Abstract Committees are central to the operation of the European Parliament (EP), providing fora for the detailed consideration of legislative proposals. This article provides the first systematic assessment of how far and why Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are successful in obtaining places on the committees to which they most want to be assigned. In doing so, we employ a new dataset of MEPs’ committee preferences, information which has never before been systematically collected. Adapted forms of three theories of legislative organisation (distributive, informational and partisan) provide a framework for the analysis. The results indicate a high degree of success for MEPs in achieving the committee assignments they want, within the restrictions of proportional representation of party groups on committees. We find strong support for the informational approach to legislative organisation when examining variations in success rates. Nevertheless, there is also some evidence that partisan concerns influence the assignment process. This, in combination with the role of party coordinators in the EP, means that party groups and national parties in the EP attempt to limit the agency losses that might result from a high degree of self-selection in committee assignments. 1. Introduction Committees are central to the operation of many legislatures. They provide a forum in which proposed legislation can be discussed in detail among much smaller groups of legislators than is possible when legislative chambers meet as a whole. Despite this, outside of the US case we still know comparatively little about which committees legislators most want to sit on, what motivates legislators’ choices and how far they are successful in getting what they want (Martin and Mickler, 2019). This paper asks why some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are assigned to the committees they most want to sit on while others are not. The European Parliament’s (EP) committees have been described as the Parliament’s ‘legislative backbone’ (Westlake, 1994, p. 191) and as ‘key to Parliament from its inception’ (Corbett et al., 2016, p. 167). The bulk of the EP’s detailed legislative work is done in its committees. Working within small subsets of legislators is all the more important in a legislature that includes members speaking a range of different languages and representing many different national political parties. The EP is a particularly interesting case in which to research legislators’ committee preferences because it differs from the US Congress in that MEPs have potentially two principals, namely their national party and their party group, and because parties are central to the way the EP operates (Hix et al., 2007). At the same time, the EP differs from some parliamentary systems in that it lacks the executive dominance that may affect the way committees work in many of these cases. While data are available for some time periods on requests made to parties for particular committee assignments by members of the US House of Representatives (e.g. Frisch and Kelly, 2008), for many other legislatures, no such data exist. Some scholars of legislatures outside of the USA have used surveys to question legislators about the committees on which they would like to sit (Willumsen and Öhberg, 2017; Giannetti et al., 2019). In the case of the EP, there is a substantial body of work on its committees (e.g. McElroy, 2006; Whitaker, 2011; Yordanova, 2013), but there has so far been very little analysis of the popularity of committees, MEPs’ motivations for choosing them and MEPs’ success in obtaining the committee seats they most want. This is due not least, to a lack of data. This paper advances our understanding of committee assignments by employing a new dataset of MEPs’ preferences for committees. This allows us to provide the first systematic quantitative analysis of which committees MEPs want to sit on, what motivates their choices and why some MEPs are successful while others are not, in achieving their choice of committee. Analysing how far legislators are granted seats on the committees that they most desire allows us to see how far parties tend to reward loyal members—as Cox and McCubbins (2007) show in the US Congress—and/or those with the most institutional experience. We can also ask how much assignment success varies by a party’s political priorities. This paper shows that high proportions of MEPs are granted their choice of committee but that this is affected by seniority at the institutional and committee levels. There is also some evidence for a party-centred approach to converting MEPs’ choices of committee into assignments but this is weaker and more mixed. The evidence suggests motivations for committee choice vary in ways that distributive and informational theories would predict. The next section of the paper reviews theories of committee assignments and requests, and related empirical findings from the existing literature, and draws out some hypotheses from these. A further section explains the rules governing committee assignments in the EP. We then set out the data used before presenting the results and drawing conclusions. 2. Theories and analyses of committee assignments and legislators’ committee preferences Committee assignments, particularly in the US Congress, have been explained on the basis of several competing theories of legislative organisation, each of which tells us something about why committees exist and how they are composed (Martin, 2014). Several studies have successfully adapted these theories for use in European legislatures (e.g. Kaeding, 2004; Yordanova, 2013; Mickler, 2017, 2018). Propositions about how requests might be converted into assignments can be drawn from these theories. The distributive approach (e.g. Shepsle and Weingast, 1987; Weingast and Marshall, 1988) sees committees as tools for legislators to generate constituency-specific benefits. This theory assumes that legislators’ primary aim is to be re-elected and suggests this can be aided by legislating for constituency-specific projects. Committees focused on particular policy areas provide a mechanism for legislating to achieve such benefits. According to the theory, committees will largely consist of those with higher demands in the committee’s jurisdiction than those of the median legislator. As a result, committees will not be representative of preferences in the legislature as a whole. Members will seek assignment to committees whose policy areas relate to the nature of their constituencies. An alternative approach comes in the form of informational theories of legislative organisation (e.g. Krehbiel, 1991), which argue that committees exist to encourage