Category Archives: EU

The History of the European Council

The EU’s Collective Head of State, the European Council held its inaugural meeting on 10 March 1975. In reality, the institution has its roots in the “Summit Meetings” or “Summit Councils” that started with the Rome Summit of 1961. To this date, 182 formal Council meetings have been held (not counting Eurozone Summits, but including Informal ones).

Unlike the European elections, where the makeup of the Parliament changes every 5 years, the composition of the Council changes every time elections in a member state bring about a change in government or president. As such, the Council is in a constant state of flux, especially when it comes to its political leanings. I wanted to track this evolution visually, to get some sense of how the Council evolved.

Click for full size

But the above chart was in fact a preliminary study for a dynamic map (inspired by similar ones featuring the political affiliation of US Governors throughout history).

European Council History

Some things I’d wish to highlight:

Interestingly enough, in 1961 the Charles De Gaulle’s party was a member of the “Liberals and Allies” group in the European Parliament (it switched to the conservative “European Democratic Union” in 1965).

“Independents” are PM’s/Presidents who are not party members, while “Non-Inscrits” (“Unaffiliated”) are PM’s who are members of a party that isn’t/wasn’t member of any EP party group, or whose MEP’s sat in multiple groups, essentially denying the party as a whole a political group.

In 2009, Fianna Fail switched from the Conservatives to the Liberals in the EP, even though the Irish PM stayed the same. In such a case, the color of the country changes as well.

There seems to be a consistent shift from the christian-democrats to the liberals in the last five years.

Greens tend to be center-left usually, but the only PM from a Green party was Latvia’s Indulis Emsis whose party is rather conservative, so I chose to position it centrally on the chart.

PS. Happy Europe Day!

Chart and map made in Python.

Great Britain and the European Union of 27

EU27-UK Flow

This latest visualization has its genesis in this reddit thread. I wanted to represent the data therein in a way that would be easier to compare than a print-screen of an Excel table. As time went by, I found more detailed and accurate data, and I started looking at a way in which I could represent the relationship between the UK and the EU27 from the angle of the Four Freedoms :

1. Free Movement of Goods and 2. Services – The main focus of my visualization. Talk about Britain’s future relationship with the EU has often revolved around how free the trade will be and how high the risk of barriers will be. While the flow of goods has been much easier to free than that of services, and will be much easier to keep unrestricted in the post-Brexit world, I treated the two as somewhat two sides of the coin called Trade. A challenge of this infographic was to visualize both the absolute values, and the relative values to each other (imports vs exports, goods vs. services, UK-to-EU27 trade vs. global national trade)

3. Free Movement of People – Easily the most controversial of the Freedoms, at least in the United Kingdom, and a somewhat thorny subject in the early stages of negotiations, the size of Immigrant / Emigrant communities can inform on which countries might have strong incentives to protect their diaspora during negotiations.

4. Free Movement of Capital – By far the one I grasp the least, I limited myself to showing which countries are members of the Eurozone, and which ones still use their national currencies.

Made with Python (svgwrite module) and Inkscape. Data from Eurostat

Etymology of European Union Institutions

Some etymology maps with the names of the main EU institutions. Obviously the “European” part of the name is left out.

1. The Council(s)
EU Council of Ministers
The most heterogeneous of the 3, there are three main etymologies spread across the continent: the Latin “Concilium”, the Germanic “Rad” and the Slavic “Savet” (which is indeed related to ‘Soviet’) with a few other interesting words dotting the map.

European Council
Although in most languages the European Council and the Council of the European Union are called the same thing, there are a handful of languages where the name of the two institutions differ, namely Estonian, Bosnian and Azerbaijani.

2. The Commission
EU Commission
Much less diverse than the Council, we find, as often is the case in these maps, that Icelandic, Hungarian, Armenian, Basque and Greek do not fall in line with the majority. Interestingly enough, the Breton word for the Commission is related etymologically with the Welsh word for the European Council.

3. The Parliament
European Parliament
An even more conformist situation than above, here even Hungarian and Basque use the dominant word of “Parliament”. It’s worth pointing out that often the national legislatures have a much higher diversity of names.

Made in Inkscape. Base map from Wikimedia Commons. Data mostly from Wiktionary and Wikipedia.

For more such maps, visit /r/etymologymaps on reddit.

EU freedom of movement (from East to West)

The Free Movement of People within the European Union has become one of the hot topics surrounding the whole Brexit debate, and the following graph was born out of the desire to explore the relationship between intra-EU work restrictions on new members, and the growth dynamics of the number of immigrants from these new Eastern European states.

