New VoteWatch Analytical Tool: Uncover which MEPs can help you advance your agenda. Part 1: International Trade

This report is the first part of the new VoteWatch series showing you how to use our new analytical tool (which is explained in-depth here) in order to identify the kingmakers and swing-voters among MEPs. In this first part, we are focusing on decisions that have to do with trade negotiations conducted by the EU and we show how to forecast the outcome and build majorities that would support your priorities. 

Use this analytical tool to spot a) how influential MEPs are in a given policy area and b) in which direction each MEP is pulling EU legislation.

How do we measure this? We assess an MEP's influence based on a wide range of criteria suggested by experts, such as leadership positions, degree of involvement in the legislative process, political network, seniority, etc. For more information on how VoteWatch assesses the influence of MEPs, read our methodology here Separately, we look into the voting behavior of MEPs on key amendments to identify their priorities and the direction in which they work to "guide" EU legislation. 


Reminder on why to use the new VoteWatch analytical tool 

Because politicians do not form their opinions in a vacuum. MEPs need to collect information and expertise, especially on issues on which they do not have any professional experience. Consequently, MEPs welcome new information from stakeholders (be it political, public or private sector). Doru Peter Frantescu, CEO and co-founder of VoteWatch Europe, recently shared his insights on how stakeholders can work with MEPs in this John Harper Publishing new book – How to Work with the EU Institutions: A Practical Guide to Successful Public Affairs in the EU


How to use the new VoteWatch analytical tool

 Measure the coalitions and majorities

This analytical tool provides an intuitive visualisation of the coalitions and majorities in the European Parliament on a given policy area or issue. Importantly, it highlights who remains to be brought on board in order to secure majorities. 

For example, in the case of international trade, the EPP, ECR and Renew Europe groups are generally supportive of free trade (and trust the European Commission to conduct trade negotiations on behalf of the member states). Also broadly speaking, a part of the S&D group joins the free-trade camp. However, this pattern does not always hold true when big interests are at stake and when a particular trade agreement may disproportionately impact a member state or a sector. For example, German EPP members can turn protectionist when it comes to trade relations with China, or French Renew members when it comes to Mercosur. 

On the other side of the story, trade liberalisation measures are generally opposed by the far-left and the far-right (GUE-NGL and ID) and the Greens/EFA. However, some Greens and ID members do support certain trade agreements. 

The S&D group sees the biggest diversity of views within its ranks and this group is often divided when having to decide on whether to support or oppose free trade measures (depending on the sector and on how far these measures go, but also depending on the country the trade agreement is with). 

Example of coalition-making 

The EU-Vietnam FTA is currently the most important trade agreement approved during the current parliamentary term and confirms the coalition-making patterns identified above. A majority (63%) of MEPs support the EU-Vietnam trade agreement. Yet, we recorded noticeable dissent within political groups, especially in S&D and ECR. The French, Belgian, Dutch and Austrian members of S&D oppose the agreement arguing, among others, that it does not include sanctions for non-compliance with environmental and social standards. These S&D members are among the most left-leaning within the group. Similar concerns are expressed by the Spanish and Italian members of ECR, Vox and FdI. On the other hand, the Italian Five Star Movement voted in favour of the deal, signaling a rift between the currently non-attached party and its usual partners GUE/NGL and the Greens/EFA.  

How does this information look like in our new analytical tool:

Below you will see the position of each MEP on trade policies (each interactive dot holds the information about an MEP). The more an MEP is to right of this chart, the more that MEP supports a trade liberalisation agenda. On the contrary, the more an MEP is to the left of this chart, the more that MEP supports protectionist measures. The level of influence of each is displayed on the vertical axis: the higher an MEP is placed on that axis, the greater the leverage that MEP exerts over the EU trade agenda.

This first chart shows the position of all MEPs (regardless of the committee they belong to).

Pay particular attention to the interactive dots that are positioned in the proximity of the majority line, as those are the MEPs who can decide to support or reject a proposal at the last moment (and in doing so, they hold the key to the fate of a proposal).

You can filter the MEPs by country (use the drop-down menu on the left side) or by political group (click on the name of a political group). Roll over your mouse over each dot to learn more information.

Note: in the free version of this report we display limited information in the charts. To discover the names of the MEPs you need to log in with a premium account. If you don't have a premium account yet, please contact us at [email protected] to discuss the terms. 


This second chart filters out the MEPs that do not belong to the key committee, hence in this case you will only see the positions of the MEPs that are members of the EP's international trade committee (INTA).


In the third chart, we are showing, as an example, the positions of the MEPs vis-a-vis a specific trade agreement. As mentioned above, some MEP's positions change if, for example, instead of FTA with Vietnam we would be looking at trade relations with the United States, China or the UK.


Identify the kingmakers and the swing-voters 

Our analytical tool highlights which MEPs are the kingmakers and the swing voters when decisions are made: the swing-voters are in the area surrounding the majority line (the yellow area) while the kingmakers are in the area where influence (the blue area) overlaps with the swing-voters area. The MEPs that have more nuanced views on international trade will generally be more receptive to new information as they probably have not yet decided what to do. Conversely, MEPs that hold strongly crystallized views on international trade (ie. are either strongly supportive or strongly opposed) will arguably be less receptive to alternative views, as they have made up their mind long ago. 

Keep in mind that this matrix shows the MEPs’ support and influence on trade agreements in general. However, MEPs can have different views on certain sections of international trade such as agriculture, sustainability standards or impacts on EU jobs. For instance, the Italian party Partito Democratico expressed concerns regarding the insufficient binding mechanisms for enforcing sustainability standards in the EU-Vietnam FTA and the agreement’s potential negative effects on European jobs.  

Ideally, you would focus your efforts on the kingmakers or on the heads of national delegations (as they have a greater potential of influencing their compatriots) in order to make the best use of your resources. However, be aware that influence is not something static, but it evolves continuously, ie. certain MEPs become more influential as they gain more experience in the EP and in international affairs in general, or because their party comes to power in their country, etc. 

Irrespective of your agenda, the strategy that you should pursue is “maintain and reach out” – ie. maintain the support of politicians that share your views and reach out to the kingmakers and swing-voters to build majorities. If you are pursuing an agenda that aims to increase trade liberalisation (such as by lifting certain regulatory restrictions on trade), you should maintain the flank to the right of the majority line and reach out to the MEPs close to the middle.  (on both sides of the middle line). If, on the other hand, you’re in a position from which you need to defend a more protectionist approach, you need to maintain the flank to the left and aim to secure MEPs from around the majority line. 


Who are the key MEPs ? 

To continue reading this report and visualising the names of the MEPs in the trade policy matrix you need to log in with your premium account. If you don’t have a premium subscription with VoteWatch yet, contact us to discuss the terms. 

This analysis is part of VoteWatch Intelligence PRO content. To read the full analysis you need to log-in with a PRO account. If you don't have one, contact us at [email protected]

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