There are many ways to study the European Parliament. Votewatch.eu analyses roll call votes. Integritywatch.eu looks into side activities and side incomes of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). And political scientists study the European Parliament’s gender balance and many other topics that are of interest to wider or more limited audiences.
Anybody who spends time researching, lobbying or working around the European Parliament (and many other parliaments around the world) will understand that most of the work happens in parliamentary committees. Currently, the European Parliament has 22 of these, 20 core and 2 subcommittees.
Most MEPs are members of one or several committees, and most are also substitute members on others where they go and replace their colleagues when they cannot attend. Some scholars have already looked into how the EP’s committee system is organised, why MEPs get a seat in one and not the other committee or how representative committees are for the parliament as a whole.
What you see above is a visual representation of how the committee structure of the European Parliament looks like (for the committee abbreviation see here).
I’ve already done a similar visualisation two and half years ago based on 2012 data from the previous term of the European Parliament (see below). What you see in both visualisations is the network of committees, how they are interconnected and which ones have the same full or substitute members.
Similar colours indicate groups of committees that are more closely connected, and the stronger a tie between two committees, the more joint members (full or substitute) they have. In the 2015 network, the larger the circle, the more members (full or substitute) a committee has.
It’s a bit difficult to compare the structure of 2012 and 2015 based on the visualisation because I used different styles and algorithms. In the latest visualisation I removed some weaker ties (every link below eight joint members) to make it easier to read.
What’s probably the easiest to see in the 2015 network is that there are certain pairs of committees – Agriculture (AGRI) and Environment (ENVI), Industry (ITRE) and Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON), Foreign Affairs (AFET) and its two subcommittees (Defence and Human Rights), or Budget (BUDG) and Budget Control (CONT).
An easy to distinguish cluster both in 2012 and 2015 is the one with Foreign Affairs (plus subcommittees), International Trade (INTA), Development (DEVE), showing that there are a number of MEPs who are kind of dealing with international matters on several committees. There also seems to be kind of a ‘money cluster’ with the two budget-related committees and ECON.
Some committees are small and side-lined, like Culture (CULT), where the EU does not have much of say. And the Civil Liberties committee (LIBE), which looked more central in 2012, seems to be a little bit more sidelined in 2015, although this may be the result of the visualisation (some further analyses are needed to make this claim).
Why does this matter?
First, this is an easy way of better understanding visually how the European Parliament is organised, based on data easily available via ParlTrack (thanks!).
Second, I’ve already shown with my doctoral thesis (PDF), among other things, how affiliation networks such as committee membership can be the basis for a quantitative study of political structures in European politics.
Thanks to Gephi and the Multimode Networks Transformations plugin, affiliation network analysis, transformation and visualisation is now so easy that I can only recommend trying this with your own data – and I’m happy to help if you have any questions!