Special highlights from EU decision making: EU Taxonomy & energy, NATO, Middle East, better regulation and teleworking

CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2020 – Source: EP

This special briefing includes our latest observations regarding the politics behind EU policies on the following subjects:

NB: the Commission pays attention to the size of EP majorities not only when voting on legislation, but also when own-initiative reports are being passed in the preparatory stages, hence the Commission is likely to shape the actual upcoming legislative proposals in line with these political majorities to avoid complications.

Importantly, the positions of some MEPs do change between the indicative votes on own-initiative reports and the decisions on the actual legislation, potentially turning a minority into a majority or the opposite. In order to forecast which MEPs/parties might swing (and which hold strong/stable views), use our influence matrices (or contact us at [email protected]).


EU Taxonomy & ‘do no significant harm’ principle

As shown by the Parliament’s legislative report on the General Union Environment Action Programme, there seems to be majoritarian support for operationalising the ‘do no significant harm’ principle in the context of the Better Regulation toolbox. Such a principle would undeniably have an impact on which technologies are considered sustainable in the future, and thus which sectors would continue to receive support and which would not. As is often (but not always) the case when voting on climate initiatives, Renew plays a rather pivotal role by siding with The Left, Greens/EFA and S&D in favour of more ‘green’ approach. This majoritarian level of support (+91 MEPs) can also be explained by two different factors. On the one hand, the consistent stance taken by the left-leaning coalition, which is united in favour of this initiative. At the same time, a significant number of EPP members (in particular from North-Western delegations, previously identified by VoteWatch as being ‘greener’) are also supporting a more extensive application of the ’do no significant harm’ principle.

Find the position of each MEP here.


Energy

Using natural gas as a bridging technology towards more sustainable alternatives is receiving decreasing support in the European Parliament. In this regard, the latest votes on the European Parliament’s annual report concerning the European Investment Bank provide a great opportunity to assess the current positioning of MEPs and balance of power among political groups when it comes to energy investments. Importantly, while the EPP, ECR and ID continue to support funding for natural gas, they are unable to secure a majority in their favour (-28 MEPs). While the supporting camp had previously achieved a narrow majority to approve natural gas investments in other circumstances, for example, as part of the territorial Just Transition plans under certain conditions (as shown in the dedicated breakdown of the vote), this support seems to be much lower when it comes to supporting EIB investments in natural gas.

Find the position of each MEP here.

Interested in EU climate policy? Our influence matrix will show you how influential MEPs are, and in which direction each MEP is pulling EU decisions. You can find our updated tool here.


Teleworking legislation

The European Parliament’s mandate for implementing a legislative framework on teleworking continues to be very narrow, as shown by the latest own-initiative report concerning the EU’s ageing policy. Importantly, this vote provides an opportunity to assess the evolving political support for developing a legislative framework laying down minimum standards for remote work. In fact, this very issue was already discussed by MEPs in May and resulted in a very narrow majority (+25 MEPs, as shown in the dedicated breakdown of the vote). The European Parliament continues to be highly divided on this issue, as the latest vote on implementing a legislative framework regulating remote work across the EU was approved by an even narrower majority (+13 MEPs only), with The Left, Greens/EFA, S&D and Renew Europe being on the winning side of the proposal (for the time being).

Similar to what can be observed on previous Social Pillar initiatives, geographical divisions are particularly prominent, especially amongst Renew members (and to a lesser extent EPP). As previously highlighted by VoteWatch, this can best be understood when considering that MEPs from Northern Europe tend to generally oppose the ‘Europeanisation’ of EU social policies while MEPs from Southern Europe strongly support it. These trends can be clearly observed in this proposal when looking at the voting dynamics within the Renew Europe group, with MEPs from Scandinavian countries or the Netherlands consistently opposing an EU-wide legislative framework on teleworking.

Find the position of each MEP here.

To learn more about coalition building dynamics on EU social policy, including how to identify the most influential MEPs and pivotal voters, find our dedicated influence matrix here.


Better lawmaking

The Parliament’s report on better lawmaking from the late June plenary session provides an opportunity to assess the current level of political support on several key proposals that would have a direct impact on the EU’s legislative output. In fact, the debate surrounding this initiative concerns the extent to which the EU institutions should regulate economic activities within the Union.

For instance, a relatively large majority of MEPs (+117 MEPs) supports in-house impact assessments being carried out by the European Parliament when adopting important amendments to Commission proposals, when this is not done by the Commission itself. Such level of political support could notably be explained by the fact that a majority of members from The Left are joining the coalition formed by Renew, EPP and ECR. This goes to show that, given the increasing fragmentation (and polarisation) of the European Parliament, no political group should be overlooked by stakeholders when it comes to forming majorities as previously discussed by VoteWatch. While centre-left coalitions tend to be on the winning side of the most divisive votes in several EU policies (including climate for instance), this voting outcome shows that the centre-right forces are able to produce majorities on regulatory matters when the opposite camp is divided.