policy specialisation. This reduces the uncertainty that legislators face in assessing the likely consequences of particular policy options. In this approach, committees should be representative of the preferences of the legislature as a whole in order that their decisions can be trusted by the chamber. A third explanation for legislative organisation is the partisan approach or party cartel theory (Kiewiet and McCubbins, 1991; Cox and McCubbins, 2007). According to this approach, committees exist to promote the electoral and policy aims of parties. If the theory is correct, parties will ensure that their committee members are representative of the party’s views, particularly on committees dealing with policy areas in which decisions are likely to have a uniform effect on most constituencies. What do these theories tell us about how parties might deal with legislators’ preferences to sit on particular committees? The distributive and informational perspectives say little about parties. If members are interested in constituency-specific benefits, as in the distributive approach, they will want freedom to choose committees that help them serve their constituents’ interests. In this case, we would expect to see self-selection to committees, as Frisch and Kelly (2004) point out. While informational theory does not directly address the question of committee requests, if committees are primarily about encouraging policy expertise, then legislators may expect freedom to choose committees relating to their policy experience. Alternatively, if parties are central to the committee system, then they will be more likely to grant requests to those who are more loyal to the party leadership, as Cox and McCubbins (2007, chapter 7) show is the case in the US Congress. Furthermore, these authors distinguish committees by the evenness with which their outputs (or externalities) affect all the territories over which the legislature governs. Committees dealing with policy areas that have a roughly equal effect on all constituencies are said to have uniform externalities, in Cox and McCubbins’s (2007, p. 179) terminology. Those with targeted externalities affect some districts much more than others. Those with mixed externalities fall into neither category. The party cartel theory states that parties will be less likely to give places on committees with uniform externalities to those legislators whose preferences are far from the average position of the party. Doing so would risk undermining the informational value of the party label (Kiewiet and McCubbins, 1991, p. 40). 2.1 Studies of legislators’ committee preferences The theories of legislative organisation discussed above were developed in the context of the US Congress. Empirical testing of these approaches in the US case has led to mixed results. Smith and Ray (1983) found evidence among Democrats (excluding those beginning their first term in Congress) that party loyalty increased the chances of being assigned to a committee to which a legislator was nominated. Frisch and Kelly (2004, p. 334) examined committee requests from over 2000 Democrat and Republican members of the House of Representatives. They found some support for the distributive approach in that self-selection seems to occur more for those committees linked closely to the provision of constituency-specific benefits. However, request success was considerably lower for the most prestigious committees in the House. Overall, their results suggest that self-selection does not accurately describe the process of committee assignment in the House of Representatives. Specifically, their figures show that around 47% of first-term members received their choice of committee while only about 37% of incumbents did so. This is out of line with the assumptions underlying the distributive theory of legislative organisation. Cox and McCubbins take this further by showing the influence of parties in the process of granting committee requests (2007, p. 169). Their data demonstrate that, among Democrats, members whose request to transfer from one committee to another was rejected were less loyal than those who did not request or receive transfers. These findings are consistent with their party cartel theory’s predictions that party loyalty will affect legislators’ movements around the committee system. Overall then, the evidence in the US Congress seems mixed with regard to its support for the different approaches to legislative organisation. Outside of the USA, studies have used survey data on legislators’ preferred committees. These are distinct from committee request data available for the US Congress in that it is possible that legislators might distinguish between the committees they formally request via their party and those they would most like to sit on. In other words, legislators might choose not to request committees to which they predict they have little chance of being assigned. In any case, data directly from parties on committee requests are not normally publicly available and parties might collect these data in different ways. Survey data allow us to measure legislators’ preferences for committees with the same question asked to all respondents. Among the few studies of committee preferences outside of the USA (for an overview, see Martin and Mickler, 2019), Giannetti et al. (2019) show that members of the Italian Chamber of Deputies are more likely to be granted their favoured constituency-oriented committees when they are closer to the mean left–right position of their party. They argue that, consistent with party cartel theory, this indicates parties will only accommodate MPs’ ‘distributive desires’ if those members are loyal to their party. They also find that legislators’ requests to sit on committees are less likely to be granted, the more important is a committee’s jurisdiction for their party. They contend that this indicates an over-supply of legislators for those committees most salient for their party, meaning members are acting consistently with their party’s goals to a large extent. In their study of the Swedish Riksdag, Willumsen and Öhberg (2017) examine committee assignments in light of the different incentives facing governing and opposition parties. Their findings indicate that party loyalty matters more for governing parties than others. However, they also find that being further from a party’s median position on a left–right scale increases the chance of being assigned to the committee that a legislator most wants to be on. Therefore, as with studies of the US Congress, research on European national parliaments produces some support for the party cartel theory, but this is rather mixed. 