Are the EP plenary sessions just a talking shop? Slovak, Czech and Hungarian members of EP in comparison

Investigating the speeches of the Czech, Slovak and Hungarian MEPs in European Parliament plenary sessions, we found out that they frequently merely repeat information from reports accompanying the discussed motions and rarely ever bring into the debate any new facts. Herewith, we offer a ranking and a brief reflection.

Foto: Archive Bristol


The work of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) may be evaluated from multiple perspectives. For example, the portal mepranking.eu records data on the number of MEPs’ speeches in EP plenary sessions, parliamentary questions, opinions, motions for resolutions, as well as on MEPs’ participation in roll-call votes. Such a comparison can for example tell us that in the currently ending parliamentary period, Slovak MEPs have had the third highest roll-call voting participation (89.77%), Czech MEPs rank 13th (85.41%) and Hungarian MEPs only come at the 24th place (80.62%). We attempted to systematically analyze the data about the Slovak, Czech and Hungarian MEPs’ speeches in the EP, focusing on MEPs’ use of factual statements. We found out that MEPs frequently merely recap information from the documents under discussion, which leads us to the question about the purpose of such plenary speeches.

Our focus

In our investigation, we focused on the manner in which the Slovak, Czech and Hungarian MEPs take part in the parliamentary debate. We only tracked MEPs’ speeches made in plenary sessions, and that in the period September 2013 – January 2014. (In some cases the tracked period is different, primarily due to the number of speeches made by particular MEPs – e.g., if a MEP only made 5 speech contributions within the tracked period, the period was prolonged). By their nature, these speeches are similar to the debates lead in national parliaments, but they are time limited and can be submitted also in a written form. That means that we do not attempt to assess the entire spectrum of work of the MEPs, which also consists of other activities such as proposing motions for resolutions or presenting parliamentary questions.

In accordance with our methodology, we looked for factual statements in MEPs’ speeches. In each of the tracked speeches, we first identified the factual statements and afterwards analyzed, whether these were already included in the materials submitted with the motion to be negotiated (these typically consist of the draft motion for resolution, accompanying explanatory report and opinions issued by relevant EP Committees). If the identified factual statements contained data or information that were not already included in the materials under discussion, we categorized them as “original facts”. We were primarily interested in these, as based on their frequency in MEPs contributions, we compared the degree of originality, with which the MEPs take part in EP discussions.  Statements that merely summed up the information comprised in the motion for resolution or in the accompanying materials are hereafter referred to as “recapitulations”. We focused also on the overall number of MEPs’ speeches, as well as the share of their contributions submitted in written form.

Slovaks, Czechs and Hungarians in comparison

The comparison of the individual countries shows significant differences in MEPs’ use of original facts. Czech MEPs contributed a significantly higher number of original facts than their Slovak and Hungarian counterparts, who lag behind. However, MEPs from all countries are pretty similar when it comes to the share of speech contributions submitted in writing.

graf EPS

Source: Original research provided by demagog.sk, demagog.cz, and idemagog.hu

When compared according to the EP political groups, to which the Central European MEPs belong, it is clear that the MEPs from EPP and S&D used original facts relatively scarcely. They also preferred submitting their contributions in writing. On the contrary, MEPs from ECR presented all their tracked speeches verbally, and at the same time, they made a considerably greater use of original facts than their colleagues from EPP and S&D.

List of MEPs according to their use of original facts per plenary speech

Name Country Political Group Tracked period No. of speeches No. of  speeches in writing No. of original facts Ratio of original facts per speech % of written speeches in overall no. of speeches
Ransdorf Miloslav CR GUE/NGL 2012/1 – 2014/1

