By Mihail Chiru
Committee group coordinators are some of the most influential Members of the European Parliament (MEPs): they manage committees’ broad policy agendas, ensure the positions of their European Party Group are coherent across different policy initiatives and maintain high levels of voting discipline at plenary votes. When coordinators achieve consensus among party MEPs in the committee (i.e., the party group’s experts on the topic), a very powerful signal is sent to the non-specialist MEPs that they can support the party group line in the plenary without reservations. They also matter greatly through their role in bidding for and acquiring reports for their party and selecting the rapporteur, the person who shapes the position of the European Parliament on a legislative file, from their own committee contingent. Last but not least, successful spells as group coordinators have proved steppingstones in the careers of very successful MEPs, such as Manfred Weber, Martin Schulz and Elmar Brok. How then are these powerful MEPs chosen?
With the EP’s empowerment to the status of co-legislator in the European Union, committees can increasingly shape EU legislation and the stakes of selecting competent group coordinators have also increased significantly. The appointment of group coordinators is not only highly relevant for substantive policy-making, but also opens up a very interesting question for students of legislative politics beyond the EP. Notably: when given total freedom, what qualities and types of expertise do legislators prioritise when deciding whom to make their coordinator in a committee? Group coordinators are elected by their peers, the European Party Group committee contingent, not the leadership, as happens with most other positions in the European Parliament. Moreover, the proportionality criteria that apply to virtually all other EP offices do not affect this selection process.
In this article recently published by JCMS, I analyse the selection of group coordinators in the two largest parties in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), from terms 2 to 8, and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), from terms 6-8. The analyses indicate that coordinator seniority and committee incumbency are the most important factors that predict which MEPs become group coordinators. Probing further, it seems that while coordinator seniority matters greatly irrespective of committee type, committee incumbency is an extra argument for nomination as coordinator in the more powerful committees, i.e., those with higher levels of legislative activity and influence over the EU budget.
These findings corroborate the argument that legislative organisation in the European Parliament is mostly driven by an informational logic, which favours further specialization of MEPs by continuous membership in the same committee and re-appointment to committee leadership positions. Nevertheless, and similarly to the selection of committee chairs in the European Parliament, I find no evidence that the empowerment of the supranational legislatures has changed the patterns of group-coordinator selection.
Somewhat surprising given the policy-seeking orientation of MEPs, the absence of leadership influence and proportionality constraints does not automatically lead to the election of group coordinators who are more congruent ideologically with their committee contingent than other aspirants. One would expect such congruence to matter given the discretion that the coordinators have in selecting rapporteurs and the assumption that committee members would want to minimize the likelihood that the coordinator chooses rapporteurs who are not aligned with their preferences. Corroborating the latter, there is evidence that coordinators allocate more reports to MEPs who are closer ideologically to the coordinators’ national party position on EU integration. Our own analyses show that ideological proximity influences who becomes group coordinator only for the S&D sample, while it does not play a role for EPP coordinators.
Ties with interest groups active in the sectors covered by the committee’s portfolio increase the likelihood of becoming a group coordinator, according to initial analyses run on a sub-sample, but this finding would need to be further tested. It is also worth noting that in the case of the EPP, German and to a smaller extent Spanish MEPs are over-represented among committee group coordinators even when accounting for the large size of their national delegations. One possible explanation is the similarity in terms of legislative organization in two of these national parliaments compared to the EP: the coordinator position resembles that of Obleute in the German Bundestag and the committee spokesperson in the Spanish Congress.
It is reasonable to assume that the patterns of selection of EPP and S&D group coordinators uncovered by this research would be mirrored by similar processes in other European Party Groups interested in shaping EU policies. Nevertheless, it would be worthwhile exploring the extent to which the selection of group coordinators in smaller and less transnational groups is dominated by those groups’ largest national delegations. The apparent positive role for group coordinator selection of having a functionally equivalent position in the national parliament highlights how elements of national legislative organisation contribute to preparing MEPs for their work in the supra-national legislature and warrants further comparative research.
Overall, our results indicate that committee members are not primarily concerned with choosing the most ideologically congruent MEP as a group coordinator, but that they value experience in overcoming coordination problems among group members. Thus, a good boss is one who has already proven able to facilitate the committee members’ collaboration and the efficient usage of the group’s human resources.
Dr. Mihail Chiru is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Oxford. He previously taught at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA) and conducted postdoctoral research at UCLouvain. His work focuses on legislative behaviour, legislative organisation and party politics in the European Union and Central and Eastern Europe.