Tag Archives: European Parliament

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!


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

EPP
SD
RE
G-EFA
ECR
GUE-NGL
ID
NI
NoN

 

European Elections 2014 – results by Europarty

First thing’s first, what is a European Political Party (or a Europarty)? According to Wiki:

A European political party (formally, a political party at European level; informally a Europarty) is a type of political party organisation operating transnationally in Europe and in the institutions of the European Union. They are regulated and funded by the European Union and are usually made up of national parties, not individuals. Europarties […] express themselves within the European Parliament by their affiliated political groups and their MEPs.

Now they are important because they also field lead candidates (called “spitzencandidates”), who, according to a decision by the European Parliament and the precedent set in 2014, are the only ones who the EP will accept as a candidate for President of the European Commission.

This series of maps are born from the annoying habit of the mass media of treating the European Elections as national affairs, and only focusing either on patterns within nations, or on overall national results when looking at the entire European Union.

Following the variety of examples of “county level results” we see when the US holds elections, I decided to to create a similar map of Europe (and all its overseas territories where elections are held).

This being the EU, where “varietate” comes before “concordia”, there was an immense variety of problems when trying to have a uniform vision. Each country holds elections its own way (the whole restriction is that it has to be ‘proportional’), stores the data in its own way and is divided into administrative divisions differently. Not to mention the immense variety of national and regional parties, hence the need to group them by European-level affiliation.

So the baseline was trying to map the results by Europarties on the municipal level, which depending on the country are either LAU1 or LAU2 level divisions (see here), but in some countries that wasn’t possible. Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta and Slovenia could only be mapped by electoral constituencies (which in the case of Malta is the whole country).

So without further ado, here are the maps, by European Political Parties:

EPP-v1-1

PES-v1-1.png

ALDE-v1-2

EDP-v1-2

EGP-v1-1EFA-v1-1

PEL-v1-1

ACR-v1-1ECPM-v1-1

NI-v1-2

Later Edit – Two more maps: the winning party and share won by the coalition backing the current European CommissionGagnant-v1
Coalitions-v1
Maps made in QGIS, with lots of python and pandas in the data-wrangling phase, including xml parsing (bleah!). A good dose of post-processing in Inkscape.

On a personal note I’d love those meddling bureaucrats in Brussels to lay out a minimum standard of collecting, storing and making available election data on a local level, as I would love to see a bit more detail in Malta and the island of Ireland.

Also, Cyprus, answer your emails!

PS. Other articles will follow,  cause I have lots of data 😀

European Elections: which colors for which party?

CompositeSources

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

NationalColors

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.

The EU is quirky, but so are most European states

EU-Political Systems

The chart above is born out of the feedback that an earlier chart received on-line. I had made a Functional Chart of the EU, in which I tried to “bring home” the political setup of the European Union, by showing where each institution gets its mandate from, and what each institution would be called if instead of being a supra-national entity it was a nation-state. To this end I emphasized that, for example, the Council of the EU (i.e. ‘of Ministers’) is actually the “Upper House” of the EU Legislature.

What sometimes happened was that the complexity of the system was highlighted as proof that the EU is “difficult to understand” for the average Joe, contrary to the straightforward way national political systems function. Another angle of criticism was using some features of national systems as a sine qua non of a democratic system. To put it differently, the argument went: “My nation does X, and is democratic. If the EU does not have X, it is therefore undemocratic”, where X is a feature that is not actually present in all European democracies.

These two lines of criticism seemed to suggest that people don’t always realize how complex national political systems are and how diverse European nations are when it comes how they have evolved as political systems. I myself have learned that Romania’s way of confirming a government by a vote of both houses of Parliament in joint session is not, in fact, that common in our Union.

But there are wonderful details that I found throughout the Single Market states:

  • there is no explicit vote of confidence for the Danish PM
  • the Swedish PM is nominated by the Speaker of the Parliament, not by the King
  • Switzerland has a Collective Presidency
  • Cyprus has no PM
  • Sometimes ministers are nominated by the Head of State after consultations with the PM
  • The bigger European states tend to be complicated
  • Upper Houses are often very… original beats

So while the EU does have its quirks, there is plenty of diversity on the national levels as well.

On a side note, as I made the Functional Chart of the EU, I quickly became fixated with a particular type of chart one often sees on Wikipedia articles, mapping the way the electorate and the 3 powers of the state – executive, legislative and judicial – interact with each other.

There little information on-line on these types of charts. On a summary look, It seems to me that they are, in essence, a type of flowcharts, but I would welcome any further reading on the history of these types of charts.

