Better together: the Polish-German cooperation in the European Parliament

13.11.2018 | By Adam Kirpsza

The effectiveness of Polish MEPs leaves much to be desired. Although Poland has the sixth largest representation in the European Parliament (EP), in the 7th Legislature of the EP we were on the 20th place regarding voting success rate. It is not surprising, given a poor representation of Polish MEPs in the key positions responsible for shaping the legislative agenda of the EU, such as legislative rapporteurs and political coordinators. One important fact has to be pointed out, though. Cooperation with Germany boosts our chances for legislative success in the EP. Likewise, Germany benefit when it cooperates with Polish MEPs.

Contrary to popular belief, the European Parliament is not a mock institution. It has many competencies, which are of fundamental importance for the functioning of the European Union. It represents the citizens on the European level, shapes – together with the Council, which represents the interest of member states – the EU’s legislative process, takes part in passing the annual EU budget and the Multiannual Financial Frameworks, and also possesses numerous nominating (e.g. the right to select the Head of the European Commission), or international (e.g. approving international agreements) powers.

Which political groups rule in the European Parliament?

Being in possession of such vital competencies means that inter-organisational factors have fundamental significance for the shape of legislative positions of this institution. These positions are worked out during voting sessions, with the participation of political groups. In the EP, there are eight factions: the European People’s Party (EPP), the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), European Conservatists and Reformers (ECR), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group (ALDE), European United Left-Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL), the Greens/European Free Alliance (G/EFA), Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). According to research, approximately 65% legislation positions of the EP is determined by the EPP, S&D and ALDE coalition (the so-called super-grand coalition), 5% by the EPP and S&D coalition (the grand coalition), 15% by the EPP, ALDE and ECR coalition (the centre-right coalition) and 15% by the S&D, ALDE and G/EFA coalition (the centre-left coalition). Such a set-up favours EPP, ALDE and S&D, while hinders the chances for success of other groups.

Political groups, however, are not monoliths, because they are formed by national representations – groups of deputies from particular member states linked by ideological proximity. It means that a group’s agenda is the result of a compromise between its national groups. In this sense, national delegations indirectly influence the legislative positions of the whole EP.

Poland and Germany – the balance of power

Germany and Poland are among the largest national representations in the European Parliament. Our western neighbours have the largest one – 96 representatives – which constitutes 12.8% of all MEPs. At the beginning of the 8th Legislature of the EP (2014-2019), 34 MEPs from the CDU/CSU belonged to the most significant political group – the EPP, 27 were in S&D, the second largest group, 6 MEPs were members of the ECR, 4 MEPs were in ALDE, 8 MEPs in EUL/NGL, 13 MEPs in G/EFA, 1 MEP in EFDD, 1 MEP in ENF and 2 were non-affiliated. German MEPs dominate the two largest political groups in the EP: the EPP and S&D. In the first one, they have most deputies – 15.4% of all members, while in S&D they are second (behind the Italians) – 14.1% of all members. Moreover, they have the highest number of MEPs in the sixth largest G/EFA (26%) and the second delegation (15.4%) in the fifth largest EUL/NGL.

Poland, in turn, has the sixth largest representation in the EP (after Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain). Currently, our country is represented by 51 MEPs, which constitutes 6.8% of all deputies. At the beginning of the 8th Legislature of the EP, 23 MEPs from Civic Platform (PO) and Polish People’s Party (PSL) belonged to the EPP, 5 MEPs from the Left Democratic Alliance (SLD) were in S&D, 19 MEPs from Law and Justice (PiS) in ECP, 2 MEPs in ENF, 1 MEP in EFDD and 1 MEP was non-affiliated. Polish representatives are the second largest force in the most powerful political group – EPP – and also in the third largest group – ECR.

To sum up, there are 147 deputies from Poland and Germany out of the total number of 751, which constitutes 19.6% of all deputies. Therefore, when they speak with one voice, they can be powerful enough to tip the balance in their favour. At the same time, MEPs from these countries dominate the three most powerful political groups in the EP: EPP, S&D and ECR. In total, they constitute 25.8% of all EPP MEPs, 16.7% of all S&D MEPs and 38.5% of all ECR MEPs. Therefore, due to the mutual cooperation – which amounts to harmonisation of respective agendas – they possess enormous influence on the final positions of their groups. And because, as mentioned above, these three political groups form coalitions that, for the most part, win on the EP’s floor, the possibility of co-shaping their agendas translates into greater influence on the final legislative position of the EP and thus into Poland’s and Germany’s success.

Who wins in the European Parliament?

In the EP’s 7th Legislature, Romania, Slovenia, Germany, Lithuania, Finland and Bulgaria were the most effective states. The presence of Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, or Lithuania in this group may surprise, but it is worth to highlight that majority of the MEPs from these countries belongs to three EP’s factions – EPP, S&D and ALDE. Those, as was shown above – have the highest win rate in the EP. The states that were the least effective included: Great Britain (only 65% voting sessions won), Denmark, Czech Republic, Sweden and Malta. Which shouldn’t be surprising either, as these countries are characterised by prevalent Euro-scepticism and their EP delegations – excluding Sweden and Malta – are dispersed between many political groups in the EP.

Unfortunately, we have to note some significant differences in the effectiveness of Poland and Germany in the EP. In the 7th Legislature of the EP, Poland took 20th place, succeeding in 86% of votings. This result isn’t satisfying, given the fact that our country has the sixth largest representation in the EP. The German situation is quite the opposite. They succeeded in 93.3% of votings, which confirms the perception of Germany as a dominating state in the EP.

Is there a voting congruence between Poland and Germany?

