Weight of national groups in the European Parliament: Italy and Poland take the lead


The European Parliament votes on hundreds of reports and thousands of amendments each year. With 751 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from 28 countries divided over 8 political groups, what is the impact of MEPs from one country on the outcome of votes?

During the On Our Watch hackathon (October 2017), we looked at precisely this question. Is there any effect to the outcome of the vote if we remove all MEPs from one country? And does this say anything about the influence of certain countries vis-à-vis other countries? Common sense would expect that bigger countries have a bigger influence and that the way they are split among political groups also influences their impact, with those having large shares of certain political groups having a bigger impact on voting outcomes once removed from the equation.

Our analysis was first performed in January 2014, and again in October 2017. Together we are able to compare two legislatures and the impact of respective countries. For the 2017 analysis, data from all rollcall votes (around 2000) from the 2014-2017 legislature were used.

More weight of national votes on voting outcomes: the 2017 analysis shows that over 150 votes would have changed by removing MEPs from one country from the votes that took place between May 2014 and September 2017. This is compared to just over 80 votes that would have changed in the full 2009-2014 legislative period, showing a much bigger weight of national votes on voting outcomes. Would this be because the European Parliament is more split among groups, which makes for more close voting outcomes and increases the weight of national blocs?

Poland keeps punching above its weight: three quarters of Polish MEPs are part of the centre-right and conservative groups EPP and ECR. Even though the share of EPP and ECR in the group of Polish MEPs changed – from EPP domination in the previous legislature to a more half/half division in the current one – their similar voting behaviour gives a significant weight of the votes of Polish MEPs to over 150 votes. This is most likely also due to the fact that the political profile of the group of Polish MEPs differs from that of other national groups, of which none is as predominantly centre-right and conservative.

Italy holds the most critical votes in this legislature, a big difference from the previous one: removing Italy’s vote from the equation would have changed almost 160 votes, giving it the biggest voting weight among national groups. In the last legislature the centre-right EPP and social democrat S&D groups were the dominant groups among Italian MEPs, roughly in line with the group division in the Parliament, and therefore the weight of Italian votes was not above average. This legislature, however, there is a large group of Italian MEPs of the Eurosceptical EFDD group. This gives the Italian group a different profile than the Parliament as such, increasing its weight. But the fact that the biggest group of Italian MEPs is in the S&D group and on many issues the EFDD also votes left-wing, gives Italy a combined voting power that brings them to the top of the list.

The weight of UK votes went down when compared to the previous legislature: having a more divided group of MEPs, with their current MEPs more split between groups with three more or less equal size ECR, EFDD and S&D groups, the UK has less weight on votes than it had previously thanks to its sizeable ECR contingent. Thus, diminished ECR dominance and bigger differences between voting lines of the different groups might account for the loss of voting weight.

The weight of German votes went down without a huge change in group divisions: as the division among groups of German MEPs is quite in sync with the overall division of the Parliament, their weight as a national group is not above average even if they hold the biggest share of MEPs. The 2017 graph not only shows a reduction in the real number of votes that would have changed without the German votes, but also an even bigger relative decline of the weight of German votes.

* Note on the analysis: Rollcall votes from 2014-2017 legislature were first analysed to determine which passed, and which did not. A pass was taken as more than 50% of MEPs present to vote being in favour, and a vote that did not pass was taken as 50% or less of MEPs present to vote being in favour. Countries were then excluded from the legislature individually and the analysis was re-run each time. Any vote that swung from a pass to loss, or vice versa, was taken as an ‘altered outcome’. The number of altered outcomes for each country was plotted against the number of MEPs from each country. The straight line indicates the ‘best fit’ through the results. The Adjusted R-square explains the amount of variation in the data explained only by the number of MEPs from each country – large deviations from the general trend by Poland, Italy and Germany reduce this, and the main text explains possible explanations.