And I also welcome any feedback in case of any mistake I might have slipped in.

Source: mainly Wikipedia. Tool: Inkscape

European parties on the political compass

Found an interesting set of data via Alexandre Afonso’s blog, called the Chapel Hill Expert Survey which “estimate[s] party positioning on European integration, ideology and policy issues for national parties in a variety of European countries. Questions on parties’ general position on European integration, several EU policies, general left/right, economic left/right, and social left/right are common to all surveys.” It has data for various years in the 1999-2017 period, and below are the various political families* mapped on the political compass:

EU Party 99-17 annotated

Made with python / matplotlib and assembled in GIMP.

*) – According to the explanations, political family here is not the EP Group or the Europarty but: “classification is primarily based on Hix and Lord (1997), except that we place confessional and agrarian parties in separate categories. Family association for parties in Central/Eastern Europe is based primarily on Derksen classification (now incorporated in Wikipedia), triangulated by a) membership or affiliation with international and EU party associations, and b) self-identification”.

European President

The EU is often accused of being too complicated and difficult to understand by the European every-man.

One aspect of this critique is that every institution is headed by a President, and wouldn’t it be great if things were more like in a normal country, where the Parliament is headed by a Speaker, the government by a Prime-Minister, and the state – if it’s a republic – by a President?

Not all European countries have this neat linguistic differentiation of roles. Italy is just presidenti all around, and Croatia next door are just one predsjednik after another. Even in countries that do make distinctions, things can be complicated. The Third and Fourth French republics had a President of the Council (sounds familiar?) instead of a Prime-Minister, and the PM of Greece (Πρωθυπουργός) is also called the President (Πρόεδρος) of the Government, using the same word as the Head of State or the Speaker.

EU President.png

But I must concede that a re-branding of the main institutions could go a long way to making the European Union more intuitive to the average Joe, and thus less stressful. So here are some suggestions:

  • President of the European Parliament” should be called the “Speaker“. This is a no-brainer for English, but it could be problematic in other languages.
  • “President of the European Council” should become “Chairman of…” because his role is one of mediator more than a decider, and the Council itself is actually the Head of State of the Union, collectively. One problem that could arise is that in some language -like Romanian – there is only one word used for both president and chairman
  • President of the Commission”. While I like this as it is, given the position’s prominence, alternatives could include “Head-Commissioner”, “Chief-Commissioner” or “Commission Head” in situations where the above Council President cannot be referred to as “Chairman”.

All in all, I think the linguistic imperative should be to separate the titles, more than make them identical in all the Union’s languages. Having the EuroParl President be called “Speaker” in English and “Marszałek” in Polish might not be problematic, and it might give the listener a sense of familiarity.

Note: The aesthetics of the visualization were inspired by my recent trip to the British Museum. I have wanted for some time to make a more artsy viz. Feedback always appreciated.

Members of the European Parliament: The linguistic origin of their names

A fun little dataviz idea that came up while researching my previous project on the Average Face of MEPs. Are Germanic names common among Germany’s MEPs, or are they seen as too nationalistic? How widespread are Jewish names due to Christianity? Are there any common names of interesting origin?

Disclaimer for my French readers: I know two names joined by a dash are considered a single name, but given that they are made up of two distinct elements, for the purpose of this dataviz, I handled them as two names. Désolé!

Names of MEPs

The Average Face of the European Parliament

Inspired by similar works, such as Giuseppe Sollazzo’s “I calculated the average face of the UK Member of Parliament” and redditor /u/ everest4ever’s “Average face of the Chinese Bureaucracy“, I decided to calculate the average face for the Members of the European Parliament, and see what our average representative in Brussels/Strasbourg looks like. The following results are valid for the EP as it was on 1 November 2017.

The average MEP

Average MEP
As expected by the 2-to-1 male to female ratio, the average face looks like a somewhat feminine middle aged man. White, but not too pale, light hazel eyes, light brown hair. Men tend to have greying hair and hazel eyes and a more reserved smile than women. Female MEPs have lighter eyes, but darker hair, probably because dying to hide greying hair is more frequent among women.

If I had to guess where they are from, I would probably say somewhere in the Alpine region/Central Europe – southern Germany, Austria, maybe northernmost Italy, Slovenia or Czechia.

By Political Group

First of all, if you are not familiar with the Political Groups of the European Parliament, click here for a quick rundown of the basics.

All MEPs
Average faces, when broken down by political group, tend to highlight the gender (in)balance in each group. For example, the small Non-Inscrit group obviously has the lowest female-to-male ratio in the EP (under 20%) while the leftist GUE-NGL – quite androginous here – has the highest (50%).