2.2 Committee composition and MEPs’ committee preferences in the EP Evidence for the role of parties in the EP’s committee system is inconsistent. McElroy (2001) showed that loyalty to party groups affects shifts in committee membership at the halfway point of the EP’s five-year terms, with disloyal members more likely to be demoted in the committee system. Whitaker (2011, p. 74) found that MEPs further from their national party’s median position on a left–right scale were less likely to be assigned to the legislatively highly active Environment committee in the 1999–2004 EP but found no effect for this variable in other committees in his study or for a pro-versus-anti-European integration dimension. Yordanova (2013, p. 59) found no evidence of party group loyalty effects on committee assignments in the EP in its 2004–2009 term. Using NOMINATE data, McElroy (2006) showed that committees on the whole appear to be representative of the plenary in terms of preferences, at least as revealed in roll-call votes. By contrast, Yordanova (2013) found evidence for the distributive perspective in that some committees are made up of preference outliers. Comparing the voting behaviour of committee contingents with others, Whitaker (2005, 2011) found evidence for a modified version of Cox and McCubbins’ (2007) partisan approach in which parties are more concerned about influencing the membership of committees that have higher levels of legislative activity. What has not yet been systematically tested in the EP though, is whether any of these variables affect the likelihood of MEPs being granted the committee positions that they would most like to hold. Of the two studies known to the author which cover MEPs’ committee preferences in the EP in some way, Whitaker (2001, p. 72) presented evidence from qualitative interviews suggesting that committee positions in the EP are largely self-selected within the bounds of rules on proportionality, which we explain below. The interviews also indicated that national parties have an important role in the process, particularly in smaller parties. Yordanova (2013, p. 54) reports evidence from interviews pointing to the effect of seniority on MEPs being assigned their choice of committee. 2.3 Expectations On the basis of these theories and empirical findings, we can hypothesise about (a) what motivates MEPs to want to be on particular committees and (b) what explains when they are successful in obtaining a position on their choice of committee. If the distributive perspective applies, then we would expect MEPs who want to be on those committees best suited to delivering benefits to particular groups of voters, to be motivated primarily by their voters’ concerns. We would also expect to see a system of self-selection in which MEPs are highly successful in obtaining their most preferred assignment, particularly for those committees that enable them to deliver benefits to particular groups of voters. This would be consistent with a committee system whose purpose is to deliver constituency-specific benefits to further legislators’ re-election prospects. If the informational approach is correct, then we expect MEPs’ preferences for particular committees to be motivated by their experience or professional expertise. This is in line with a committee system that is aimed at increasing the information available to legislators when making policy choices. On this basis, we would expect MEPs to be more likely to be granted their most favoured assignment if they have relevant experience or expertise. If the partisan perspective applies, the existing literature suggests four hypotheses. MEPs will be motivated in their choice of committee by furthering the goals of their party, on the grounds that this will bring electoral benefits to them. Drawing on Giannetti et al.’s (2019) findings, if MEPs’ policy priorities are consistent with those of their party, we would expect an over-supply of legislators for committees that deal with policy areas of greatest salience to an MEP’s party. If this is the case, then we can hypothesise that such over-supply will mean MEPs are less likely to obtain places on these committees. We expect MEPs to be less successful when they are further from the average party position on a left–right or EU integration scale on the basis that filling committees with policy outliers would undermine the party’s brand in the eyes of the electorate. Because party leaders can make gains from strengthening their party’s reputation (Cox and McCubbins, 2007), we also expect them to be more likely to give the most loyal MEPs the assignments they want. In addition to these theories of legislative organisation, Strøm’s (1990) theory of vote, office and policy-seeking behaviour provides a framework that can be used to understand MEPs’ motivations (Hix et al., 1999). Kreppel (2002) argues that MEPs will most likely be motivated by policy-seeking aims because the electoral connection in the EU is weak. Applying this to the committee system, arguably the committees most likely to be useful to policy-seeking MEPs are those with the greatest involvement in the legislative process (see Supplementary Table S1 for an indication of the number of legislative reports each committee produced in the 2009–2014 EP term). If this is the case, then these committees ought to be among the most popular and, as a result, success rates should be lower on these committees. Finally, drawing on evidence from Frisch and Kelly (2003) that first-term female members of the House of Representatives were less likely than others to receive their first choice of assignment, we assess differences between male and female MEPs in gaining their choice of committee. Before testing these hypotheses, the next section explains the mechanics of the committee assignment process in the EP. 3. Committee assignments in the EP Committee assignments in the EP are governed by the principle of proportionality, particularly with regard to the party groups (which bring together national parties from similar ideological positions). According to Rule 199 of the EP’s Rules of Procedure, ‘The composition of the committees shall, as far as possible, reflect the composition of Parliament’ and ‘The proportionality of the distribution of committee seats among political groups must not depart from the nearest appropriate whole number’. In practice, proportionality also largely applies at the level of national parties although some deviations from this do occur and tend to be associated with national parties’ policy priorities (Whitaker, 2011, p. 57). The standard practice for agreeing committee composition is for the party groups to make proposals for committee membership which are then voted on in the chamber. This process occurs after each election and