The initial idea was to compare the evolution of the number of New EU citizens in the Old EU member states, and especially between the the Big Three – Germany, Britain and France -, who each imposed different levels of restrictions on the 2004 wave of new member states – the wave that gave the world the image of the infamous “Polish plumber”. I wanted to see how much the presence or absence of work-restrictions slowed down immigration from the East.

Here are some of the findings:

  1. The UK is the only country where immigrants from EU-8 (the 2004 wave) grew as fast as those from EU-2 (Romania and Bulgaria). This later wave tended to be bigger in all countries, except the UK (and the 2013 wave, i.e. Croatia, tended to be between the two when it comes to growth)
  2. Work restrictions don’t seem to be the only factor in the rate of growth, but accession is clearly a tipping point when immigration accelerates. The removal of work-restrictions however are noticeable only in some cases (in Austria most clearly)
  3. I was surprised to see much calmer growth post-accession into Germany and Italy, but that is also due to already having larger numbers of immigrants from said countries before those countries joined the EU. The UK and Germany both ended up with 1+ million Central Europeans after 9 years, but they started out out from different base populations (136k vs. 481k)

One immediate problem that prevented me from a broader analysis was the lack of available data in some countries due to different methodologies. France, for example, does not, to my knowledge, publish an estimate on a country by country basis, the EU immigrants being divided solely into “Spain, Portugal, Italy, rest of the EU”, while other countries don’t go far enough into the past to be useful. True to stereotype, the most rigorous seem to be the Germanic nations, which is somewhat fortunate since German-speaking countries and Scandinavian ones are preferred destinations of intra-EU migration. Also, the numbers in Italy after 2011 are based on the census of 2011, but the data before that year, overestimating the number of immigrants, hasn’t been revised, and I had to revise the data myself, so as to not have an odd sudden drop around 2011.


Made in Python w/ Matplotlib (lineplots), LibreCalc (work restriction viz) and Inkscape.

Distance of Legitimacy within the EU

One oft repeated criticism of the European Union and its institutions is that they are too far away from the people. That unlike the national governments and parliaments, which are within reach of the electorate, the EU leaders are 4-5 steps away, too far, making them essentially “unelected bureaucrats” and not “politicians answerable to the people”.

While still having plenty of problems (like the low turnout rate at the Europarliament elections), the EU has improved a lot since the Lisbon reforms when it comes to democratic legitimacy. That’s why I often find that the “too removed from the people” argument is often based either on outdated perceptions vis-a-vis the way the Union functions, or on a lack awareness on just how complex some national democratic setups are when it comes to some of the EU members. Many Member States, especially big ones in the western side of the continent have comparably complex constitutional setups.

With this in mind, I felt a comparison of the EU side by side with its Member States (plus the 3 bigger EFTA members) is necessary, in order to show that the EU’s institutions are no more distant from the Electorate than the institutions of its member countries, the democratic legitimacy of which are far less often questioned.

Note. A government appointed by an indirectly elected Head of State, but answerable to a directly elected Parliament will be considered as being ‘indirectly elected‘ since it is the vote of confidence, rather than the nomination per se which gives it a democratic legitimacy. Otherwise one will be forced to consider Governments appointed by hereditary Monarchs as being ‘undemocratic‘.


Countries ordered by GDP.

Made in Inkscape.

What if: the EU had presidential elections like the USA?


Context: For those unfamiliar with the EP Groups, here is a quick rundown:
EPP – Center-Right, Pro-EU
SD – Center-Left, Pro-EU
ALDE – Liberal (in the European sense), Pro-EU
Greens-EFA – Greens and Regionalists
ECR – Conservatives, Soft Eurosceptic
GUE-NGL – Left to Far-Left, Soft Eurosceptic
EFD² (or EFDD) – Populist Right, Hard Eurosceptic
ENF – Far-Right, Hard Eurosceptic
NI – Others (outside groups)

The EU/USA analogy

There are two phenomena which converged towards the writing of this blogpost. First of, the recent US elections have put into question, yet again, the voting system used in electing the US president, where wining a majority of the votes can still leave one defeated.

Second, the recent Brexit referendum has stimulated discussions about patching up the real or perceived democratic deficits of the European Union, and one popular solution to this problem is the call for a directly elected European President. Given that the United States of America is often used as inspiration for Federalist proposals, I ran with this thought experiment.

What are Electoral Colleges

The US presidential elections are won by the candidate who wins the most “electors” on a winner-take-all-state system. That is to say, if candidate A wins the most votes in Texas, let’s say 56%, candidate A gets 100% of Texas’s 38 electors, not just 56%. The only two states that do not use “winner-take-all” are Maine and Nebraska (we’ll come back to these). There are 538 electors in total, 3 for DC and a number equal to the sum of its representatives (who vary according to population) and its senators (2 per state) for all the actual states.

