Why are we doing this?
The information regarding who is influential on what in the European Parliament is fundamental to the public, who needs to be aware of the personalities that shape the policies affecting over 500 million citizens. The institutions as a whole, and in this case the EU institutions, take responsibility for their decisions and their implementation. However, in order to strengthen the democratic processes, the citizens also need to know which politicians within the institutions are playing a bigger role in shaping these decisions. This is especially the case of EU’s institutions, whose complexity have led many citizens to feel disengaged with the political system, in the relative absence of (locally-known) human faces that they can easily associate decisions with.
Equally important, many MEPs have pointed out that they find it very difficult to communicate to their own constituents the importance of the work that they do in Brussels and Strasbourg. For this reason, MEPs argue that their contributions are not fully recognised by the local/national public arenas, hence their own leverage in the debates “at home” is sometimes disproportionally small compared to the local/national politicians’ ones. This process affects the European construction as a whole. Our initiative also aims at providing the public with a tool to get to know better the work of the MEPs, the areas they are active on and the level of influence they hold (other reports done by VoteWatch also show the actual views of the MEPs on all subjects).
The first half of the 8th Term of the European Parliament is almost over, which also means that a mid-term re-shuffle of the key positions within the institution will take place in a few months. By this time, there are now enough political data available for a comprehensive assessment of the performance of MEPs over the last two years. Which MEPs have been the most influential? Who are the “Frank Underwoods” in the European citizens’ powerhouse? In order to answer these questions, VoteWatch Europe exploited the huge amount of data at its disposal to assemble an algorithm able to measure MEPs’ influence on European policy.
VoteWatch Europe is neither the first nor the last organisation aiming to measure the influence in the EU political bodies. However, until now there has not been a truly comprehensive analysis. For this very reason, as the main collector of data on EU political decisions, VoteWatch Europe has been asked by the public to come up with a solid and scientific method that would ensure a multi-faceted and more objective approach.
Our assessment is based mainly on concrete facts (activities undertaken) combined with human insights. Notably, the development of an algorithm requires a careful weighting of many criteria, such as the key positions held by MEPs in the Parliament. The weighting of the criteria is a tremendous operation vulnerable to subjectivity, as different people have different views as of which position is more important, or which legislative dossier carries a bigger weight. Nevertheless, this problem can be partially solved by asking the specialised public to contribute to this task: by increasing the number of evaluators, the impact of personal biases is marginalised.
This is why we have invited the EU affairs experts to help us with weighting the criteria. Our survey asked the respondents to weigh the importance of certain Parliamentary activities and key positions in the institution on a scale from 1 (not important at all) to 7 (extremely important). We also invited the EU Public Affairs Community to provide us with further criteria or insights into assessing the influence of MEPs.
How was the algorithm built?
Our survey was answered by 234 respondents, out of whom 42% are interacting with MEPs on a daily basis, whereas 24% of respondents do the same on a weekly basis.
A relative majority of answers came from people working in the EU institutions (42%), while the rest of contributors work in the private sector (17%), academia and think tanks (13%), NGOs (9%) and others.
The public pointed out some interesting elements, such as the different importance of Committees in the EP, for example chairing ECON or ENVI is deemed to be more important than chairing CULT or DEVE (we have also granted different weight to the committees). Also the low or no relevance of some criteria was noticed by the respondents, such as the number of questions asked to the Commission. In fact, according to some respondents, the quality of the questions is more important than the number, as asking “hundreds of silly questions cannot be compared to more tailored and well-thought requests”. At the end, we have not included the number of questions asked in the set of criteria.
According to the respondents, important offices held in the past do not play such an important role when shaping policies in the European Parliament. In fact, being a former Commissioner, Minister or even former President of the European Parliament was deemed to be less important than being the current Coordinator of a Political Group in a Committee. Indeed, political coordinators are considered more influential, according to the survey, than the Vice Presidents of the EP, whereas Committees’ Chairs can be almost as influential as the Chairs of the political groups. Instead, among the different positions in the EP, chairs and deputy chairs of EP interparliamentary delegations are among the least influential.
