Tag Archives: Europarlamentare

EU DataViz 2019 – EU elections: the case for harmonized election data

On 12.11.2019 I participated in first EU DataViz conference held in Luxembourg City. I had a presentation entitled “EU elections: the case for a harmonized treatment of European election data” in the first set of thematic sessions

Karim Douieb - EUDataviz2019 Photo.jpg
Photo by Karim Douïeb

The presentation was filmed and can be found HERE (at 2h:51m:48s)

The slides are found at this link.

I took the liberty of publishing the presentation in the form of an article below. Enjoy!


I’m here to share with you what I’ve learned creating the most detailed maps of the European Elections ever.

Part I – Each election has its map

Today, when elections happen, news sites use maps to easily illustrate the result and patterns in the vote.


So (for example) when elections happen in the United States we see a lot of maps published in various news sites such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, including non-American ones, like the Guardian. They vary in detail, aesthetic, subject matter – presidential elections, congressional, presidential primaries – , and approach the vote from various angles.


We also see detailed maps when other big democracies vote, like India for example (on the left), the world’s single largest elections, with over 1 billion voters. You see beautiful detailed maps of Brazil as well (here on the right) made by Gazeta do Povo for the last presidential elections they had.


But when the European Union holds elections – second largest elections in the world, with more than 400 million eligible voters – we often get maps like these. These 1-county-1-color maps simplify the vote to the extreme. You do get to see the whole union, but with virtually no detail.


If not we see this alternative: complex maps that focus on the reader’s member state. So El Diario does a detailed cartography of the Spanish vote, without showing other countries. And Le Monde shows only how the French voted, and not the rest of the Union.

There is something missing. A map that merges the best of both: a pan-EU look but on a detailed level.


These are the only two maps of these kind.

The map on the left was created by me, as a personal project, for the 2014 elections. It took 6 months of on-and-off work. The one on the right was a collaborative work with Julius Tröger and Zeit Online, in June 2019 right after this year’s European elections. It is the first time an online newspaper published such a map.

Here it is on full screen.


(Apologies for cutting off Finland and Sweden). Almost 80.000 administrative units, mostly municipalities. A historic first.

Part II – Why are there so few maps like this?

So why did it take until now for someone to make these maps? Well the problem is that election data is organized by national authorities. There is no harmonised data to an EU format, done either by national or EU authorities. What this means is that the national news sites will process only familiar data (i.e. data formats they are already familiar with, from national elections).

And I encountered this a lot while working on my maps.


For example you would think member states publish data on the website of Election Authorities. Some do, some don’t. Sometimes it’s published on a open data portal, and sometimes it’s on a private site.


You would think that the data is made available for download. Yet sometimes it isn’t. And to get all the data I had to write small programs to scrape those websites page by page.


Which becomes harder the more complicated the site is. Simple HTML sites are easy, but some of these websites have complicated JavasScript interfaces that makes them pretty to look at, but also makes getting the data a headache.


Most of the times if you manage to download a file, it’s a simple Excel file of CSV. But in the case of the Netherlands it was a more complicated XML type file (which most people might not be very familiar with).

The data also changes based on the type of elections.


Most of Europe votes on list systems –each with its own twist: for example Luxembourg is somewhat special with 6 votes per person -, but some states or regions (like Malta, Ireland and Northern Ireland) use Single Transferable Vote, where candidates are ranked. This means no detailed data on the municipality level, since data is first centralised and then counted.

Voting abroad is another layer of complexity.


Sometimes votes abroad get allocated to where the voter is from, if they vote by mail, and sometimes it’s counted in a category apart. While in some countries embassy votes get added to the votes in the national capital, skewing the data there.


And even if the data is available to download, and even if the file is a clean Excel file, it’s not sure the data is geo-referenced with the relevant municipality code. Municipality codes (called Local Administrative Unit code by Eurostat) helps with attaching the data to the map’s shapefile.

If only the municipality name is available, one can run into a lot of problems. Especially so if there are spelling variations (like accents) or language variations when a municipality is in a bilingual area and it has the national name in one dataset, and the regional name in another.

Thus it is always better that these datasets have the relevant municipality codes.

So while doing this work, mapping these elections, I thought a lot about how difficult and time-consuming it is to visualize the European vote (and it shouldn’t be more difficult than the US or Indian elections.). So here is what I think could be done about it, because something should be.

Part III – Three ways forward

1) First possibility is a top-down approach: Hard policy of mandating that a version of national data follows a pre-determined format. Anyone who is familiar with the format can interpret it.

Advantage is that every country does things the same way, but since we are talking about 28 states that need to agree on the format, it might take a long time.

2) Second is what I call “The Bridge”: Nations publish their own versions of the data like before, and an EU authority (maybe Eurostat?) publishes a harmonized version, thus bridging the space between the member states and third parties.

Advantage is that harmonizing happens centrally but Eurostat must keep up with each state’s changes and shenanigans.

3) The third one would be Eurostat publishing just a “nation by nation guide” for third parties where it details how to access and harmonize data.

This is obviously the most cost-effective solution, and it requires a minimal intervention from the European Union. But on the other hand, it is others who will be harmonizing the data, so it could very well lead to inconsistencies.

But one solution needs to be implemented as there is need for this data. National and European institutions have already reached out to us.


By voting together, we are a single political space, although we do not see ourselves as such, partly because we are not represented that way in the media.

This is where dataviz comes in.

If we have harmonized EU data readily available, we will use this data, which means more visualisations in the media, and we will see ourselves represented more as a European Comunity.

