Trying to make sense of EU politics is quite difficult. Good story-telling is almost impossible because too many people are involved in too many issues. Convincing analysis is hard because the amount of time you have to invest in research is often not proportionate to the amount of insight you get. Yet, we have to try, and while academic methods are not the solution, they may help to find the way.
One compelling way that I have found to be quite informing is affiliation network analysis, an approach that I have learned to use for my PhD thesis on information flows in EU policy making (which is heading towards finalisation). I have used it on this blog in the past, for example to display a network of European Commission expert groups and a network of UK deputies linked through European Parliament intergroups.
The width of the lines between two committees represents the amount of MEPs who sit on both committees as full member or substitute. The distance between two committees depends on the amount of “shared” MEPs. The colouring of the committees is the result of an automatic group detection based on the general interconnectedness of the committees.
So, what is the story: Well, it’s no big surprise that Budget (BUDG) and Budget Control (CONT) have a strong overlapping membership. In the same way, it’s logical that Defence (SEDE) and Human Rights (DROI) as sub-committees of Foreign Affairs (AFET) are closely connected to AFET. It is however quite interesting to see that Defence and Human Rights have hardly any overlap with each other – maybe because they don’t have?
It is also interesting to see that Agriculture (AGRI) seems to be a bridge between Transport (TRAN) and Regional Affairs (REGI) or that Development (DEVE) and International Trade (INTA) are part of what could be called the foreign affairs cluster. The fact that the Justice and Home Affairs committee (LIBE) is very much related to the Special Committee dealing with crime (CRIM) is also interesting although not that surprising seeing the topics they deal with.
Very interesting to see is the close interrelation between the Gender Equality (FEMM) and the Employment (EMPL), indicating that either their topics or the interest of MEPs overlap. One could ask whether Gender Equality would not deserve a stronger connection with other committees, too. The Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) committee and the Environment and Health (ENVI) committee are also very closely related, probably as the the two sides of the same coin.
Finally, the Economic Affairs (ECON) committee is a little less central than expected, but it still bridges between Budget Affairs (BUDG/CONT) and Employment (EMPL), which sounds logical. When it comes to committee membership, it seems to be the more generalist LIBE committee which kind of holds the whole system together, while committees like Fisheries (PECH) or Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) and Legal Affairs (JURI) are more populated with specialists – which does not necessarily tell about the importance of decisions taken there.
Now, that’s not a huge story, I admit, but based on such a simplified display one could be able to tell other stories in a more compelling way. Or this could be the starting point to find other interesting stories, stories that can be understood not just in Brussels but also beyond.
How I got there: The starting matrix (see Google doc, no guarantee for correctness) has the names of MEPs in rows and the 23 committees and sub-committees in the columns, with a “1” representing (substitute) membership. The matrix was transformed into a two-mode network with yEd, transformed into the one-mode committee-network projection with iGraph for R and then visualised with Gephi.