Testing an [VoteWatch] app that lets citizens delve into an MEP’s voting history.
MEPs on the campaign trail ahead of next May’s European Parliament elections ought to think twice before they stretch the truth when it comes to their voting record, as a new app from VoteWatch Europe puts MEPs’ entire voting history in their constituents’ hands.
The app was launched last week (5 December) by VoteWatch, an independent organisation that monitors voting in the European Parliament. With it, a user has easy access to information about all 766 MEPs – not just the parliamentary questions they asked, their reports and speeches, and their assistants’ names – which is already available on the European Parliament’s website.
This app also indicates how they voted. Users can also look up votes for individual pieces of legislation, which can be broken down by group, party, country or national delegation. For instance, Dutch voters might be interested to learn that the members of Geert Wilders’ People for Freedom (PVV) party last month sided with French MEPs in voting against a resolution to end the Parliament’s monthly commute to Strasbourg. It was interesting timing, coming just a few weeks after the PVV’s alliance with Marine Le Pen’s Front National.
The app also has a calendar containing important dates for the Parliament and a news section with the latest voting results.
A trends section lists participation rates and the most influential MEPs and groups in different policy areas. This section is perhaps the most disappointing feature of the app, as all it offers is a list of MEPs, which leaves the user with plenty to do to find more precise information. Discovering that centre-right Romanian MEP Christian Dan Preda has the highest participation rate in roll-call votes (99.38%) is easy enough. Finding out who has the lowest attendance rate would, however, require hours of scrolling down the menu. Centre-right Hungarian MEP Zoltan Bago is deemed the ‘most influential’ MEP – judged curiously by the fact that he voted most often on the winning side. Finding the ‘least influential’ MEP is more challenging.
The tablet version of the app is sleek and easy to use, and will be useful not only for the elections but also during the parliamentary term. But the smartphone app is, perhaps by its nature, less user-friendly. Results are harder to read and require laborious scrolling through the lists of MEPs. On both devices, links to reports or parliamentary questions take the user out of the app and into a browser, which is cumbersome.
The app will be useful for those reporting on the EU. But will it be useful for people outside the bubble and less familiar with how the EU works? One obvious problem is that the average user would not know where to start. For instance, it is the nature of the European Parliament that most final votes are approved by an overwhelming majority of MEPs. It is the votes on individual amendments that matter. The app lacks the detail that would make voting records meaningful. Attendance records for MEPs might have been of more interest to voters.
This app is designed principally for the select few with a good knowledge of EU policy. For the general voter, VoteWatch’s other app – ‘MyVote2014’ – would be much more useful. That asks potential voters a series of question to see which individual MEP, national party and political group they most closely align with. But for interest groups and businesses that know what they are looking for, the VoteWatch app will be a valuable tool.