New leaders of the EP: who are the winners and losers from the allocation of top posts?

Conference of Presidents – © European Union 2019 – Source : EP

After long-winded post-electoral negotiations, the puzzle of the new EU leadership is almost complete. Despite the efforts to ensure geographical and political balance, there are some clear winners and losers from the distribution of key leadership positions, as is usually the case in politics. The winners are those who managed to put their allies in those strategic positions that will allow them to influence the outcome of the policy-making process. Conversely, the losing factions will not be able to count on such leverage and will have to work harder in order to push their proposals through.

In this report, we focus on the distribution of leadership positions in the new European Parliament. In particular, we analyse which national groups of MEPs, as well as national parties, were the most successful in getting the most important posts in this legislative institution. We also compare the strength of key national parties within the EP and their power/representation within the other EU institutions (Commission, EU Council).

Our assessment is based on a quantitative weighting of leadership positions in the European Parliament. In this regard, we took into account both institutional (e.g. committee chairs) and partisan (e.g. coordinators of political groups) leadership positions. Check out the annex for more information on our methodology.

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*This is part of a series of reports on the level of influence of individual MEPs and national parties across Europe. In addition, we are developing a digital tool that will allow you to keep track of the changes in the patterns of influence in European politics. For more information drop us an email at [email protected] (we also provide research or training and tailored studies upon request).

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German MEPs are the most represented overall, Czech the most successful proportionally

Overall, the German national group holds the highest total score based on the leadership positions in the new European Parliament, which is unsurprising considering that this is the largest national group in the EP. The Germans obtained three Vice-Presidents of the EP (Rainer Wieland, Katarina Barley and Nicola Beer), the chair of the EPP group (Manfred Weber), the co-chairs of Greens/EFA and GUE-NGL (Ska Keller and Martin Schirdewan respectively), and a vice-chair of S&D (Ismail Ertug). Moreover, German MEPs (mainly from CDU/CSU) chair 5 committees: INTA, AGRI, CONT, AFET and CULT. However, when we look at the average performance of individual MEPs from different national groups (in other words, we factor out the size of the national delegations), the Germans were slightly less successful than 3 other national groupsthe Czech, the Portuguese and the Romanians.

The high average score of Czech MEPs might sound surprising to those who expect that influence in the EP is directly correlated with the support for EU integration of the country from which these MEPs come from. This correlation does not always apply, as now the EP deals a lot with things that are not about how much European integration we want, but rather how we regulate the internal market. 

During the previous legislative cycle, the Czechs also scored high on  influence exerted through formal leadership positions in the European Parliament, but they have been less prolific with regards to their legislative activities (for more information, check our previous analysis). In the new European Parliament, Czech MEPs got two Vice-Presidencies of the EP (Dita Charanzová and Marcel Kolaja). Czech MEPs also got vice-chair positions within key economic committees (ECON, INTA, EMPL and CONT) and coordinator positions in several different political groups (Czech MEPs are spread across all political groups except S&D).  This is a lot for a relatively small delegation as that of the Czechs, which places them way above the EP average. 

Portuguese MEPs closely follow the Czech in terms of average leadership scores in the new European Parliament. In particular, the Portuguese Socialists seem to have managed to leverage their increased relative strength within the S&D group in order to consolidate their influence in the EP as a whole. The Portuguese members of GUE/NGL also seem to be punching above their weight. Overall, the Portuguese national group can count on one Vice-President of the EP (Pedro Silva Pereira) and 6 committee vice-chairs (ECON, IMCO, EMPL, AGRI, BUDG, PECH). The Portuguese also got key positions within the political groups, such as one vice-chair of EPP group (Paulo Rangel), and two vice-chairs of GUE/NGL (Marisa Matias and João Ferreira).