Rapporteurship-wise, the higher importance of the reports under the Ordinary Legislative Procedure (previously known as co-decision) is shown by the higher score assigned to the shadow rapporteurs on these files than the ones to the lead rapporteurs of other types of files. However, as the comments pointed out, the shadow rapporteurs are not created equal, as the members of the two largest groups, EPP and S&D, are more influential than the others due to sheer numbers behind them.
Some suggestions from our respondents could not be fed into the algorithm, mainly because certain factors are difficult to quantify (such as measuring the in-depth knowledge by the MEP of a certain topic). The suggestion to include the number of languages spoken by MEPs as a crucial factor for assessing their influence was raised by a few respondents. We acknowledge that this is the case, but unfortunately, this is hard to measure accurately (unless language tests are applied to all MEPs).
The participants also mentioned a number of individual MEPs as deserving extra points for their achievements or for their “behind the scene” influence (ie. influence not highlighted by the numbers, but felt in interactions). For this reason, we have created a category called “EP insights”, which takes into account the qualitative assessment of MEPs by insiders.
Political groups-wise, some respondents pointed out at the dominance of the two largest political groups in the Parliament, EPP and S&D. Indeed, this dominance is taken into account in our algorithm, as, for instance, shadow rapporteurs from these groups are being granted extra points vis-à-vis the shadow rapporteurs of the other political groups.
We also took into account the suggestions about the bonuses to be granted to the rapporteurs on very important reports. Not surprisingly, TTIP and the budget were the most mentioned, followed by other trade-related issues (TISA, CETA), as well as PNR, the digital Single Market, the Energy Union, ETS scheme, reform of the asylum system and the Banking Union.
MEPs who are performing well in terms of participation in votes and being on the winning side in votes within their own political group and within the EP plenary as a whole have also being granted influence points, according to clear thresholds. Lastly, upon suggestions from the public, we have also granted extra influence points to those MEPs whose parties control the government in their own Member State (both senior and junior coalition partners).
What do the results mean?
This is not an assessment of the best and the worst, or the good and the bad. “Influence” is a neutral term in this context, indicating the level of power that an MEP masters in order to get things done at this point in time. The study does not tell whether he/she uses that power in line with the interests of a certain segment of the public (constituents) or a stakeholder group. For example, an MEP may be highly influential, but have different views than those promoted by a particular citizens group (in which case he/she cannot be their champion). Or, the other way around, an MEP may be the champion of the interests of a particular citizens group, but lack the influence to get things done in the Parliament.
This is a snapshot of the situation at the start of the 2016 autumn season. The level of influence of each MEP changes continuously, due to the high dynamics in the EP (such as positions reshuffle, rapporteurship appointments), national politics (e.g. parties in power change, BREXIT) and visibility of a topic on the current political agenda (e.g. when migration is high on the agenda, the MEPs dealing with it receive a boost in influence, after which their influence decreases).
This is an overall assessment, but does not mean that MEP X who is overall more influent than Y is more influential than Y on every single issue. On the contrary, MEP Y can be more influent than X on a specific dossier or in a specific context, as political influence is highly dependent of the context and of the time moment. For an example of how MEPs are influent on a specific topic, read our separate sector-specific study “Who holds the power in the EP on neighbourhood and enlargement policy?”.
In order to assess to what extent an MEP is a champion of a cause or a citizens group, a more complex analysis is required, that would combine 1) the MEP’s true views (e.g. how he/she votes on those exact points of interest) and 2) his/her level of influence on that specific topic. If you are interested in this kind of analysis, feel free to contact us at [email protected].
Who are the most influential MEPs overall?
Below we are showing who are the top 70 (or top 10%) most influential MEPs out of the total 751 at this point in time.
The President of the European Parliament is the most influential MEP overall. Martin Schulz scored a total of 55 points because of his key role as the head of the institution. The second and third most influential MEPs are the leaders of the two main political groups, the German Manfred Weber (EEP leader) and Italian Gianni Pittella (S&D leader). Weber and Pittella are also members of the largest national delegations within their groups and their parties are currently in the government in Germany and Italy, respectively.
The fourth most influential MEP is the Italian chair of the Environment & public health committee, Giovanni La Via (EPP), who contributed to shaping a high number of legislative dossiers, as ENVI is one of the busiest committees in the EP. The British Conservative Timothy Kirkhope (ECR) is number five, thanks to his high score in terms of rapporteurhsip of important files, such as the report of retention of Passenger Name Records (PNR). After Kirkhope, the Polish Conservative Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR) is number six thanks to a combination of influence on budgetary reports and his role as Vice President of the EP.