at the mid-point of each five-year term. MEPs can sit on more than one committee but most do not do so (Corbett et al., 2016, p. 169). Substitute membership of committees is also possible and allows MEPs to speak and to vote but the latter is possible only if a member of their political group is absent. The EP’s rules about the proportional representation of party groups place restrictions on how far the groups can accommodate MEPs’ requests for committee positions. To the extent that MEPs consider this in choosing the committee on which they would most like a place, we may see an over-estimate of their success in achieving their desired assignment. It would be difficult to measure how far each MEP builds the likelihood of success into their decision about which committee they claim to prefer. Nevertheless, there is evidence that party groups do respond to MEPs’ demands, meaning that it may be worth MEPs making a request for a popular committee. For instance, committees vary in size. The prestigious Foreign Affairs committee had 71 members at the beginning of the 2014–2019 term, while the committees on Fisheries, Legal Affairs and Constitutional Affairs had only 25 members each. This variation is at least partly a reflection of the popularity of committees,1 suggesting that the party groups respond to demand from MEPs for assignments to some degree. We would expect the largest and, by implication, most popular committees to be among those on which MEPs are the least likely to be granted their request for membership. A further piece of evidence that party groups respond to variations in demand for committee positions is the presence of so-called neutralised committees. Membership of these does not affect the chances of an MEP’s party group assigning them to another committee. These committees include those on Petitions, Constitutional Affairs, Women’s Rights and Budgetary Control (Corbett et al., 2016, p. 169). With this context borne in mind, the next section explains the data that are used to assess MEPs’ committee preferences. 4. Data We assess the committees preferred by MEPs, the reasons for their choice and comparisons of choice with actual assignments using a survey of MEPs conducted during 2015 by the European Parliament Research Group (Whitaker et al., 2017).2 MEPs were able to complete the survey in 1 of 24 languages. The response rate was 30% (n=227). The sample is representative of member states and party groups.3 Although this survey is part of a time-series stretching back to 2000, the 2015 wave was the first in which a question was asked about the committee that each respondent would most like to have been assigned to (in this case, at the start of the 2014–2019 term). As such, it provides the first systematic data on MEPs’ committee preferences. We measure the committees on which MEPs would most like to be assigned with a question in the survey in which MEPs were asked, ‘After the 2014 European election, which committee did you most want to sit on?’ A single response could be chosen from a list of the EP’s 20 committees.4 MEPs’ motivations for committee choice were assessed using a range of statements in the survey as follows (with the theory to which the statement relates added here in brackets): The committee is important to my voters [distributive]. The committee tackles topics in which I have professional expertise [informational]. I was asked to serve on the committee by my European political group [partisan]. I was asked to serve on the committee by my national party [partisan]. I was a member of this committee in the last European Parliament [informational]. MEPs were asked to respond to these on a one-to-five scale where 1 = not important and 5 = very important for their choice of committee. To establish whether MEPs were given a place on the committee they cite as the one on which they would most to sit, respondents were later asked, ‘Which committee(s) do you currently sit on as a full member?’5 A simple dummy variable measures MEPs’ success and is coded 1 if one of the committees to which an MEP was assigned is the same as that selected as their most preferred committee in the earlier question. This variable is coded zero otherwise. In order to explain variation in MEPs’ success at gaining the committee assignment of their choice, we measure a range of concepts. MEPs’ institutional experience is measured with two variables, one concerning the year in which the MEP was first elected to the EP and the other a dummy variable, scoring 1 if the respondent was a member of their most preferred committee in the previous EP term and 0 otherwise. We measure MEPs’ ideological positions using two survey items. One asked MEPs to place themselves on a left–right scale, ranging from 0 (left) to 10 (right). A further question allowed respondents to position themselves on a scale of EU integration from 0 (European integration has already gone too far) to 10 (European integration should be pushed further). For each of these two scales we calculate the absolute difference between an MEP’s position and the mean location of those in their national party and party group. Data on MEPs’ loyalty to their party group and national party in roll-call votes were taken from VoteWatch Europe (www.votewatch.eu) for the period from July 2014 to December 2017. It might be argued that data from the previous (2009–2014) term would be more appropriate here but this would require us to exclude new MEPs from the analysis, decreasing the number of cases considerably. In any case, we do not have reasons to expect large changes in each MEP’s loyalty, on average, from one term to another. The importance of committees to national parties is measured using the Manifesto Project Database (Volkens et al., 2017). Data from the most recent national election prior to the 2014 EP elections are used for each national party. Policy areas from manifestos were linked to EP committee jurisdictions following Hausemer’s (2006) approach. A list of Manifesto Database codes and associated EP committees is provided in Supplementary Table S2. We use national election manifestos as not all parties issue European election manifestos. Four EP committees were excluded on this variable due to a lack of suitable manifesto data (these were Budgets, Fisheries, Legal Affairs and Petitions). For each national party on each committee, the proportion of their manifesto taken up by the appropriate categories from the manifesto data is calculated. This represents a measure of the salience of each committee’s jurisdiction for each national party. Supplementary Table S3 indicates the mean salience of each committee. The significance of each committee in terms of its legislative activity is measured using the number of legislative reports that the committee produced in the 2009–2014 term (see Supplementary Table S1). The next section presents the results of our analyses. 