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V4 in EP: Punching above its weight?

Ondřej Mocek Ondřej Mocek / Ed. 21. 12. 2015

Main points

  • The 14.1 % of European Parliament deputies (106 out of 751) who come from the Visegrád Group countries are – at least on paper – punching above their weight:they hold 5 out of 22 committee chairs (22,7%) and 22 out 87 committee vice chairs (25,3%). The European Parliament has never played such an important role in the EU’s decision-making; the four Visegrád countries (V4) could benefit from the aggregated strength of their MEPs.
  • Having enough firepower, an effectively working V4 caucus in the EP could translate some specific joint interests into various pieces of EU legislation.
  • MEPs’ consultations could supplement already existing relations between V4 governments on EU issues. The forthcoming Czech V4 presidency could facilitate the institutionalization of a V4 MEP caucus, which could be beneficial for exchanges of views or practices. Such efforts could benefit from, and further develop, an informal group of V4 MEPs led by Polish MEP Danuta Hübner, which was initiated by two Visegrád think tanks (CEPI and demosEUROPA) and has been holding regular meetings since December 2014.
  • The distribution of V4 MEPs between European political groups is strikingly uneven. Of the two largest political groups in the EP, the V4 has a particularly strong position in the largest group, the EPP (48 out of 218 MEPs), and a much weaker relative position in the S&D group (17 out of 190).
  • Even though the V4 has its MEPs in the presidia of all but four committees, these include the crucial committees on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON), and Budget (BUDG) that shape law-making relevant for the Visegrád region, such as the Juncker investment package.
  • A number of V4 MEPs have been re-elected, and some of them are already serving their third mandate. Since the established profile among MEPs is strongly correlated with seniority, one would expect their political portfolio to be easily recognizable. However, often that is not the case. Notable exceptions are mainly to be found among the Polish MEPs.
  • In order to raise their individual as well as group profile within the European Parliament, the V4 MEPs need to look for more experienced political advisors and staff. The role of the teams around MEPs in navigating the stormy waters of the EP’s deal-making and networking is crucial. If more V4 MEPs are to make a difference in the super-crowded agenda of Brussels and Strasbourg, their work has to be more focused, and supported by practical coalition building, including through the V4 format (which so far has not been utilized in the European Parliament).

Introduction

The power of the European Parliament has risen since the introduction of the Lisbon Treaty. It plays a far more important role in the EU’s decision making, and its leader, Martin Schulz, is ready to use every opportunity to swing the pendulum of power even more to the only directly elected body in Brussels.

Juncker’s Commission has introduced a number of innovations, including the Berlaymont plan to decisively decrease the number of legislative proposals introduced. Furthermore, the EC College will put forward packages which would together signal major change in selected EU policy areas. It means that a more thematic focus will be expected from MEPs, and a large amount of broking will take place.

Consultations among the V4 MEPs might help put some regional priorities high on the EU’s agenda. This is not to say that their party affiliations should not be respected. On the contrary, political groups are crucial for any coordination and can serve as the necessary foundations for promoting initiatives of regional importance.

The era of adaptation and learning is gone, as MEPs from the V4 countries have started their third legislative period. Let’s have a look at how they managed to entrench themselves in the EP’s structures by examining the following criteria: 1) proportional representation in political groups; 2) number of committee chairs and vice-chairs; 3) posts in the presidia of individual committees; and 4) number of coordinators and deputy coordinators in EP committees.

V4 MEPs in political groups

Voters from the V4 send more centre-right than left leaning representatives to Brussels and Strasbourg. Interestingly, V4 representation in the European People’s Party (EPP) is much larger than German representation (48 Visegrad to 34 German representatives). However, the proportion of V4 MEPs in the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), the second most important political group, is very low. The V4 constitutes almost a third of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), mainly thanks to the Polish Law and Justice party.

Committee chairs and vice-chairs

The chairman of each committee is endowed with relatively substantial procedural powers in the legislative process. He is also part of the Conference of Committee Chairs, which provides the Conference of Presidents of the political groups with recommendations regarding the items on the agenda and the schedule of committees. The committee chairs significantly influence legislation and the legislative process. Chairs and vice-chairs are therefore the most important in the hierarchy of positions in the EP.

MEPs from the V4 punch above their weight when it comes to holding the EP committees’ chairmanships and vice-chairmanships. With their share of chairs and vice-chairs, a combined delegation of MEPs from the V4 countries would be ranked 6th relative to the overall size of national delegations, leaving behind both Italy and the United Kingdom. Yet, in the case of committee chairs, this is mainly due to the contribution of Poland (4 posts). Vice-chairs are more diversified among the V4 delegates. All V4 countries ranked above average, with the Czechs achieving the best score: 7 out of their 21 MEPs are vice-chairs in EP committees.

It is impossible to judge whether one committee is more important than another, since it depends on number of variables. Such classification cannot be objective. However, the prestige of the committee relates to its overall size. Herewith, we can see that the Polish delegation succeeded in getting the chair of one of the bigger committees, ITRE, and one of the medium-sized ones, AGRI. AFCO, JURI and SEDE, which are also chaired by V4 MEPs, fit, on the other hand, into the category of smaller committees.

The V4 is only absent from the presidia of four EP committees: on Economic and Monetary Union (ECON), Budgets (BUDG), Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and Development (DEVE). It is perhaps easy to understand why the V4 delegations were unable to get the chair or vice-chair post in ECON, since only Slovakia is a member of the Eurozone, and DEVE, as development aid is an often-omitted policy in Central Europe. On the other hand, lack of representation in the presidium of BUDG is striking, as is the absence of chair or vice-chair posts in IMCO.

Coordinators and deputy coordinators

Coordinators are responsible for specific policy areas within their political groups. They may be convened by the chairman to prepare decisions for the committee, such as the appointment of a rapporteur.

The weight of V4 delegations in individual political groups is reflected in the number of coordinators and deputy coordinators. V4 is again particularly strong in EPP and ECR. On the other hand, V4 lacks a coordinator from S&D. Nevertheless, it should also be taken into account that the S&D group does not use the position of deputy coordinator.

Originally published: V4 in EP: Punching above its weight?

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Czech European policy 114
Czech Republic 519
Europe 545
European Parliament 20
European Union 327
Poland 206
Visegrad Group 218
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