Although it is commonly said that there are numerous and ostensibly hard to overcome discrepancies of interests between Poland and Germany, the voting congruence in the EP between these countries stands at quite a high level. On average, during a total of 1982 votings, 81% of Polish and German representatives voted in an identical way. At the same time, however, individual voting sessions took place, where congruence between the two countries was very low. It was at its lowest in 2012 during the vote on the amendment no. 63 – submitted by Polish MEP Sławomir Nitras – to the directive on the prevailing legal framework concerning taxation of energy products and electricity. 89% of Polish representatives voted for it, 10% against. As a result, only 10% of Polish and German MEPs voted alike.

The congruence of Poland and Germany in the EP, however, is strongly conditioned by the subject matter of a voted project. The greatest congruence between both delegations can be noticed regarding two policies: culture and education. This harmony could also be seen when it came to voting on foreign affairs, budget, domestic market and consumer protection, regional development and legal issues. Meanwhile, the greatest discrepancies occurred concerning environmental protection, public health and food safety and equality. This lack of harmony is also seen when the voting concerns industry, scientific research and energy (third from bottom).

Can Poland benefit from cooperation with Germany?

Therefore, a vital question can be posed: does the highest or lowest congruence of the interests of Germany of Poland have an impact on their successes on the EP’s floor? In other words: does the cooperation between the two countries – that is harmonising their positions – bring them greater and mutual benefits? To answer these questions, statistical analysis in the form of logistic regression has been prepared. In short, it examined what impact on the success of Poland and Germany in the EP has congruence between their positions, also taking into account other factors, such as: importance of a voted project, internal cohesion within Polish delegation and within German delegation, turnout of the MEPs during the voting sessions, legislative procedure and a subject matter of a project (according to the EP committee). The calculations were made with the help of POLGER_EP database, which includes the results of voting on legislative acts (regulations, directives and decisions adopted in the ordinary, or special legislative procedure) in the 7th Legislature of the EP. The database is available on the POLGER project website.

According to the analysis, the congruence of a position of Poland and Germany has a positive and relevant statistical impact on Poland’s success. In other words, Poland is far more effective in the EP when our MEPs enter into a coalition with the Germans, that is they present a mutual position, or at least try to harmonise their views. As it was pointed out in the analysis, the increase of 1 percentage point incongruence between Poland and Germany, results in the rise of 26% in Poland’s chances for success. Moreover, Polish-German congruence alone explains up to 48% variances of Poland’s success. It means that almost half of Poland’s effectiveness in the EP is dependent on the level of congruence and the quality of cooperation with Germany. Furthermore, the analysis shows that the legislative benefits from collaboration with German deputies are visible wherever the cooperation occurs, regardless of the subject matter of the voting.

Likewise, the analysis revealed the impact of other factors that condition Poland’s success in the EP. First, we have a better chance to push our view through, when our MEPs vote coherently. But the two principal political parties – Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO) – are in two different groups in the EP (EPP and ECR) and often take different positions, the ones that are identical with the view of their respective EP groups. According to the analysis, such divisions limit Poland’s chances for success. Second, the more Polish MEPs vote, the smaller are the chances for Poland’s success. It is surprising and shows that Polish delegation has severe problems with either working out a coherent position when their members turn out in high numbers or with pushing its position through when both the level of coherence and the turnout are high. Third, the success of Poland in the EP is not too much conditioned by the importance of a voted project. The fact remains, however, that Poland has difficulties with pushing its agenda through when the most critical projects are voted.

Can Germany benefit from cooperation with Poland?

The results of the analysis showed that the Polish-German cooperation – understood as harmonisation of respective agendas – is beneficial not only for Poland but also for Germany. The analysis also demonstrated that the greater congruence with Poland’s agenda has a positive and statistically relevant influence on Berlin’s success. The increase of 1 percentage point incongruence between Poland and Germany, results in a 28 % rise in Germany’s chances for success.

Does the positive impact of Polish-German congruence on Germany’s success depend on the subject matter of a voted project? As was in the case of Poland, the positive effect of Polish-German congruence can be seen in virtually all of the EU’s policies. But contrary to Poland, in at least three fields – economic and financial issues; energy and climate policy; transport and migration – deviations can be observed, that is the votings where Germany succeeded despite lower – below 50% – congruence with Poland. This result should worry Warsaw. It shows that in the fields particularly important, Poland has significantly lower chances to push through its agenda without Germany while Germany can be effective in the absence of a coalition with Poland. It is therefore clear that the success of German deputies is less dependent on an alliance with Poland’s deputies than the success of Poland’s deputies on cooperation with Germany.

Interesting conclusions can be drawn from the analysis of other variables. First, Germany is very effective in the votings on the critical EU issues.  The obtained result may be evidence of both Germany’s steadfast determination and mobilisation concerning the prominent ballots in the EP and of the effectiveness of the economy of force, that is putting emphasis on key votings in favour of those less valued. Second, as is in the case of Poland, the key success predictor for Germany in the EP is the internal cohesion. Third, and this is again similar to Poland, the turnout of German representatives does not translate into higher chances for Germany’s success. Paradoxically, the more German MEPs vote, the lesser the chance for Germany’s success.

This article presents the results of POLGER, a research project realised with the financial help of the PolishGerman Foundation for Science (PNFN). It aimed to analyse the condition and importance of the cooperation between Polish and German delegations to the European Parliament. More information can be found on the project’s website:

Translation from Polish: Łukasz Gadzała


This publication has been cofinanced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within “Cooperation in Public Diplomacy 2018” programme.
This publication reflects the views of the author and not the official stance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.