5. Results We begin by looking at the popularity of committees in the EP. We then deal with the question of what motivates MEPs to want particular assignments followed by examining the factors that might explain variation in MEPs’ success at achieving the assignments they most want. 5.1 Committee popularity Table 1 shows how MEPs responded to the question about which committee they most wanted to sit on as well as their rates of success in being allocated a position on their most preferred committee. Committees are ordered by the number of MEPs choosing them as their preferred option. The rankings in the table make sense given what we already know of how particular committees are valued by parties. For example, following allocations of committee chairs to party groups under the D’Hondt formula at the beginning of the 2009–2014 term, the committees chosen first were Industry, Economics, Foreign Affairs and Civil Liberties, all of which feature near or at the top of Table 1. Foreign Affairs lacks legislative power but often includes some of the most high-profile figures in the EP. There is some support for our expectation that MEPs would most want to be on those committees with the highest legislative activity (assuming MEPs use the committee system for policy-seeking aims). For instance, the Environment committee was the most legislatively active in the 2009–2014 term with Economic and Monetary Affairs second to it (see Supplementary Table S1). More broadly, 8 of the 10 most desired committees are among the 10 most legislatively active in the previous term. The comparatively high success rate overall (80%) suggests that MEPs very often can get what they want in the EP’s committee system. Table 1 MEPs’ preferences for committees Committee MEPs choosing this as most preferred (%) Success rate (%) Foreign Affairs 14 (n = 23) 70 Industry, Research and Energy 11 (n = 18) 83 Economic and Monetary Affairs 10 (n = 16) 81 Environment, Public Health and Food Safety 9 (n = 15) 73 Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs 9 (n = 14) 64 Employment and Social Affairs 7 (n = 12) 83 Transport and Tourism 6 (n = 10) 80 Agriculture and Rural Development 6 (n = 10) 80 International Trade 6 (n = 9) 78 Internal Market and Consumer Protection 5 (n = 8) 100 Regional Development 3 (n = 5) 100 Culture and Education 3 (n = 5) 80 Budgets 3 (n = 4) 75 Legal Affairs 3 (n = 4) 100 Fisheries 2 (n = 3) 100 Constitutional Affairs 2 (n = 3) 67 Development 1 (n = 1) 100 Petitions 1 (n = 1) 100 Total n = 161 Overall success rate = 80% Committee MEPs choosing this as most preferred (%) Success rate (%) Foreign Affairs 14 (n = 23) 70 Industry, Research and Energy 11 (n = 18) 83 Economic and Monetary Affairs 10 (n = 16) 81 Environment, Public Health and Food Safety 9 (n = 15) 73 Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs 9 (n = 14) 64 Employment and Social Affairs 7 (n = 12) 83 Transport and Tourism 6 (n = 10) 80 Agriculture and Rural Development 6 (n = 10) 80 International Trade 6 (n = 9) 78 Internal Market and Consumer Protection 5 (n = 8) 100 Regional Development 3 (n = 5) 100 Culture and Education 3 (n = 5) 80 Budgets 3 (n = 4) 75 Legal Affairs 3 (n = 4) 100 Fisheries 2 (n = 3) 100 Constitutional Affairs 2 (n = 3) 67 Development 1 (n = 1) 100 Petitions 1 (n = 1) 100 Total n = 161 Overall success rate = 80% Source: MEP 2015 Survey (Whitaker et al., 2016). Table 1 MEPs’ preferences for committees Committee MEPs choosing this as most preferred (%) Success rate (%) Foreign Affairs 14 (n = 23) 70 Industry, Research and Energy 11 (n = 18) 83 Economic and Monetary Affairs 10 (n = 16) 81 Environment, Public Health and Food Safety 9 (n = 15) 73 Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs 9 (n = 14) 64 Employment and Social Affairs 7 (n = 12) 83 Transport and Tourism 6 (n = 10) 80 Agriculture and Rural Development 6 (n = 10) 80 International Trade 6 (n = 9) 78 Internal Market and Consumer Protection 5 (n = 8) 100 Regional Development 3 (n = 5) 100 Culture and Education 3 (n = 5) 80 Budgets 3 (n = 4) 75 Legal Affairs 3 (n = 4) 100 Fisheries 2 (n = 3) 100 Constitutional Affairs 2 (n = 3) 67 Development 1 (n = 1) 100 Petitions 1 (n = 1) 100 Total n = 161 Overall success rate = 80% Committee MEPs choosing this as most preferred (%) Success rate (%) Foreign Affairs 14 (n = 23) 70 Industry, Research and Energy 11 (n = 18) 83 Economic and Monetary Affairs 10 (n = 16) 81 Environment, Public Health and Food Safety 9 (n = 15) 73 Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs 9 (n = 14) 64 Employment and Social Affairs 7 (n = 12) 83 Transport and Tourism 6 (n = 10) 80 Agriculture and Rural Development 6 (n = 10) 80 International Trade 6 (n = 9) 78 Internal Market and Consumer Protection 5 (n = 8) 100 Regional Development 3 (n = 5) 100 Culture and Education 3 (n = 5) 80 Budgets 3 (n = 4) 75 Legal Affairs 3 (n = 4) 100 Fisheries 2 (n = 3) 100 Constitutional Affairs 2 (n = 3) 67 Development 1 (n = 1) 100 Petitions 1 (n = 1) 100 Total n = 161 Overall success rate = 80% Source: MEP 2015 Survey (Whitaker et al., 2016). 5.2 Motivations for committee choice Why do MEPs want to be on particular committees? We answer this by looking at responses to five questions in the 2015 MEP Survey on reasons for committee choice, set out earlier. Figure 1 provides histograms for each of these variables. It is clear that professional expertise and importance to voters are deemed much more important reasons than others. Few rate being asked to serve by their party group or national party as very important while the statement about having been on the committee in the previous term appears to divide respondents to some degree. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide MEPs’ reasons for committee choice. Source: MEP 2015 Survey (Whitaker et al., 2016). Note the question asked was: ‘How important were each of these reasons for you in deciding which committee to join after the 2014 European elections?’. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide MEPs’ reasons for committee choice. Source: MEP 2015 Survey (Whitaker et al., 2016). Note the question asked was: ‘How important were each of these reasons for you in deciding which committee to join after the 2014 European elections?’