12 November 2019 – Luxembourg

Some tweets from the event


Bubble Grid Map – 2019 European votes

How do you show patterns across 28 countries without your mind immediately jumping to group the patterns into national areas? While working on mapping the 2014 and 2019 European Elections, I realized that even though I wanted to show a single European voting area, voting patterns are still very national, and thus patterns sometimes change abruptly at the national border.

The maps below, inspired by the work of Maarten Lambrechts, on the “Herds of Europe“, are an experiment. They to try to go against our tendency to wrap our gaze around familiar administrative border.

The maps show the number of votes for each political group in the European Parliament as well as the votes for parties that didn’t make the electoral threshold (i.e. parties outside the European Parliament) . So bigger the bubble, the higher the number of votes that group received in that zone.

The only anomaly of the map is the fact that Ireland’s data is already aggregated on electoral constituency level, which are bigger than the grid I chose, thus the bubbles will always tend to be rather large and far apart (all the other nations have much more detailed, municipality-level data).

Unlike Maarten, who worked in R, my maps were made in QGIS (+a bit of Inkscape).

For the original R code, see also Jonas Schöley’s page.



European Elections: which colors for which party?


Inspired by Lisa Charlotte Rost‘s article titled Election reporting: Which color for which party?, I decided to take a look at color assignments for ed to European Parliament Groups as they are featured in the press. While European elections get less coverage than the US elections or national-level elections in Europe, they increasing in importance from one election cycle to the other.

Before actually talking about how these groups are represented, it is good to understand how European elections work:

Every 5 years, the member states of the European Union hold elections to send a number of representatives to the European Parliament. Since these MEPs belong to different national political parties, they band together in groups that are similar ideologically, as doing so helps them to better coordinate politically, as well as it being useful in getting subsidies and places in various committees of the EP.

The Colors

So we’re going to look at the groups as they existed right around the 2014 elections, since we can get a wide range of presentations from multiple European media sources at roughly the same time. In keeping with Lisa’s article, we can see below the color assignments of these Groups both by the media source (on the right side) and on a color wheel, clustered by group (on the left):

Composite Out
Click on the image for a larger version

What we see first and foremost is that there is surprising coherence in the color choices, even though there the publications span multiple languages, and even includes an example from a site in far away Japan.

This coherence, I suspect,  might be the result of two factors:

  1. A convergence in time, as some earlier examples seem to suggest a lot less coherence in color choice (like the 1999 example from the Economist at the end).
  2. A sort of normative power of official charts put out by the European Parliament website, for example the first two lines in the chart (a lot of online publications just chose to use those)

National ‘flavours’

One interesting aspect is that sometimes color choices seem to be influenced by national conventions with regards to the parties that make up those groups. For example:

• SD is pink in some French sites, because PS, the French socialist party within the group, is often shown as pink on the national level
• EPP is black in one German example (CDU, the biggest EPP member from

Germany is traditionally shown as black, as is the Austrian ÖVP)
• EFDD is purple in 2 British examples, even though the group logo is turquoise. That’s because UKIP, the main party of the group is associated in the UK with the color purple


The fixed and the still evolving

When it comes to the groups themselves, we can see that some groups have clearly occupied certain colors. The liberal ALDE is always yellow (a color traditionally associated with liberalism) and the Greens-EFA group is, well, green.

The left is also pretty consistent in its use of red, as well as the distribution of light – for center-left SD – versus dark red – for the far-left GUE/NGL, thus marking ideological intensity.

The same cannot be said of the right side of the spectrum, where we sometimes have 3 groups using hues of blue, albeit the 3rd group, the EFDD, is shown pretty consistently in turquoise, and if not, some other, non-blue hue, like purple, orange (?) or brown. Thus we shall focus on the other two groups: the center-right EPP and the conservative ECR.

Here, the meaning of the intensity of the color is not yet settled, so we have two competing situations:

• EPP light blue / ECR dark : thus intensity showing degree of ideological intensity, similar to what we saw on the left side of the spectrum. Or…
• EPP dark blue / ECR light : the more frequent case, where intensity correlates with importance of the group, or to put it differently, with its electoral weight, the EPP being easily the larger of the two.

And last, but not least, the “Non-Inscrit” group (NI), which is just a fancy way of saying ‘the group of those outside groups’ are in shades of grey, a color often used in charts to mark the ‘Others’ category, although the occasional use of brown could be explained by the presence of many far-right parties in this group (hinting at “brown-shirts” I presume).

This article is part of a study for a later cartographic project.

Colorwheels done in python/matplotlib, the rest in 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

Later edit: 2019 edition below.

Electoral college EU - 2019.png

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.).

Europarl: Redistribuire ’14

Reshuffle RoÎntre alegerile europarlamentare și sesiunea inaugurală a noului parlament european au loc negoicieri și se formează grupuri parlamentare cu noii aleși. Grupurile, formate din minim 25 de europalamentari din cel puțin 7 state, au dreptul la locuri în comisiile de specialitate, timp suplimentar la podium, precum și la subvenții.

Marea luptă la negocierile de anul ăsta a fost între Conservatori (ECR) și Eurosceptici (EFD), ambele dominate de britanici și chestiunea referendumului de Brexit, respectiv între Eurosceptici și un al doilea posibil grup eurosceptic, al Dreptei Extreme, dominat de Frontul Național francez și Partidul pt. Libertate olandez.

Ca o notă suplimentară, linia divergentă galbenă ce migrază de la ALDE la PPE este saltul PNL-ului în barca popularilor, pe fondul alegerilor prezidențiale din toamna anului acesta ce au dus la „unificarea dreptei”.

Grafic realizat în Inkscape, cu date luate de pe Wikipedia. Grosimile liniilor sunt proporționale cu numărul europarlamentarilor.