VoteWatch Analytical Tool: EU Foreign policy, mapping MEPs’ views and influence

Copyright: European Union

This report is part of the new VoteWatch series showing you how to build your strategy using our new analytical tool (which is explained in-depth here) and which allows you to quickly identify kingmakers and swing-voters among MEPs. This tool is already been used by key stakeholders active in EU policy-making.

By combining (objective) data science with expert insight, we filter out the noise and show the actual positions of each MEP on key parts of the EU foreign policy agenda. Our visualisations, which are based on the processing of public information (activities undertaken and votes cast by the MEPs), highlight which MEPs are convinced (on either side), and which have more nuanced views and will be decisive in securing majorities. Always remember that MEPs are not acting as isolated individuals, but they are part of political networks and their positions are usually aligned with those of their governments (in the case of MEPs belonging to parties in government). For this reason, understanding the nuances in the positions of MEPs helps not only to forecast the decisions made in the EP, but also to anticipate what the EU governments are likely to do.

Check out similar analyses on other policy areas (e.g. climate, taxation, etc.) here.

Use this analytical tool to spot:

a) how influential MEPs are in a given policy area (vertical axis).

b) in which direction each MEP is pulling EU legislation (horizontal axis).

How to read our tools?

The matrices below provide a detailed picture of the general trends in voting behaviour amongst MEPs when it comes to foreign policies. The level of influence of each MEP is displayed on the vertical axis: the higher an MEP is placed on that axis, the greater the influence this MEP exerts over the EU foreign policy agenda. Members who are placed on the right of the chart hold a ‘transatlantist’ stance on foreign affairs (a conclusion we reached after looking at their recent legislative behaviour in the EP). By ‘transatlantism’, we understand in this context an inclination to align EU foreign policy with that of the US, for example on relations with third countries such as Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel and Venezuela (among many others), but also a stronger role for NATO. On the other hand, MEPs placed on the left of the chart hold an ‘eurasianist’ stance, as they tend to show more support towards closer relations with Russia or China, amongst others.

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 moderate views on EU foreign policies will generally be more receptive to new information, as they decide their position on a case-by-case basis. Conversely, MEPs that hold strongly crystallised views on foreign affairs (i.e. are either strongly ‘transatlantist’ or strongly ‘eurasianist’) will arguably be less receptive to alternative views, as they have made up their mind long ago.

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

This first chart shows the position of all MEPs (regardless of their committee membership). Pay particular attention to the interactive dots that are positioned in the proximity of the majority line, because those are the MEPs who will 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 your mouse over each dot to learn more information. Note: you will need to log in with your premium account in order to see the names of the MEPs (if you do not have one, contact us at [email protected])

1. Influence and positioning on EU Foreign policy

The matrix reveals a stronger ‘transatlantist’ stance amongst MEPs, as those in the EPP, S&D, Renew, the Greens and ECR are generally rather supportive of stronger alignment with the US. As seen in the graph, these groups remain highly united (with very few exceptions) when it comes to EU foreign policies. Conversely, we observe deep internal divisions within The Left and ID groups, both leaning towards ‘eurasianist’ positions. Our matrix notably reveals important geographical divisions within the ID group, with French members being the most supportive of eurasianist positions while Italian MEPs are (nowadays) taking a rather ‘transatlantist’ stance.

Note: if you like to access information for which a premium account is required (and you don’t have one yet), contact us at [email protected]

Full list of visualisations in this report:


2. EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

The following series of charts represent the position of MEPs on three different votes related to the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions mechanism. The first vote concerns implementing EU sanctions towards Russia, the second towards China and the third towards Iran. While the positioning of MEPs on the matrix remains the same, note that the dots are now coloured in green (MEP voted in favour), red (MEP voted against) and yellow (MEP abstained) as they now refer to the voting behaviour of MEPs on one specific vote. Click on the black arrows to scroll through the three matrices.

As the tool predicted, generally speaking, MEPs who hold a more ‘transatlanticist’ foreign policy stance tend to show stronger support for sanctions against China, Russia or Iran. However, the level of support in the 3 occasions is different, showing that the level of alignment with the US is different among various factions. 

3. EU-NATO alignment

The chart below highlights the differences in the voting behaviour of MEPs concerning the harmonisation of EU and NATO priorities to achieve EU capability targets. As the tool predicted, most MEPs with very strong ‘transatlantist’ views, e.g. those situated to the right of the majority line, are supporting this initiative (observe the green dots). Among the opponents to this particular proposal (red dots), we find the MEP with stronger ‘eurasianist’ positions (to the left of the graph).

Importantly, the graph shows that the ‘transatlantist’ camp is able to secure the support of a number of moderate MEPs from the opposite side (observe the green dots to the left of the majority line). However, as the following sections will show, on other issues the level of support for stronger alignment with the US/NATO tends to be lower.

4. EU-US cooperation on technology

The chart below highlights the differences in orientations within the ‘transatlantist’ camp concerning whether the EU should prioritise cooperation with the US in the technology sector, especially on the development of quantum computing. The MEPs with very strong ‘transatlantist’ views, e.g. those situated to the very right of the majority line, are supporting this initiative (observe the green dots).

Importantly, however, the pivotal MEPs in the yellow area (around the majority line) are split into the two camps. Notably, a relevant number of moderately ‘transatlantist’ MEPs do not support this plan, which provides an indication of the tight majority the supporters of EU-US technological cooperation are operating with.

5. Venezuelan crisis

The chart below highlights the differences in orientations within the ‘transatlantist’ camp regarding support for Juan Guaidó to be recognised as President of Venezuela. Most MEPs with very strong ‘transatlantist’ views are supporting this initiative (observe the green dots). 

Importantly, however, the pivotal MEPs in the yellow area (around the majority line) are split into the two camps. Notably, a relevant number of moderately ‘transatlantist’ MEPs are not sharing the same support for Juan Guaidó (observe the red and yellow dots around and close to the majority).

6. Strategic autonomy

The chart below highlights the positions of MEPs concerning strategic autonomy. Note that this debate does not necessarily fit in the ‘transatlantist’ versus ‘eurasianist’ discussion, in the sense that closer relations with the US are not seen as being at odds with the push for strategic autonomy. The patterns observed in the matrix below are thus somewhat different to other votes on foreign policy, which could be explained by the fact that different political forces are not interpreting this concept in the same way. In light of this, MEPs supporting strategic autonomy (green dots) can be found on the ‘transatlantist’ side, but also amongst ‘eurasianist’ MEPs. As this specific topic is also to some extent intertwined with trade, it might be relevant for stakeholders to also consult our international trade influence matrix to see the dynamics in voting behaviour of MEPs in this policy area.

7. Strategic autonomy in relation to the EU-China CAI

The chart below also highlights the positions of MEPs concerning strategic autonomy, but in the specific context of the EU-China CAI. As discussed above, this debate is approached differently by different political forces, which would explain why the positioning of MEPs does not necessarily fit the ‘transatlantist’ versus ‘eurasianist’ debate. Importantly, the graph shows that certain MEPs who are generally closer to Russia and China than the US, do support criticizing the CAI in view of strategic autonomy concerns. The position of Renew Europe is highly insightful, as they are generally abstaining (see yellow dots) and therefore taking a more critical stance than other ‘transatlantic’ forces when it comes to the CAI with China and its impact on EU strategic autonomy. These observations highlight that the positioning on strategic autonomy requires additional analysis. 

For questions and requests for further analysis, contact us at [email protected]