. By examining scores on these variables for those wanting to be on a particular committee, we can assess how far MEPs’ reasons for committee choice fit with the different approaches to legislative organisation set out earlier. The distributive approach suggests that legislators will want to sit on committees that allow them to contribute to constituency-specific legislation. While the EU does not generate much in the way of highly geographically specific legislation, it does produce outputs that affect particular groups more than others. In previous research (Whitaker, 2011; Yordanova, 2013), the Employment, Agriculture, Fisheries and Regional Development committees have been classified as those with largely distributive outputs or—in Cox and McCubbins’ (2007) terms—targeted externalities. In line with our expectations, difference of means tests show that for Employment and Regional Affairs (at p < 0.1), those wanting to be on these committees gave higher ratings to the ‘important-to-my-voters’ motivation than did other MEPs. Interestingly, this also holds for the Economic and Monetary Affairs committee which has dealt with legislation regarding the Eurozone crisis that has affected particular member states more than others. The differences are in the expected direction for Agriculture and Fisheries but do not reach statistical significance. Turning to motivations derived from the informational approach, for the most legislatively active committee (Environment) as well as for the Industry, Research and Energy committee, which also ranks comparatively highly in terms of legislative reports (see Supplementary Table S1), those successful in achieving assignments were more likely than others to say that being on the committee in the previous term was important (p<0.1 for Environment; p=0.1 for Industry). This may suggest that the technical knowledge required to master dossiers passing through these committees is an advantage for MEPs, assuming that previous experience on those committees provides such expertise. It is consistent with earlier evidence about committee seniority for assignments to Environment (Whitaker, 2011, p. 84). Nevertheless, difference of means tests for the question in which respondents were asked to rate the statement ‘The committee tackles topics in which I have professional expertise’, did not lead to statistically significant results in any of the cases. If the partisan approach explains MEPs’ decisions about which committee they would most like to be assigned to then we would expect to see this reflected in responses to questions about party involvement in decisions. As is clear from Figure 1, far fewer MEPs rated party decisions as of high importance than did those responding to other motivations for joining committees. There are only two committees on which one of the two party-based motivations shows a statistically significant effect, namely Budgets, for those rating being asked to serve by their party group as more important, and Agriculture for being asked to serve by the national party. Thus, there is no clear pattern here except that in most cases, MEPs do not highly rate these party interventions as important in their committee choice. 5.3 Explaining variation in committee assignment success How far are variations in MEPs’ success in gaining their preferred committee assignments consistent with the expectations set out earlier? Beginning at the aggregate level, the data are not consistently supportive of the distributive approach. Of the four committees identified earlier as having targeted externalities (Employment, Agriculture, Fisheries and Regional Development), only two stand out with regard to success rates (Fisheries and Regional Development). Agriculture has the same success rate as applies overall (80%) while the rate for Employment is slightly above this (83%). Furthermore, success rates are high for some other committees too. These data therefore only partially support the distributive approach. With the exception of the highly prestigious Foreign Affairs committee and the Constitutional Affairs committee, those committees with lower than the overall committee success rate are all among the most legislatively active. This is at least partly consistent with our expectation that MEPs’ policy-seeking behaviour would lead to greater competition for places on the most legislatively active committees. It is also worth noting that of the neutralised committees, Budgetary Control, Petitions and Women’s Rights do not appear on this list at all, as we would expect. Constitutional Affairs appears to be an exception to this. In order to look at the range of factors hypothesised to affect individual MEPs’ chances of sitting on the committee they prefer, a logistic regression analysis was considered. However, as can be seen in Table 1, the numbers of cases overall are small. Furthermore, the sample size is reduced when we also take account of missing data for some variables in the survey, as well as some committees lacking appropriate manifesto data. As a consequence, results for most variables in a multivariate logistic regression were outside the normal boundaries of statistical significance and the reliability of the model over an empty model was rather uncertain. Given this, we consider the effects of a range of variables in a series of bivariate analyses. While these do not allow us to consider the effects of variables while holding others constant, they still provide important insights into an, as yet, unsystematically studied question in the case of the EP. Table 2 provides details of bivariate analyses of several variables. In the case of continuous variables, the figures presented in the second column refer to differences in mean values between respondents who were successful and those not successful in obtaining their choice of committee. For example, the figure for the variable ‘Year first elected to EP’ (−2.22***) indicates that respondents who achieved their choice of committee had, on average, 2.22 more years of experience in the EP than did those who were not successful. The difference is statistically significant at the p≤0.01 level. For those variables which are dummies (marked as § in the table), the figure is the difference in percentage points of respondents who were successful, comparing those holding the particular characteristic with those who do not. For example, the difference in success for new MEPs compared with incumbents in achieving their preferred committee assignment was −13.51 percentage points. Significance levels in these cases are chi-squared tests of independence between the relevant dummy variable and MEPs’ success or otherwise in the committee assignment process. These figures are based on all the committees in the dataset. Bivariate analyses at the committee level were also conducted but only the statistically significant results of these are discussed. For some committees, the numbers were extremely small, making inferences unreliable. Table 2 Bivariate tests of success in achieving most desired committee Variable