Influential MEPs not always high profile
By Eric Maurice
Germans, Italians and Poles top a ranking of the most influential members of the European Parliament created by VoteWatch Europe.
The Brussels-based NGO based the ranking on an algorithm giving points to MEPs on criteria such as their post in the parliament, their activity levels, and loyalty to their political group.
VoteWatch weighted the criteria with the help of 234 EU affairs experts who deal more or less regularly with MEPs.
The study, whose methods could be subject to discussion, provides a mapping of how power is perceived in the parliament, and highlights how some countries punch above or below their weight.
Not surprisingly, the parliament's president Martin Schulz is first, ahead of the leaders of the two main political groups, Manfred Weber from the centre-right EPP and Gianni Pittella from the centre-left S&D.
The three leaders are followed by Giovanni La Via, an Italian EPP MEP who chairs the parliament's environment committee.
Ranked fifth are Bernd Lange, a German S&D, and Ryszard Czarnecki, a Polish member of the conservative ECR group.
Lange chairs the international trade committee and is the parliament's rapporteur on the TTIP free-trade talks with the US. Czarnecki is a parliament vice-president and a political coordinator for his group in the budgetary control committee.
"Political coordinators are considered more influential … than the vice-presidents of the EP, whereas committees’ chairs can be almost as influential as the chairs of the political groups," VoteWatch says in a text accompanying the study.
The NGO notes that important offices held in the past, like EU commissioner, minister or EP president, "do not play such an important role when shaping policies in the European Parliament."
The top 10 also include former EP president Jerzy Buzek (Poland, EPP), who chairs the industry, research and energy committee; Jaroslaw Walesa (Poland, EPP), a rapporteur on files concerning imports from third countries; Ingeborg Graessle (Germany, EPP), the chair of the budgetary committee; and Timothy Kirkhope (UK, ECR), who was rapporteur on the Passenger Name Record (PNR) counter-terrorism legislation.
VoteWatch's algorithm leaves out of the top positions high profile MEPs such as Belgian Liberal Guy Verhofstadt (12th position) and his group colleague Sophie in 't Veld (Netherlands).
It also leaves out the long-serving chair of the foreign affairs committee Elmar Brok (Germany, EPP), German Greens’ Jan Philipp Albrecht, who is vocal on data protection issues, and Julia Reda, in the front line on copyright issues.
The ranking also confirms that two EU big countries, Spain, and France even more so, have lost influence.
There are only two French MEPs in the top 30, with the first one in 17th position. Spain records three MEPs in the top 30, the first one in at 13. By contrast, Poland has three MEPs among the 30, all of them in the top 10, and Germany has six in the top-30 bracket.
VoteWatch noted that MEPs from Nordic, Baltic, and Benelux countries have the highest average of influence per MEP in terms of drafting parliament reports.
"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," the NGO says.
"At the other end, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, and Greece are less influential than their 'normal' (size-based) potential”, it adds.
The study, it says, is only "a snapshot of the situation at the start of the 2016 autumn season", half way through the current legislature, and is "not an assessment of the best and the worst, or the good and the bad".