Finally, Romanian MEPs are the national group with the third highest (proportional) leadership score in the EP. Among the reasons explaining the Romanians’ high score, Romanian MEPs are concentrated in the three most influential groups in the EP, namely the groups that get the most important positions in the EP: EPP, S&D and Renew Europe. Conversely, there are no Romanians among the ranks of the political groups on the fringes. Romanian MEPs got important positions within their political groups, such as the chair of Renew Europe (Dacian Ciolos), and the vice-chairs of EPP (Siegfried Mureşan) and S&D (Rovana Plumb). A Romanian MEP, Adina Ioana Valean, was elected to chair the influential ITRE Committee (she is one of the only two committee chairs coming from Central and Eastern Europe). 

French MEPs are gaining clout, Italian and British are losing ground

Similarly to Germany, the other big delegations in the EP also have a high leadership score in absolute terms (because they have many MEPs). However, unlike the Germans, the proportional scores of the other big national groups are not very high, meaning that they are not punching above their weight.

The performance of French MEPs with regards to leadership positions is in line with the average of EP. This is an improvement compared to the previous term and it is mainly due to the key role played by the French delegation within Renew Europe. In fact, among the explanations for the low level of French leadership influence during the previous terms is the fact that the French did not have strong numbers in any of the groups, with the exception of the fringe right-wing nationalists. This has changed after the 2019 EU elections, when Renew Europe was created. 

While in the new EP there are no French Vice-Presidents of the EP,  four are chairs of EP committees (ENVI, REGI, TRAN and SEDE) and two have been elected questors in the EP bureau. French MEPs are also featured in the leadership of all political groups – except ECR, the only group with no French MEPs. While Manon Aubry is co-chair of GUE/NGL, French MEPs got vice-chair positions in their respective groups (Arnaud Danjean – EPP, Eric Andrieu – S&D, Dominique Riquet and Sylvie Brunet – Renew, Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield – Greens/EFA and Nicolas Bay – ID).

Even though the President of the EP is Italian (as before), the Italian national group as a whole is punching below its weight when it comes to leadership positions in the EP. We observe a decreasing influence of the Italian delegation, which is due to the fact that the biggest Italian party, Lega, is a member of ID group, which was prevented from getting any institutional leadership positions due to a cordon sanitaire formed by the other political groups. The second largest Italian party in the EP, the Democratic Party, lost its hegemonic position within S&D, whereas the third largest party, the 5 Star Movement, is not a member of any other group. However, some Italian MEPs do hold important positions such as Vice-President of the EP (Fabio Massimo Castaldo), Chair of the ID group (Marco Zanni), Co-Chair of ECR group (Raffaele Fitto) and Vice-Chair of the S&D group (Simona Bonafé). Additionally, two committee chairs are from Italy (ECON – Irene Tinagli and AFCO – Antonio Tajani).

Similar dynamics explain the very low average leadership score (the third from the bottom) of British MEPs. One explanation for this is that the biggest British national party in the EP is unaffiliated (29 Brexit Party members) and are therefore excluded from the allocation of leadership positions. In addition, since Brexit is looming, political groups preferred to avoid promoting too many Brits in top positions, since they are expected to leave the EP before the next reshuffle takes place. While many British MEPs were elected as vice-chairs of their political groups (Claude Moraes – S&D, Martin Horwood – Renew, Daniel Hannan – ECR, Alyn Smith and Molly Scott Cato – Greens/EFA), the British are less represented within the leadership of the institution, as these positions are more difficult to replace (an election is often required). The main exceptions are limited to LibDem MEPs (the second largest national group within Renew Europe) who obtained two committee chairs, namely Chris Davies (PECH) and Lucy Nethsingha (JURI).

