The UK and Europe

Analysing the UK's influence in EU policy making

Doru Frantescu / Apr 2016

Photo: European Parliament


One of the most important issues raised during the current Brexit debate is whether the UK is isolated in EU policy-making and, consequently, whether UK can properly influence legislation coming from Brussels. Drawing on a dataset of recorded votes in the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, the latest VoteWatch Europe’s report provides an answer to those questions.

The analysis looked at the role played by the UK’s Government and its MEPs in shaping the EU policy over the past 12 years. How often was the UK on the winning side in the EU Council and European Parliament?

According to our data on voting behaviour in the EU Council, the UK is the most outvoted Member State. However, it has supported the great majority of the EU laws adopted over the last 12 years (more than 97%). Additionally, in the period 2004-2009 the UK was not the country losing the most in the Council (in fact Austria was the most outvoted country during that period). On the contrary, during the last EP term (2009-2014) the UK was by far the most outvoted country.

The British opposition to EU decisions occurred especially on budget, foreign policy and foreign aid. Nevertheless, the UK was not the most oppositional government on several important issue areas: internal market, legal affairs, transport, environment, and fisheries. The data also indicates that Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark are UK’s closest allies in the EU Council and would lose an important ally if Brexit occurs.

As far as the European Parliament is concerned, the UK seems to have diminished its influence in this institution in recent years, as a result of self-distancing of some of its own party delegations from the EU’s mainstream political families, as well as due to the results of the latest EU elections in the UK. Voting behaviour in the Parliament is mainly along political lines, rather than national lines. Additionally, the three centrist groups (ALDE, S&D and EPP) vote together and win most of the times. The fact that, in the current term, there is only one British MEP in ALDE and no British MEPs in the EPP explains why, on average, British MEPs win less than before.

Nevertheless, British MEPs have captured many powerful agenda-setting positions, such as rapporteurships of key EU legislation and EP committee chairmanships. For instance, since 2004 the chair of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection has been British. Rapporteurship-wise, in this term, UK MEPs authored more reports than the MEPs from every other member state except Germany.

We also wondered how a Brexit would impact on certain EU policy areas. In order to answer this question, we have run a simulation to see how some of the key decisions made in the European Parliament in recent years would have looked like if the British MEPs would not have been there to vote. Therefore, we changed the composition of EP’s political groups and recalculated the results of the votes accordingly.

According to our simulation, a potential Brexit would take a toll on the pro-market attitude of the EU. In fact, the main losers of Brexit among EU’s stakeholders are those that promote less regulatory burden for EU businesses and stronger protection of copyright. A possible Brexit would also push the remaining EU governments to pay more to EU’s coffer. Additionally, tax harmonization across the EU and higher taxation for financial transactions would be more likely without the UK in the EU. Last but not least, a Brexit would lead to a reduction in the support for nuclear energy and shale gas across the EP.


Doru Frantescu

Doru Frantescu

April 2016

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