Difference in means between those assigned to their committee of choice and those not (or difference in percentage for dummy variables) Informational approach Year first elected to EP −2.22*** New MEP§ −13.51** Previously on the committee§ 12.10* Partisan approach Absolute distance to party group mean on left– right scale −0.03 Absolute distance to party group mean on EU integration scale −0.15 Absolute distance to national party mean on left– right scale 0.00 Absolute distance to national party mean on EU integration scale −0.10 Loyalty to party group −3.68 Loyalty to national party −0.49 Salience of committee to national party −0.97 Policy-seeking behaviour Legislative reports in previous term −20.67 Committee size −4.76** Female§ −1.65 Variable Difference in means between those assigned to their committee of choice and those not (or difference in percentage for dummy variables) Informational approach Year first elected to EP −2.22*** New MEP§ −13.51** Previously on the committee§ 12.10* Partisan approach Absolute distance to party group mean on left– right scale −0.03 Absolute distance to party group mean on EU integration scale −0.15 Absolute distance to national party mean on left– right scale 0.00 Absolute distance to national party mean on EU integration scale −0.10 Loyalty to party group −3.68 Loyalty to national party −0.49 Salience of committee to national party −0.97 Policy-seeking behaviour Legislative reports in previous term −20.67 Committee size −4.76** Female§ −1.65 § Results for the ‘New MEP’, ‘Previously on committee’ and ‘Female’ variables are based on chi-squared tests of independence. Figures reported for these variables are the difference in percentage points between those scoring 1 and those scoring 0 on the dummy variable among those who were successful in achieving their choice of committee. All other figures in the table report difference-of-means tests. * p ≤ 0.1, **p ≤ 0.05, ***p ≤ 0.01. Table 2 Bivariate tests of success in achieving most desired committee Variable Difference in means between those assigned to their committee of choice and those not (or difference in percentage for dummy variables) Informational approach Year first elected to EP −2.22*** New MEP§ −13.51** Previously on the committee§ 12.10* Partisan approach Absolute distance to party group mean on left– right scale −0.03 Absolute distance to party group mean on EU integration scale −0.15 Absolute distance to national party mean on left– right scale 0.00 Absolute distance to national party mean on EU integration scale −0.10 Loyalty to party group −3.68 Loyalty to national party −0.49 Salience of committee to national party −0.97 Policy-seeking behaviour Legislative reports in previous term −20.67 Committee size −4.76** Female§ −1.65 Variable Difference in means between those assigned to their committee of choice and those not (or difference in percentage for dummy variables) Informational approach Year first elected to EP −2.22*** New MEP§ −13.51** Previously on the committee§ 12.10* Partisan approach Absolute distance to party group mean on left– right scale −0.03 Absolute distance to party group mean on EU integration scale −0.15 Absolute distance to national party mean on left– right scale 0.00 Absolute distance to national party mean on EU integration scale −0.10 Loyalty to party group −3.68 Loyalty to national party −0.49 Salience of committee to national party −0.97 Policy-seeking behaviour Legislative reports in previous term −20.67 Committee size −4.76** Female§ −1.65 § Results for the ‘New MEP’, ‘Previously on committee’ and ‘Female’ variables are based on chi-squared tests of independence. Figures reported for these variables are the difference in percentage points between those scoring 1 and those scoring 0 on the dummy variable among those who were successful in achieving their choice of committee. All other figures in the table report difference-of-means tests. * p ≤ 0.1, **p ≤ 0.05, ***p ≤ 0.01. The results lend support to the informational approach. Those being assigned to their favoured committee have higher levels of experience in the EP and are more likely than others to have previously been a member of the committee to which they want to be assigned. Being a new MEP is associated with a considerably lower success rate than that for incumbents, although this is still comparatively high at 74%. These results suggest that institutional and committee seniority affects who is successful in this process. These findings contrast strikingly with those from Frisch and Kelly’s (2004) analysis of the US Congress in which new arrivals were more likely to be assigned to their favoured choice of committee than were incumbents. If we consider the variables relating to the partisan approach, the results for distances between MEPs and their party group and national party’s average position on the EU integration scale and on the left–right scale for party groups are in the expected direction, though none of the differences are statistically significant. For the left–right scale in relation to national parties, there is essentially no difference. When we look at individual committees, we find that among those who most wanted to sit on the Economics committee and were successful, there is a smaller gap to the average national party position on both the left–right (p<0.05) and EU integration (p<0.01) dimensions. This is also the case for the distance to the mean party group position on the left–right scale (p=0.1). This makes sense on the basis that Economics is a highly legislatively active committee (see Supplementary Table S1) which has been dealing with legislation relating to one of the EU’s most high profile and difficult areas in recent years, in the form of the Eurozone crisis. If a modified version of the party cartel theory is correct, in which parties care most about committees with the highest levels of legislative activity, we would expect parties to be concerned about the outputs of this committee and therefore to ensure preference outliers are not disproportionately represented on it. The differences are in the expected direction for the left–right dimension among those successful in their attempt to achieve a seat on the EP’s most legislatively active committee (Environment) but they are smaller and not statistically significant. In summary, many of the results for preferences are in the expected direction but few are reliable enough for us to be certain that the differences are not due to chance. There are no statistically significant differences in voting loyalty, either to party groups or national parties, for those who are successful in gaining their preferred committee compared with those who are not. Furthermore, both differences are in the