A new website hopes to open up the political habits of MEPs, exposing voting behaviour, attendance and party allegiances in a bid to bring some EU politics to the European elections in June. The website Votewatch.eu launched on Monday (11 May) aims to shed some light on the activities of euro-deputies who augment legislation affecting most aspects of EU citizens’ lives.
Using information that is publicly available but difficult to find, the website also breaks down each MEP’s record by nationality, national political party and the faction they belong to in the EU assembly.
European Policy Centre (EPC) analyst Sara Hagemann, heading the project, stressed that the idea was not to “name and shame” MEPs but to set up a “monitoring tool.” “Europe needs a stronger democracy. We want to make the way it works more transparent.”
Presenting the project, Ms Hagemann and her colleagues drew comparisons to the US, where the voting records of congress members are a powerful tool in political campaigning, with candidates trawling back in their opponent’s voting history to see how they voted on particular issues. “That is how we would like to see it work in European politics,” said Hans Martens, head of the EPC.
Unveiled just over three weeks before the European Parliament elections (4-7 June), the site notes that MEPs have cast more than 6,000 votes over the last five years. In future, these votes are to be included in the data as soon as possible after each vote. Simon Hix, political scientist at the London School of Economics, says the website will show “shifting patterns of coalitions.” Taking an example from the current parliament, he noted that left-wing parties formed coalitions on civil liberties issues while right-wing parties formed coalitions on economic issues.
Austrians – highest attendance
The data – based on attendance lists and roll-call votes – show that the Greens have the highest attendence (87.39%) and the eurosceptic Independence/Democracy Group the lowest (82.46%). Using the same criteria, the website shows that Austrian MEPs (92.71%) are most likely to be found in the chamber for a roll-call vote (normally on important or divisive issues, recording MEPs’ name and how they voted) while the Italians come in last at 71.93 percent.
Meanwhile, the French Greens are the most loyal to their EU faction, voting with the party for 99.09 percent of the time. The UK Independence Party are the least loyal, voting with the Ind/Dem group only 66.19 percent of the time, pipping the British Conservatives’ low fidelity towards their own group, the centre-right European People’s Party, who voted 74.27 percent of the time with the rest of the EPP.
The researchers stressed several times that their data was purely factual and not “pejorative”, but Mr Hix also added that the team had received “some very good legal advice.”The precaution follows the temporary closure after legal pressure on another, less comprehensive website rating MEPs’ attendance. The website has been welcomed by EU ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros, who pointed out that most of the complaints he has to deal with involving the EU institutions concern transparency.”
Jana Mittermaier from anti-corruption pressure group Transparency International noted that “transparency is the best weapon in the battle against corruption. “Making this information easily available will build up trust in the institutions, she said.
The researcher indicated that their next target is the EU Council of Ministers, representing member states and traditionally the least accessible of the main EU institutions. “We are working on a parallel set of pages for the Council,” said Mr Hix, with information from this body made public only with the voting records of member states blacked out. Ms Mittermaier said it would be her group’s “dream” to have public access to “voting records from the Council.”
The creators of the website also intend to refine the attendance record by elaborating on whether MEPs signed in for attendance in any given plenary session, whether they voted, as well as provide information on voting and attendance in committees – with committees increasingly being the place where legislative deals are sealed. Mr Martens jokingly remarked that VoteWatch.eu does not show the user whether an MEP has collected their allowance for the day but not voted adding: “I suppose that would be the next step.”