Tag Archives: politics

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

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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”.

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.

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.

EC_Summit_Timeline
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

[EDIT] – YouTube LINK to the dynamic map in video format.

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. (Updated 24.06.2017)