Find the position of each MEP here.

Slightly different trends can be observed when discussing the ‘one in, one out’ principle which aims to reduce regulatory “burdens” for people and businesses. Once again, a wide majority of the European Parliament (+120 MEPs) are calling on the Commission to apply the principle more efficiently, with a winning coalition formed by Renew, EPP, ECR and ID. In this case, the voting dynamics on this proposal are following a clearer ‘left-right’ divide, with The Left voting alongside S&D and Greens/EFA. We notably observe divisions within Renew Europe, with French members taking a more negative stance on the ‘one in, one out’ principle. This shows that the market-oriented camp is occasionally able to drive a wedge between the pro-regulation positions of French LREM and the rest of the Renew Europe group, although such split does not (yet) happen very often when it comes to more detailed legislative measures.

Find the position of each MEP here.


NATO Summit’s conclusions on Russia and China

Reflecting the conclusions of the latest NATO Summit, members of the European Parliament broadly support the strong wording that was used concerning Russia (+501 MEPs). Unsurprisingly, the opponents of this proposal can be found in The Left and ID, which can best be understood when considering that they tend to support closer relations with Russia rather than the United States. Importantly, these MEPs are against the establishment of an EU-US high-level dialogue on Russia, which is often the case when discussing EU-US cooperation. Stakeholders should however keep in mind that these delegations, for the most part, do not hold a position in their national governments (meaning their position does not necessarily reflect that of the Member State where they come from, and thus of the Council as a whole). Within ID, for instance, it should be noted that Italian Members from Lega do support the strong language used when referring to Russia in the NATO Summit and are favourable to enhanced EU-US cooperation on the matter. Such divisions within ID are highly reflective of VoteWatch’s previous observations regarding Lega increasingly moving away from the positions of their ID group, as the party is aiming to capitalise on a possible reshuffling of the national camp alongside Hungarian Fidesz and Polish PiS.

Find the position of each MEP here.

The conclusions of the NATO Summit were much different when it comes to China’s foreign policy stance. Qualifying China’s actions as a “challenge”, and not as a “threat” (as is the case for Russia), NATO’s strategy seemed to strike a balance between hardening the tone and avoiding an escalation of tensions. In line with the outcome of the NATO Summit, a broad majority of the European Parliament (+507 MEPs) supported a transatlantic approach when dealing with China, welcoming the strong language used in the recent NATO and EU-US Summits. Once again, the Left and ID opposed such foreign policy positions, with an identical split within the ID group with regards to the previous amendment on Russia. It should also be noted that Hungarian members from Fidesz are supporting both the strong wording on Russia and on China, as far as NATO is concerned. This stands in contrast with the fact that they were amongst the few MEPs to vote against the final resolution concerning human rights in Hong Kong, which would point towards Hungary continuing to oppose similar foreign policy statements by the Council concerning China.

Find the position of each MEP here.

Interested in EU foreign policy? Our influence matrix will show you how influential MEPs are, and in which direction each MEP is pulling EU decisions. You can find our updated tool here.


Human rights in the Middle East

The latest European Parliament resolution reveals insightful trends on the outlook of European political factions towards third countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, in particular with regards to their respective human rights records. Stakeholders should note that, despite very different outcomes in terms of voting behaviour on both proposals, those supporting closer ties with Iran or Saudi Arabia end up on the losing side of the vote on both occasions. In line with the increased support for the EU’s sanction mechanism on human rights, this reflects the fact that a more assertive EU foreign policy is drawing more support amongst MEPs. These votes show a left-right distinction on how different political groups view these countries. Whereas left-leaning groups (S&D, The Left, Greens/EFA) favour that relations with Iran should be dealt with ‘enhanced cooperation’ to resolve human rights concerns (-17 MEPs), the right-leaning political groups (EPP, ECR) tend to have a more sympathetic view towards Saudi Arabia as being an important partner (-101 MEPs). While neither of the coalitions were able to secure a majority in their favour, it is highly relevant to look at how MEPs from parties in government voted.

Find out how each MEP voted on Iran here.

Find out how each MEP voted on Saudi Arabia here.

Differences with regards to EU foreign policy towards Iran are not always subject to left-right divisions. Instead, as already pointed out by VoteWatch in the context of US-led sanctions on Iran, the dynamics in voting behaviour can best be explained when considering the transatlantist stance (or not) of political groups (as shown in our dedicated matrix). Stakeholders should also pay close attention to the decisive role of Renew in tilting the balance in favour of one political family or the other, by siding with S&D in one instance with regards to Saudi Arabi, and with the EPP concerning Iran.


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