Portfolio blogger

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Voting patterns in the European Parliament - Hungarians among the illoyals

Do members of the European Parliament (MEPs) vote according to their national interests or their party affiliation? My experience which draws on reading a number of committee amendment proposals to legislation, suggests that professional convictions also play a significant role. On the other hand, decision-making is largely consensual, so the differences in opinion are not necessarily visible in the votes.

The voting behaviour in the EP was subject to two analyses recently:
The Robert Schuman Foundation of France published a two-part report (http://www.robert-schuman.eu/question_europe.php?num=qe-189 and http://www.robert-schuman.eu/ question_europe.php?num=qe-190 while VoteWatch, an independent monitoring organisation, which collects and publishes interesting statistics on its website and also regularly reports on voting behaviour investigated in the first semester of 2011 the dynamics of voting behaviour in the three largest groups in the European Parliament. Their results were also reported in European Voice, a weekly on European affairs. The full report on power in the EP covers the period between 2009 and 2011. I draw the conclusions below from these two reports.

On the website of VoteWatch, also the loyalty of individual members is investigated and it can be seen that their loyalty is above 90% both with their party group and their national majority. This supports the idea outlined above that voting is largely consensual. One more factor has to be kept in mind: there are a number of votes which are not roll-call, so the voting behaviour in them cannot be analysed. This was the case when the motion about the new Hungarian Constitution was voted upon. The evaluation of the politics of the Hungarian government is one of the most controversial issues under discussion (you could even say that the FIDESZ party could polarise the European Parliament to an unprecedented level as they did so already with Hungarians). The vote was won with more than 50% of those present, 331 votes. Although this is mathematically possible without any EPP (to which FIDESZ belongs) vote, the proportions indicate at least that the EPP, the ECR (another centre-right, somewhat more eurosceptic grouping), the eurosceptics and the far right could have blocked the resolution.

Roll call votes can be initiated by the party groups and are usually enhancing
voting discipline but - in case of a difficult decision, can also lead to MEPs not voting, writes the Schuman foundation. Thus, there is no regularity in which question is put to a roll call vote and which one is not. Roll call votes are about one third of the total voting procedures. Since 2009, however, all legislative proposals must be approved by roll call voting (according to the internal regulations of the European Parliament.

Based on 16 votes in the first year of the legislative 2009-2014, the Schuman
foundation concludes in general that the right-left divide plays a smaller role in the European Parliament than on national level, as it coexist with the national affiliations, its role is increasing. There is also another divide: those who favour and those who oppose the enhancement of European integration. This line of course also extends between parties but is still not the same.
There is another trend: increase of the power of the Parliament through the Lisbon treaty has - in the opinion of the foundation - led to an increase of the role of national interests in voting.

The mixture of national and party (ideological) affiliations can lead to strange phenomena: European Voice concludes, for example, that French, Italian and Hungarian delegations in the centre-right EPP are more aligned with the S&D (social-democrat) group than other national delegations. "Among the seven largest national party delegations in the EPP, the Hungarian FIDESZ has voted with the majority least often (95%)." states the VoteWatch report. The biggest deviation was in the area of agriculture, where FIDESZ voted only 69% of the time with the rest of the group. On the other hand: "In the EPP, the highest degree of similarity in voting behaviour between leaders of the largest national party delegations has been between heads of the Polish and the Hungarian delegations." writes the report. European Voice also mentions environment and public health as points of dissent. The Hungarian delegation in other political groups is small and thus their behaviour is not analysed.

As there is no political group with absolute majority, coalitions have to be formed. These are nicely described in European Voice. The consequence I want to mention here is that the liberals seem to tilt the balance in many cases and they were the ones who were on winning side of votes the most frequently.

European Voice also draws conclusions on the dominance of some national delegations in the main political groups. The EPP and the S&D are dominated by the Germans. They form the right wing of the group, together with the Spanish Partido Popular. In the S&D group, the British - being to the right in the group - vote less with the group (this, however, still means 90% loyalty). The influence of the German FDP in the liberal ALDE group was limited due to the fact that the party is the furthest to the right of the group and prefers voting with the EPP. The most rebellious delegation, however, is the French MoDem, to the left of the group in a political sense.

If we add that most decisions are taken together with the Council, where consensus-building is also the rule but qualified majority voting is gaining ground, and that only the Commission has the right to propose legislative acts, a complex mechanism of decisionmaking is unfolding. No wonder it is so badly understood and can be the scapegoat for decisions the national politicians do not want to present to their constituencies.

No comments:

Post a Comment