Lithuanians, Slovenians, and Cypriots have the lowest average leadership scores – if we exclude the UK. The MEPs from these national groups hardly got any leadership positions in the new EP. Quite interestingly, most of the delegations with lower leadership scores come from the Member States that joined the EU in 2004 (or afterwards). However, this seems to be a relatively new development. In the past, we found that CEE MEPs were well represented in the leadership of the EP, while they were less prolific with regards to drafting reports (when compared to the Nordics). This does not seem to be the case anymore, with a few exceptions such as the above-mentioned Czech and Romanian MEPs. The future update of our full influence assessment will show whether the decreasing influence of CEE MEPs exerted through leadership positions in the European Parliament will be compensated by stronger influence in other dimensions of the MEPs’ activities (such as the drafting of reports).

National parties with most leaders: French centrists still far from challenging CDU/CSU’s hegemony

We also looked at the performance of individual national parties with regards to EP leadership positions. In this respect, the most influential parties are coming from the biggest Member States, as they can count on a bigger amount of seats and are usually the dominant national groups within their respective European families. However, positive relations with the other political groups also matter. Despite their big number of seats, right-wing nationalist parties, such as Italian Lega, did not get any institutional roles within the EP, as the other political groups formed a cordon sanitaire to prevent them from accessing leadership positions. The following section looks at the top 6 most influential parties in the EP (based on leadership positions).

Unsurprisingly, German CDU/CSU remains the most powerful party in the European Parliament, as their MEPs got the biggest cumulated score for leadership positions. The Germans effectively leveraged their position as the biggest national delegation within the biggest group in the European Parliament in order to get a significant share of the committee chairs allocated to the EPP group (AGRI, CONT, CULT and AFET). Additionally, Merkel’s MEPs coordinate the EPP group within 8 committees, including key regulatory committees such as ENVI, ITRE, IMCO and ECON. These committees are among the most influential in the European Parliament. CDU/CSU also got the chairmanship of the EPP group with Manfred Weber and one of the Vice-Presidents of the EP with Rainer Wieland. The strong influence of the party in the EP is matched by its strong leverage in both the European Commission (the new Commission’s President belongs to the party) and the EU Council (through the German government). Overall, despite the gradual weakening of the party at the national level, CDU/CSU remains the most influential party at the EU level by far, that is because the decline of other ‘establishment’ parties from other countries has been even steeper.

Macron’s Renaissance MEPs are the second most influential leaders in the EP when taken as a unitary cohort (to be precise, these MEPs belong to different centrist parties). While they are still far from matching the influence of the German CDU/CSU, Renaissance MEPs managed to leverage their dominant position within the Renew Europe group to get a strong representation at the committee level: they chair the biggest committee in the European Parliament (ENVI) with Pascal Canfin and the rising SEDE committee with Nathalie Loiseau. Macron’s EP cohort also got vice-chair positions in key committees such as INTA and ECON. French MEPs also coordinate the positions of Renew Europe within 5 committees, including BUDG and PECH. However, the French got neither the leadership of the Renew Europe group nor any top positions within the bureau of the European Parliament (their representation in the EP bureau is limited to a quaestor). This clearly indicates that there is room for improvement with regards to the French centrists’ influence within the EP. Conversely, a more stable majority at the national level (compared to the shakier coalition arrangement in Germany) is currently providing Macron with an even stronger influence within the EU Council.

Regarding S&D, we find a less clear predominance of a particular national party. However, Sanchez’s MEPs are leading the pack, since Spanish PSOE is the biggest Social Democratic party in the new Parliament and it holds the leadership of the group with Iratxe Garcia Perez. In addition to the leadership of the group, PSOE MEPs also got the chair of the most important committees in the EP with Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar (LIBE), whereas the Spanish also lead their political group with coordinators in key committees such as BUDG (Eider Gardiazabal Rubial) and ECON (Jonas Fernandez). Thanks to the boost provided by PSOE’s positive performance in EU elections, the Spanish party has now consolidated its position within both the European Parliament and the European Commission. However, the big challenge for the party is to secure its position at the national level by winning the upcoming elections and trying to put an end to a prolonged period of political instability in Spain.