Finding Electoral Colleges for the EU

The first problem with translating this system into the EU is finding the number of electors per each state. The “representatives” the EU system would be the MEPs (the ‘Members of the European Parliament’), but finding the number of “senators” is a bit trickier. The EU’s de facto Upper House of the Legislative is the Council of Ministers, which doesn’t have a fixed make-up. While it’s made up of a minister from each EU country, the minister in question varies depending on the subject of the legislation that needs to be voted on (i.e. if it’s legislation concerning internal affairs, the Council of Ministers is made up of each EU state’s “Minister of Interior/Home Secretary” – or equivalent). So a simple solution would be to add 1 elector to the number of MEPs.

QMV – a possible solution

One possibile alternative might be to take into account the Qualified Majority Voting (‘QMV ‘ for short) system of the Council of Ministers, and extract our “upper house electors” from there. Since the Lisbon Treaty, a passing vote requires a “majority of countries” (55% or 72% of them) representing a “majority of the population” (at least 65%) so there are no numbers to work with to get electors. Fortunately, up until 31 March 2017, countries can request a vote under the Nice Treaty’s system of QMV where each state had a fixed number of “voting weights”. So for example, the big 4 have 29 “weights” each, Spain and Poland 27, Romania 14, the Netherlands 13, and so on, all the way down to Malta’s 3, to a grand total of 345 “voting weights”.

So a possible solution for finding each state’s number of “electors” is to add up its number of MEPs with its number of “voting weights” from the Council of Ministers.

The easy way out

While the two examples above could make things interesting, truth is that just using the number of MEPs gives us about the same proportion of votes. See table further down.

The Belgian exception

Remember how Maine and Nebraska use a “per congregational district” system instead of a “per state system”? Given that Belgium is very polarized between its 2 main linguistic communities, I decided to apply a similar “per voting circumscription” system, and devolve the winner-take-all part to the 3 linguistic-communities/voting district.

I thought about doing the same for the French Overseas Territories voting circumscription, but given Frence’s centralist nature, I went with an “all in” approach.

Who won which state?

Now we get to the second part of the problem: applying our system to the 2014 European elections.

When people vote First-Past-The-Post versus Proportional Representation, voting patterns change, but since the European Elections are the only pan-European elections we have, I ran with the numbers of the 2014 EP elections. I took the the winner to be the europarty/coalition (basically EP Group) that got the most MEPs. When 2 or more groups had the same number of MEPs (as in the case of Cyprus), I took votes cast. Here is the result (as mentioned above, I used the numberof MEPs without any additions):

no. % no. % no. %
EPP 506 45.9 356 45.7 342 45.5
SD 228 20.7 165 21.2 160 21.3
ALDE 111 10.1 73 9.4 68 9.1
GUE-NGL 33 3.0 22 2.8 21 2.8
ECR 20 1.8 14 1.8 13 1.7
EFD² 102 9.2 74 9.5 73 9.7
ENF 103 9.3 75 9.6 74 9.9

Made in Inkscape. Inspired by the Fivethirtyeight’s Electoral College cartogram

A functional view of the European Union

One of the big problems of the EU seems to be that it’s difficult to understand how it works and who does what. The prevailing image is one of “Councils” and “Commissions”, each headed by a President of some sort. It doesn’t help that on top of that you have non-EU institutions that sound like they are part of the EU (the Council of Europe – a non-EU entity – versus the European Council and the Council of the European Union – both EU entities). Often infographics that try to explain the EU do little to help.

As such, the infographic below tries to approach the institutional framework of the EU a bit differently, by portraying institutions through theirs national analogies, and using a more varied vocabulary to explain the function of each “president” (for example, the “President of the European Parliament” can be thought of as the “Speaker of Parliament”). In essence, what each institution does is more important than what it’s called, and even if the analogies are imperfect (since, for example, the Commission has legislative attributes as well), they help better differentiate the institutions.


Made in Inkscape.

Europarl: Oradea

O cartare a voturilor din Oradea la ultimele europarlamentare. Fiecare diviziune e o secție de vot. Câștigătorii:


Principalii concurenți electorali:PSDUDMRPNL PDLPMP FCDreaptaDiaconuCostea PRMExtra:DensTotalWinner2Harta secțiilor de vot a fost făcută în ArhiCAD, după lista secțiilor de vot conform Ordinul Prefectului nr. 113 din 22.04.2014. Datele au fost sortate printr-un script python și atașate hărții în QGIS. Hărțile finale generate prin QGIS au fost retușate în Inkscape (titlu, legendă, etc.).