The German S&D Bernd Lange, chair of the powerful Committee on International Trade, is seventh. He also drafted the report on the controversial TTIP negotiations. The current chair of the Committee on Industry, research and energy and former EP president, the Polish Jerzy Buzek (EPP), is the eighth most influential MEP. The top 10 is completed by another Polish EPP, Jaroslaw Walesa, who is vice-chair of the Committee on Fisheries (PECH) and very prolific in terms of reports, and the German EPP Ingeborg Grassle, chair of the key Budgetary Control Committee (in charge of the discharge of the budget).
Note: we have assessed the influence of British MEP based on their activities in the EP so far in this term. The effect of the result of the Brexit referendum will become visible on the role of the British MEPs only starting with the autumn of 2016, hence it will be taken into account in our next update.
You can also download here the breakdown of score by type of activity for the top 70 (top 10%) most influential MEPs: Mastertable top 70 MEPs September 2016
What are the trends by countries?
If we look at influence by EU Member States, the size of the country, or more concretely its population (translated into the number of MEPs) plays the key role. However, there are differences between the big Member States: Germany and Italy seem to exert the biggest level of influence in the European Parliament, more so than other big countries like France, the UK or Spain. This is explained mainly through the fact that Germany has the biggest national delegation in the biggest political group, EPP, while Italy in the S&D, which give them a competitive advantage at the allocation of key positions and even rapporteurship. The influence of France, the UK and Spain has been reduced (more than that of Italy and Germany) after the 2014 elections due to the substantial fragmentation of their groups’ delegations, ie. the loss of members by the delegations in the big centrist groups at the gain of those at the fringes. The next most influential countries come from Central and Eastern Europe, Poland and Romania, who have gained in influence after the last EP elections.
On the other hand, when we look at average individual performance (which filters out the size of the country), the picture is different. The MEPs from Nordic and Baltic countries (Estonia, Finland and Sweden), as well as from the Benelux region (Belgium and the Netherlands) are punching above their weight when it comes to rapporteurship, as they have the highest average of rapporteurship influence per MEP. That is to say, the MEPs from these countries get to shape more EU laws than the size of their country would normally allow them to do. At the other end, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece are less influential than their “normal” (size-based) potential.
However, when we look at the occupation of leadership positions, Germany is even more influential than its (already very big) size. For example, German MEPs head the EP as an institution, the largest political group, EPP, the Greens group and the far-left group GUE-NGL. Additionally, German MEPs chair five committees in the European Parliament, such as the Committee on International Trade (INTA) and Transport and Tourism (TRAN).
Other countries that end up being over-represented in positions of leadership in the European Parliament are the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Czechia. On the other hand, from among the big countries, France is underrepresented at the top of the EU Parliament, while the countries whose MEPs exert least influence from the leadership positions are Ireland, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia, Croatia, Estonia and Denmark (along with the smaller Cyprus and Malta).
Interestingly, the findings of this study on the influence in the EP are in stark contrast with our similar study that looked into the influence in the Council (France more likely to lead the EU Council after Brexit): while France looks very influential in the Council (more so than Germany) due to its coalition building strategy, France is much less influential, proportionally, in the EP. In the case of Germany, it is the other way around: Germany seems able to leverage the advantage of its size much better in the EP (where the numbers matter more) than in the Council.
As mentioned in the methodology, this study is a snapshot of the situation in the summer of 2016. The dynamics of influence in the EU institutions change continuously and depend on many political, economic and societal developments across the continent. For example, the impact of Brexit is yet to be fully assessed. For this reason, we will update this study at regular intervals.
For more information or suggestions, contact us at [email protected].
Also read the assessment on the most influential MEPs in Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy .
Also read the separate assessments by country:
Austria – Belgium – Bulgaria – Croatia – Cyprus – Czechia – Denmark – Estonia – Finland – France – Germany – Greece – Hungary – Ireland – Italy – Latvia –Lithuania – Luxembourg – Malta – Netherlands – Poland – Portugal – Romania – Slovakia – Slovenia –Spain – Sweden – United Kingdom