The Italian Democratic Party closely follows PSOE as the second most represented S&D party in the EP leadership. Importantly, the party led by Zingaretti managed to get one of its MEPs (David-Maria Sassoli) to become the President of the institution. Italian Democrats are also going to be highly influential in economic policy, since both the chair of EP Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (Irene Tinagli) and the new Commissioner for the Economy (Paolo Gentiloni) are members of the party. Quite an interesting turn of events for a party that was in opposition at home until a couple of months ago. However, while PD’s MEPs got several committees’ vice-chairs (such as LIBE, ITRE, PECH), their leadership role within the S&D group is more limited (a vice-chair and the AGRI coordinator). Similarly to PSOE, the big challenge for the party is now to consolidate its position at home. Even more so, since the right-wing opposition has a significant lead in the polls and the new government is marred by continuous fights between the many coalition partners (including Renzi’s new party).

Overall fragmentation paves the way for the rise of Law and Justice (Poland) and German Greens

As a confirmation of the rising influence of the smaller groups, the predominant party members of Greens/EFA and ECR are also among the most influential when it comes to the new EP leadership.

The success of the German Greens at the recent EU elections further strengthened their position as the biggest Green party in the EP. The Germans are the main leaders within the group as one of their MEPs, Ska Keller, was re-elected as one of the two co-chairs of the Greens/EFA group. German Greens also got an additional vice-chair of Greens/EFA (Terry Reintke) and coordinator/co-coordinator positions in as many as 9 committees (including ECON, BUDG, LIBE, etc.). Therefore, the Grünen will be able to effectively influence the direction of a political family that is currently as big and influential as ever before. However, the leadership role of the German Greens in the institution as a whole is more limited, also due to the fact that their political group is not one of the biggest ones in the EP. However, the party did get some vice-chair positions within EP committees (such as EMPL and JURI). More importantly, the German Greens are not represented in the other EU institutions, due to the fact that they are not in government in Berlin. While their position in the EP is strong, the Grünen will need to further consolidate their power at the national level in order to exert a stronger influence on EU policies.

Differently from the German Greens, Polish Law and Justice also has a strong presence in the other EU institutions. With the Commissioner for Agriculture in the bag and their renewed absolute majority in the Polish national parliament, Polish Law and Justice will certainly be among the leading conservative voices during the new EU legislative cycle. The party clearly dominates its group, as the Polish are by far the biggest national group within ECR. Law and Justice holds both the leadership of the group with Ryszard Legutko and coordinator positions for ECR in as many as 10 committees (including IMCO, ITRE, BUDG, REGI and EMPL). However, the party was less effective in getting leadership roles within the institution as a whole, as a cordon sanitaire formed by Renew Europe and left-wing groups prevented the Polish Conservatives from getting the Chair of the key EMPL committee. This also means that the influence of the party within the European Parliament is highly dependent on the influence of its main carrier, the ECR group: the more cohesive the ECR group, the more influence its Polish leadership will be able to exert.

Annex: Methodological note

Our assessment is based on a quantitative weighting of both institutional positions within the Parliament (President and Vice-Presidents of EP, quaestors, committee chairs and vice-chairs, chairs and vice-chairs of EP delegations) and partisan positions within the political groups (chairs and vice-chairs of political groups, coordinators, heads of national delegations).

In order to weigh the different positions, we started off from the algorithm that was developed for our previous influence assessment. However, some of the weights have been modified to take into account the changes that took place in the EU elections, such as the different size of political groups (namely, the narrower gap between big and small political groups) and of EP committees. 

Please note that this is not an update of our influence assessment of individual MEPs. We will provide a new version of our influence assessment next year, once the newly-elected MEPs get the chance to work on the new legislative files.

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VoteWatch tracks all developments in the EP and provides updates after every EP plenary. Contact us at [email protected] if you need tailored research or training on MEPs’ likely positions and majority building in specific areas. 

For more detailed information on how each MEP voted on each subject, check out our interactive database of votes

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