14

0

19

1.36

0%

ZahradilJan CR ECR 2013/9 – 2014/1

5

0

6

1.20

0%

Falbr Richard CR S&D 2011/2 – 2014/1

15

10

14

0.93

67%

Češková Andrea CR ECR 2013/1 – 2014/1

13

0

10

0.77

0%

Maňka Vladimír SR S&D 2013/1 – 2014/2

12

11

7

0.58

92%

Bokros Lajos HU ECR 2013/1 – 2014/3

16

0

8

0.5

0%

Brzobohatá Zuzana CR S&D 2013/9 – 2014/1

13

12

6

0.46

92%

Fajmon Hynek CR ECR 2013/1 – 2014/1

9

0

4

0.44

0%

Dušek Robert CR S&D 2013/1 – 2014/1

11

10

4

0.36

91%

Göncz Kinga HU S&D 2013/9 – 2014/2

25

5

9

0.36

20%

Szegedi Csanád HU NI 2013/9 – 2014/4

6

5

2

0.33

83%

Tabajdi Sándor Csaba HU S&D 2013/9 – 2014/2

20

6

6

0.30

30%

Morvai Krisztina HU NI 2013/9 – 2014/2

46

0

11

0.24

0%

Paška Jaroslav SR EFD 2013/9 – 2014/1

42

0

10

0.24

0%

Cabrnoch Milan CR ECR 2013/1 – 2014/1

9

0

2

0.22

0%

Smolková Monika SR S&D 2013/9 – 2014/1

45

38

9

0.20

84%

JárókaLívia HU EPP 2013/9 – 2014/2

43

37

8

0.19

86%

Mészáros Alajos SR EPP 2013/9 – 2014/1

27

18

5

0.19

67%

Mikolášik Miroslav SR EPP 2013/9 – 2014/1

48

30

9

0.19

63%

Bauer Edit SR EPP 2013/1 – 2014/2

22

5

4

0.18

23%

Herczog Edit HU S&D 2013/9 – 2014/2

12

4

2

0.17

33%

Záborská Anna SR EPP 2013/9 – 2014/1

47

22

7

0.15

47%

Kukan Eduard SR EPP 2013/9 – 2014/1

16

4

2

0.13

25%

Hankiss Ágnes HU EPP 2013/9 – 2014/2

35

35

4

0.11

100%

Őry Csaba HU EPP 2013/9 – 2014/2

9

2

1

0.11

22%

Szájer József HU EPP 2013/9 – 2014/2

28

23

3

0.11

82%

Kósa Ádám HU EPP 2013/9 – 2014/2

10

5

1

0.10

50%

Zala Boris SR S&D 2013/1 – 2014/2

30

11

3

0.10

37%

Šťastný Peter SR EPP 2013/1 – 2014/2

20

1

1

0.05

5%

Brezina Jan CR EPP 2013/9 – 2014/1

25

24

1

0.04

96%

Flašíková-Beňová Monika SR S&D 2013/12 – 2014/1

51

48

2

0.04

94%

GurmaiZita HU S&D 2013/9 – 2014/2

17

5

0

0.00

29%

Kozlík Sergej SR ALDE 2013/1 – 2014/2

8

8

0

0.00

100%

Neveďalová Katarína SR S&D 2013/9 – 2014/1

24

19

0

0.00

79%

Schöpflin György HU EPP 2013/10 – 2014/2

9

1

0

0.00

11%

 

Source: Original research provided by demagog.sk, demagog.cz, and idemagog.hu

Recapitulations and the number of speeches

Analyzing the plenary speeches of the Slovak, Czech and Hungarian MEPs, we noted one common feature – recapitulation of information from the documents under discussion. MEPs frequently tend to reiterate the data that their colleagues already have at their disposal. At times, they even quote entire sentences and paragraphs from the reports accompanying the discussed motions. As a rule, the less a given MEP makes use of original facts, the more recapitulations can be found in his or her contributions. MEPs speeches may also contain political declarations, the content of which we are not able to objectively assess. We believe that speeches, which are limited purely to recapitulation, have a very low if not zero added value. On the contrary, the use of original facts in the argumentation has the potential to enrich the discussion with new standpoints and perspectives.

Several times, we observed cases when MEPs made mistakes even while merely recapitulating the underlying materials. For example, Miroslav Mikolášik spoke of six million displaced Syrian citizens, while the motion for resolution only spoke of four million. Similarly, Monika Flašíková-Beňová managed to lower the annual turnover of the European plastics industry from 300 billion EUR to 300 million. Translating data from English into Slovak proved problematic for MEPs Vladimír Maňka and Jaroslav Paška when they did not realize that the amount of one trillion in English is equivalent to one billion in Slovak. As a result, they spoke of tax fraud estimates in the sums ranging from one billion to one quintillion EUR. In reality, the actual estimate listed in the report was equal to one trillion EUR (in the English language sense). On a different occasion, Lívia Járóka showed how an argument could be made more convincing by arbitrarily rounding up a figure, when she claimed that almost three quarters of all jobs in the EU were created by small and medium enterprises. According to the documents under discussion, the actual figure is 67%, which is two thirds rather than three quarters. Moreover, the figure does not take into account jobs in the public sphere.

In our analysis, we also scrutinized MEPS’ original factual statements, in which we found a number of factual inaccuracies as well (you can find these at our websites demagog.sk, demagog.cz and idemagog.hu).

Would fewer speeches not be enough?

To be sure, the Slovak, Czech and Hungarian contributions do not seem to be that exceptional. We asked Vladimír Bilčík, Head of European integration research at SFPA,  a Bratislava-based think-tank to comment on the data: “The data are a good illustration of limited importance of plenary sessions for substantive debates and decision-making. Most decisions in the EP take place behind closed doors by rapporteurs, in committees and inside dominant political groups. Plenary meetings are often an opportunity for scoring public points and making visible statements by MEPs. It is therefore no surprise that less mainstream members of the European Conservatives and Reformist Group tend to raise more new facts in plenary debates.”

As indicated by our analysis, the real contribution of a large part of MEPs’ speeches in the plenary sessions is questionable, as many of them invoke the image of “activity check-offs”. What sense does it make to take part in a discussion by merely restating the information that is already available to everyone? Or to actively comment on thirty unrelated topics within a single day? The latter was “successfully” accomplished by the most active Slovak MEP Flašíková-Beňová, whereas all her contributions were submitted in writing and hardly contained any original facts at all. In her speeches, she managed to address topics as diverse as “EU space industrial policy” or “North-East Atlantic: deep-sea stocks and fishing in international waters”. In terms of frequency, the contributions look similar also for MEPs Hankiss, Kozlík or Brezina, who “discuss” exclusively in writing and rarely ever work with original facts.

We do not expect from the MEPs that all their speeches be full of original facts, on which they would build their argumentation. Neither do we await that they bring expert insights to every single topic under discussion. It is possible that EP does not even have the ambition to provide space for such discussions.We accept the notion that MEPs can play an important role in various Committees or informal negotiations, where their work can bring about specific results for the EU or for their respective member states. However, we would like to suggest that instead of making numerous plenary speeches, MEPs could redirect their energy to other, more productive activities, as we do not see much value in quoting and paraphrasing reports accompanying the motions that are being discussed.

Zdeněk Jirsa from demagog.cz and Gergely Galovics from idemagog.hu contributed research for this article.

EP Political Groups’ Acronyms:

PP European People’s Party
S&D Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
ECR European Conservatives and Reformists
ALDE Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
GUE-NGL European United Left – Nordic Green Left
EFD Europe of Freedom and Democracy
Greens-EFA The Greens – European Free Alliance
NI Non-inscrits

 

Tibor Javorek

Tibor Javorek

is member of the demagog.sk team, currently a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Comenius University in Bratislava.