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27th Feb 2024

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New era? How young MEPs influence EU decision-making

  • Young people in the European Parliament in Strasbourg during this year's European Youth Event (Photo: European Parliament)
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Among the 705 members of the European Parliament, only 37 are aged 35 or younger, as earlier reported by EUobserver.

While this represents slightly over five percent of the total of MEPs, it also marks a record compared to previous parliamentary terms.

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In the past, the presence of young MEPs never exceeded three percent. By the end of 1992 (the third parliamentary term), there were only 10 young MEPs in the hemicycle.

In the current legislative term, young deputies are represented across all political groups.

But Renew Europe and the Greens have a higher proportion of young MEPs. Both groups advocate a pro-European stance and their success partly responds to the increased turnout of young Europeans in support of these political forces four years ago.

Young Europeans, who supported more progressive parties, might have anticipated that the younger lawmakers would be more vocal about their interests and more inclined to steer EU public opinion towards the future they envision for Europe.

In a recent Eurobarometer focused on young people, almost 70 percent of respondents said taking care of the environment is the number one priority the EU should focus on. About half of them think it's also crucial to improve education, fight poverty, and create more jobs. Additionally, 44 percent think improving health and standing up for human rights and democracy is crucial.

To determine whether 'newcomers' in the EU parliament are indeed more active and likely to challenge the more centrist EU political mainstream, we have analysed the voting records:

Perfect attendance?

Attending meetings and participating in votes represent the most conspicuous activities of MEPs, constituting their primary duties. While MEPs may occasionally miss meetings, citing local work commitments, especially due to the coronavirus pandemic, making the attendance lists this legislative term somehow imprecise.

Yet, it's feasible to scrutinise an MEP's voting record to gauge their dedication to fulfilling their pivotal role.

On average, young MEPs voiced their positions — whether in favour, against, or abstaining — in 94 percent of final votes. This slightly surpasses the European Parliament's overall average (92.2 percent).

Among the youth, the most 'disciplined' members include socialist Portuguese MEP Sara Cerdas and liberal Dutch MEP Samira Rafaela.

MEPs might attend a meeting but refrain from expressing their position in any manner — essentially ignoring the vote. For instance, in 133 out of 224 final votes, Croatian MEP Ivan Vilibor Sincic (non-attached) was present at the meeting but did not convey his position, often participating in other votes on the same day.

We've previously reported how some MEPs have employed this strategy during votes on anti-Russian resolutions, thereby diluting the EU Parliament's unity regarding the Kremlin.

Higher-than-average activity

On average, young MEPs are more active in proposing amendments, delivering plenary speeches, providing written explanations for their votes, submitting written questions to speakers, or individually proposing motions on significant matters.

Notably, they are significantly more inclined to propose amendments — with about 1,413 amendments over four years, compared to 1,089 amendments for the rest of the parliament.

Alicia Homs Ginel and Sara Cerdas of the S&D introduced amendments more often than other deputies. In contrast, Ivan Vilibor Sincić and Mario Furore, MEPs without a group affiliation, introduced a few amendments, which is understandable since many amendments are prepared within political groups.

Also, young MEPs were the most frequent speakers in plenary sessions (62 against 50). The record holder is the French politician Manon Aubry, who has spoken 143 times by autumn 2023. This is no coincidence: she is co-chair of The Left and often speaks on behalf of her political group. Sara Cerdas from S&Ds comes next, she gave a speech 120 times.

Surprisingly, non-attached MEP Ivan Sintić from the small populist Key to Croatia party has also taken the podium as many times as Serdas. For example, he could not remain silent on 19 October when he commented on the Hamas terrorist attack. Sintić insisted on the mandatory implementation of the two-state model and called on the "great powers" to intervene to force both sides to.

Of the young MEPs who have been in parliament since 2019, Christian Doleschal from the European People's Party (EPP) spoke far less frequently than his colleagues and less than the average MEP. He took to the rostrum only 11 times, mostly to express his views on the environmental agenda.

One striking difference among young MEPs is their inclination towards providing written explanations for their voting decisions. They are three times more inclined to explain their voting positions to voters compared to the average MEP (46 vs 16). Notably, only nine young MEPs have delivered 200 or more such explanations since 2019. Sara Cerdas has used this right a staggering 1275 times, explaining each of her votes.

The frequency of providing written explanations appears to be a personal choice.

The only area where young MEPs seem less active than others is in presenting individual motions (11 against 14). This is due to the established political tradition in the EU. Typically, individual motions are brought forward by more experienced MEPs who have garnered significant political influence either within their party or across the entire European Parliament. This increases the likelihood of the resolution receiving attention and not being disregarded.

The mainstream dominates

Given the general tendency of the EU Parliament to vote in a consolidated manner, we specifically analysed how MEPs voted on the 14 most significant resolutions of the 9th convocation. These resolutions encompassed pivotal topics such as Russia's war in Ukraine, new migration regulations, the AI Act, and others.

The political mainstream within the EU Parliament is largely defined by the voting patterns of the major factions: EPP (177 MEPs), S&D (143 MEPs), and Renew Europe (101 MEPs). These groups predominantly align with pro-European perspectives across most issues and generally support positions in line with other EU bodies such as the EU Commission and the EU Council.

In the opposite team are the eurosceptics, hailing from European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR, 66 MEPs) and Identity (ID, 62 MEPs). This is why among the young MEPs who frequently voted against the majority of the European Parliament, mostly are the representatives from these groups.

Young MEPs Johan Nissinen and Michiel Hoogeveen typify representatives from ECR, having voted against the majority of MEPs in over half of the final votes. ID's Jordan Bardella, the young successor to the leader of the far-right French National Rally party Marine Le Pen, also stands among them, having voted against the parliament majority in 43 percent of the votes.

The list also includes Jaak Madison, also from ID, representing Estonia's national populist Conservative People's Party. Its youth wing, Blue Awakening, organises torchlight processions that have drawn comparisons to events in 1930s Germany. Madison diverged from the majority of MEPs in 42 per cent of the votes.

Nissinen and Hoogeveen vote differently from the majority of the ECR in over a third of cases. It's likely that they adopt a more radical and contrasting stance to the European mainstream on a higher number of resolutions compared to other members within their political group. In contrast, Bardella adheres to political group discipline far more frequently.

Young MEPs from pro-European political groups also exhibit strict adherence to the party line, resulting in minimal shifts within the political mainstream towards the interests of the youth.

Despite the majority of the European Parliament opposing it, young MEPs supported the veto to the EU Commission's decision to include specific sectors of nuclear power and natural gas production in the list of environmentally sustainable economic activities.

Younger MEPs demonstrated a less compromising stance on an issue directly connected to the EU's environmental policy, related to their future Nevertheless, most of these young MEPs sided with the majority of their groups.

Even being more active and communicative with voters through various means, young MEPs haven't formed a distinct group specifically advocating for the interests of young Europeans. Their primary focus remains on their party affiliations.

The prevailing system of party discipline and political conventions within the European Parliament influences and directs everyone, including young MEPs.

Author bio

Vitovt Kopytok is a data analyst and independent researcher. Mikhail Komin, editor at Novaya Gazeta Europe, visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Affairs (ECFR), and Elena Sánchez Nicolás is EUobserver managing editor

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