Which MEPs are the most supportive of migration, EU enlargement, EU social policy?

A few months into the new EP term, we are already getting a clearer picture as to where different MEPs stand on the most important issues that the EU is dealing with. VoteWatch Europe is keeping track of how each MEP voted on all the issues decided in the European Parliament. We looked closely at all the votes cast so far on 3 of the hottest topics at the moment, namely migration, EU enlargement and employment/social affairs, in order to assess how different political players are positioning themselves.

The report below provides an overview of our findings. For more information, data, tailored research and training, feel free to write us at [email protected] 

Portuguese MEPs are the most supportive of open migration policies, Hungarians the most opposed

The policy debate on migration is clearly polarized between the groups to the left and the right of the political spectrum, with centrist Renew Europe being much closer to the left. Quite interestingly, the EPP stands at about the middle of the political spectrum, meaning that the group agreed with either of the two sides about 50% of the time. The EPP’s intermediate position stems from the fact that the group has to find a balance between different sensitivities within the centre-right political family.  Some of its national factions, such as the French, have hardened their views on the subject as a way to address the rise of right-wing nationalist parties in their countries. Conversely, other EPP members prefer to stick to a more centrist course and are worried about the embrace of identity politics by some of their group colleagues. Our data shows that Belgian EPP members are the most supportive of open migration policies within the EPP group, whereas the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is by far the most supportive of a restrictive approach.

When looking at the average positions by national groups (factoring out the political affinity), the Portuguese MEPs are recorded as the most supportive of open migration policies. Their neighbors from Spain occupy the second place. At the opposite end of this axis, Hungarian MEPs are recorded as the most supportive of stricter rules on migration, followed by the Polish. This is not a surprise since these two countries have been at the forefront of the opposition to a EU relocation system of asylum seekers.

While the political composition of these national groups partially explains this outcome (most Portuguese MEPs belong to the left, whereas Hungarian politicians mainly belong to the right), different national sensitivities do play a role. For instance, the Portuguese Social Democrats (which are part of the EPP – not to be confused with the Socialist Party that belongs to S&D) are more supportive of open migration policy than their EPP colleagues. Even the Hungarian S&D members are more critical of open migration policy compared to their S&D colleagues from other countries.

The ECR group is the most supportive of EU enlargement, with the Polish leading the way

The EU enlargement has been a hot topic over the past few months. The failure of the Council to agree on opening negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania for EU accession, the rocky relations between the EU and Turkey, as well as the tensions in the post-Soviet region have placed the issue of EU enlargement higher on the institutional agenda.

Our analysis of the votes cast so far in the European Parliament indicates that, quite interestingly, the Conservative ECR group is now the most supportive of the EU enlargement agenda. These findings are not as surprising as they might seem at first sight, if we look at the broader geopolitical picture. First, this group is wary of the Russian influence in the region, which already provides a reason to support closer relations between the EU and countries that have historically been part of the Russian sphere of influence. Secondly, the ECR political family has been traditionally friendly towards Turkey, as the party led by Erdogan joined the ECR Party in 2013 and the British have long been a supporter of bringing Turkey in (as during those years, EU-Erdogan relations were very different). Finally, a bigger and more diverse EU would reshape the balance of power between the countries within the Union and would arguably make it more difficult to further pursue projects of political integration (under the German-French leadership), projects that are opposed by the ECR group. This strategy is the opposite of Macron’s vision.

The strong position of ECR explains why the Polish national group as a whole was found to be the most supportive of EU enlargement. Conversely, Italian MEPs are the most critical of further EU expansion (although most of their criticism is directed towards Turkey, whose chances to become a future member of the EU anytime soon are close to zero), followed by the French, whose aloofness towards a further expansion of the EU is rather well-known.

MEPs from Cyprus, Malta and Ireland are keen on EU social initiatives – unlike on EU taxation

Finally, we looked into the votes on social policy and employment, which deal with issues such as workers-employers relations, unemployment, funding of social policy programs, etc. We found that only a few national parties have fully supported all the proposals for a stronger focus on the social dimension of EU policy. These parties mainly belong to S&D (e.g. Italian Democratic Party, Bulgarian Socialist Party) and GUE/NGL (e.g. PODEMOS, France Insoumise).

Conversely, only two parties have always voted against EU playing a stronger role in the social area, namely ECR members from Czechia (Civic Democratic Party – ODS) and the Netherlands (Forum for Democracy). These parties oppose bigger EU spending in this policy area (e.g. increasing the funds for the Youth Employment Initiative), as well as the push for a European unemployment reinsurance scheme. They reject such projects for two reasons: because they believe that the money would be better spent elsewhere and because they believe that in any case it should not be the EU (but the national governments) managing social policy. 

MEPs from Conservative ODS are not the only Czechs pulling the break on EU social interventions: the Czech are on average the EP national group most opposed to social initiatives at the EU level, followed by the Dutch. Dutch governing party VVD (Mark Rutte’s party) is among the most critical of such proposals from within the Renew Europe group. Unsurprisingly, British MEPs are, on average, quite opposed to EU progressive ‘social’ initiatives, which clearly highlights how Brexit can affect the level of support for such policies in the European Parliament. Lastly, CEE delegations are also hesitant to allow the build up of resources into EU initiatives that would support unemployment schemes, the reason being that their countries are not likely to benefit from that fund, as unemployment in Central and Eastern Europe is much lower than in the South. Moreover, the CEE politicians fear that the money would be diverted away from policies that are actually more beneficial to their constituencies, like regional cohesion policy. 

Instead, Southern countries are the most supportive of a stronger EU social dimension (probably being aware that, in the current circumstances, they would be the biggest beneficiaries of these policies). Among them, the Cypriot MEPs are the most enthusiastic, followed by the Maltese and the Irish (fun fact: they are all from islands). Remarkably, while these 3 national groups are the most supportive of giving more powers to the EU when it comes to social spending and social harmonization, they are at the same time among the staunchest opponents to strengthening EU’s powers when it comes to harmonization of taxation policies (which they fear would threaten their policy of attracting investors by keeping lower taxes). 

These findings exemplify the increasing complexity of EU politics: as the powers of EU institutions have increased, the traditional pro-anti EU cleavage has become much blurrier. As we predicted already before the EU elections, we are now witnessing an issue-by-issue positioning  of political forces vis-a-vis EU’s integration projects and those who want to strengthen EU powers in one area may want to weaken EU’s powers in another, depending on their (increasingly calculated) perception of whether a change would benefit (or not) their own constituents back home. This is a rather clear indication that by now almost all parties acknowledge that the EU is here to stay anyways, hence, the best thing to do is to try to leverage its institutions to serve their projects. 

This overview is not enough? Are there any other topics you are interested in? For data-sets, tailored research and training, feel free to contact us at [email protected]