opposite direction to that expected. This runs against our expectations based on party cartel theory and fits with Yordanova’s (2013) findings when assessing the effect of loyalty on committee assignments. When we consider the salience of committees for national parties, the difference between MEPs who are successful in the assignment process and those not is in the expected direction, with successful MEPs having chosen committees that are less important to their party. However, as with some of the differences cited above, this does not achieve statistical significance. Turning to our expectations based on MEPs’ policy-seeking behaviour, if we compare mean values of committee reports in the 2009–2014 EP term for those successful and those not successful in achieving a place on their preferred committee, the difference is in the expected direction and is reasonably substantial at around 21 reports. This is as we would expect if competition is highest for the most legislatively active committees. But the difference is not statistically significant, with a 30% probability that this figure is purely due to chance. Our expectation that MEPs aiming for larger committees would be less successful is borne out here with a statistically significant difference of means for committee size of just under four members. Finally, although women were fractionally less likely than men to be assigned to the committee they preferred, the difference in success rates between men and women is not statistically significant. 6. Conclusions The evidence presented here suggests that variations in the popularity of committees are mainly in line with what we might expect from the legislative activity of committees and their varying importance for party groups in the EP. In many cases, committees with lower success rates are those that are among the most legislatively active. This provides at least some evidence for the contention that policy-seeking behaviour among MEPs leads to greater competition for places on committees dealing with the largest amounts of legislative dossiers. MEPs’ motivations for choosing particular committees as their most preferred are at least partly reflective of the variations in distributive outputs of committees. The data also point to informational motivations to some degree for those committees that are among the most legislatively active but which are not focused on distributive outputs. Our assessment of variation in success at achieving the committee assignments most wanted by MEPs suggests that the informational perspective provides the strongest explanation. Previous experience in the EP and on the relevant committee is higher among those achieving their desired assignment. Support for the partisan approach as measured by distances from mean party positions, loyalty and salience of committees for national parties is much weaker, at least in terms of statistical significance, if less so with regard to the direction of relationships. Nevertheless, our findings that some of the most popular committees are also those prioritised by party groups when selecting the committees they wish to chair, indicates that party priorities are likely a consideration in MEPs’ choices of committee. Previous interview evidence (Whitaker, 2001) is consistent with this. The overall figure for assignment success in Table 1 indicates that MEPs’ are largely successful in gaining their choice of committee assignment. However, it is important to put these findings of high success rates in context. Committee assignments are governed by proportional representation of party groups and—to a large extent—national parties. This means MEPs cannot all be completely free in their choice of committee and, as previously noted, this may affect which committees they claim they would most like to be assigned to. In addition, party groups employ coordinators on each committee in an attempt to reduce agency losses that may result from committee contingents that are not representative of the range of preferences in the group. Recent research on these coordinators (Daniel and Thierse, 2017) suggests that previous experience in this position increases the chance of being appointed to it in a future term, indicating that those who have successfully achieved cohesion within their party groups as coordinators are more likely to maintain their position in this role. Within this framework, MEPs, and especially incumbents, do appear to be able to get what they want in the EP’s committee system to a comparatively high degree. Supplementary material Supplementary data are available at Parliamentary Affairs online. Funding This work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust [Grant No. RPG-2014-277]. Conflict of Interest The author has no conflicts of interest to report. Footnotes 1 This point was made by EP committee staff in interviews with the author. 2 The data along with earlier waves of the survey (Hix et al., 2016) are available at www.mepsurvey.eu. 3 Specifically, the correlation between numbers of party group members in the sample and those in the population of MEPs was 0.99. The Duncan Index of Dissimilarity comparing party groups in the sample and population was 0.06. Equivalent figures for member states were 0.93 and 0.14. 4 Given that the survey was conducted after assignments for the first half of the 2014–2019 term had been made, it is possible that respondents who did not receive their first choice of assignment might answer this question inaccurately by stating that they wanted the committee to which they were eventually assigned. Nevertheless, (1) the presence of variation in the extent to which MEPs were given their first choice of assignment and (2) the patterns in variation of success rates by committee suggests that, if present, this bias is not systematic. 5 Note we do not consider substitute membership of committees here as the data do not allow for this. References Corbett R. , Jacobs F. , Neville D. ( 2016 ) The European Parliament , 9 th edn, London , John Harper . Cox G. , McCubbins M. ( 2007 ) Legislative Leviathan: Party Government in the House , 2 nd edn, Cambridge , Cambridge University Press . Daniel W. , Thierse S. ( 2017 ) ‘ Individual Determinants for the Selection of Group Coordinators in the European Parliament ’, Journal of Common Market Studies , Advance access published on 20 December 2017, DOI:10.1111/jcms.12690. Frisch S. , Kelly S. ( 2003 ) ‘ A Place at the Table: Women’s Committee Requests and Women’s Committee Assignments in the US House ’, Women and Politics , 25 , 1 – 26 . 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Parliamentary Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2019
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