By Gender

Female MEPs
The Female MEP photos tend to show a lot of diferences among themselves. The Conservatives – dominated by UK and Polish MEPs – and the Nationalist ENF – dominated by France’s Front National – are the blondest, with the latter appearing to have a higher average age.

Due to only having 3 female MEPs in the Non-Inscrit group, the result came out pretty creepy. I therefore averaged it with its own mirror image to smooth out the “lizard overlord” vibe of the original.

Male MEPs.png

Male MEP photos tend to resemble each other more. Even so there is some variation, probably influenced by its national composition, just like in the female version. One additional variation tends to be facial hair: the average GUE-NGL tends to have a full “five o’clock shadow”, the NI representative is more of a grey mustache type, while the average EFDD member has more of a thin goatee king of person. The EPP and ECR on the other hand tend to be the most clean-shaven.

The Data

The photos were downloaded from the European Parliament’s Audiovisual Service for Media. While I’m glad the MEPs have official portraits available for the public, the site could use an upgrade to a more user-friendly way of doing things. The download procedure is cumbersome to say the least, there is no updated folder of all the current MEPs. Therefore I had to download all the photos, crosscheck with a table of current acting MEPs (because some of the original MEPs elected in 2014 quit, in order to take up either positions in their national governments or in the European Commission), see which photos are not needed, which ones are missing, which ones are duplicates and so forth. Two MEPs (Jadwiga Wiśniewska and Jiří Payne) didn’t even have official portraits, so I had to look elsewhere.

The Code

I used the code from learnopencv.com, which I tweaked to my needs. I had just two recurring problems: the fact that above a certain number of photos, I could’t calculate the average due to not enough memory, so I had to split the photos into smaller groups (for example the 475 EPP MEPs were split into 19 groups of 25 photos each, which were averaged, and then those 19 averages were averaged again into one).

My second problem was that sometimes the facial landmark detection part of the code recognized buttons and certain textures as faces, and I realized it pretty late, so I had to redo some of the work.

On a side note, I cannot thank Satya Mallick enough for the clear way he writes his tutorials. They were easy to follow and almost everything worked from the first try (when it didn’t it was usually my fault). Some of the best “how to install and run” articles I’ve ever used.

Made with OpenCV/dlib in Python (Anacond/Spyder as per linked tutorial). Final arrangements in Inkscape.

Who gets the UK’s 73 MEPs

UK-73

The UK will leave the European Union, most likely at the end of March 2019, two years after it invoked Article 50. Currently, the United kingdom has 73 seats in the European Parliament, representing England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, but the question is what happens to these seats once the country leaves?

Three solution

One option would be redistribution among existing member states. Since there is no predetermined formula, the redistribution has to be agreed on like any other change, through negotiations within the European Council. I doubt the EC has the time and energy for this before the 2019 European elections.

Another option, favored by the French president as well, is to create a new 73-seat European constituency. While I am sympathetic to this option, I think the most likely outcome will be the one of least resistance: leaving the seats vacant until new members join the EU, who then gradually fill them up.

It is from this scenario that the current visualization was born, as a means to explore which countries could join before the 73 seats run out. By using population numbers, I estimated how many MEPs a country was likely to get, and on somewhat subjective criteria, I added what I considered the most likely scenario.

The Western Balkans

While the Western Balkans are at different stages of accession, from opened negotiations to “not-candidate-(yet)” in the case of Kosovo, they seem the most likely states to gain membership in the near to medium future, and I think the EU is also very interested in getting them under its wing.

Turkey

Given the way Turkish politics evolved in recent times, and adding to that the fact that many member states fear the addition of a Muslim state the size of Germany, one can safely assume its membership is frozen.

The Eastern Partnership

Things here oscillate between “impossible”, when it comes to Belarus and Azerbaijan, and “maybe, but not right now”, when it comes to Georgia, who made strong progress on its European path. I think smaller states such as Georgia, Moldova and Armenia might have an easier time getting EU membership than bigger ones, such as Ukraine.

Other countries

Iceland, Norway and Switzerland don’t seem too eager to join any time soon, and Russia is both too big, too undemocratic and too confrontational to consider for this thought experiment.

On a side note: I think there is some potential in an interactive tool that could explore various scenarios starting from this premise. A map were you could add/remove candidate countries, enable/disable automatic redistribution of seats (based on the Duff proposal), and create a custom European constituency of any size. Unfortunately, I have yet to master the art of JavaScript.