of the party in 2007 and then its leader in 2011. Le Pen’s joined the EP in 2004 and she is currently the co-chair of the youngest political group in the European Parliament, Europe of Nations and Freedom.

Nigel Farage is the firebrand of Euroscepticism in the UK and was the leader of the UK Independence Party (EFDD) for about 10 years. He recently stepped down from the leadership of the party after the victory of the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum. After high school, he worked in the financial sector, as a commodity trader, until he started being involved full time in politics. He has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999. During this period, he first co-chaired the Independence/Democracy group and eventually he was appointed as the co-chair of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group.

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