Literature Review: Loyal soldiers or seasoned leaders? The selection of committee chairs in the European Parliament

PHOTO CREDIT: European Union 2020 – EP 

Chiru, M. (2020). Loyal soldiers or seasoned leaders? The selection of committee chairs in the European Parliament, Journal of European Public Policy. DOI: 10.1080/13501763.2019.1600573

Although the position of committee chairs in the European Parliament has become increasingly important and is highly appealing to MEPs, we know little about how they are selected. To fill this gap, in his recently published article in JEPP, M.Chiru sheds light on whether committee seniority and chair seniority affect the likelihood of MEPs to become chair. Building on informational and partisan theories of legislative organization, one of the text’s main arguments predicts pervious leadership positions as a chair should increase the likelihood of receiving the position as committee chair. According to the informational perspective of committee organization, chairs accumulate technical knowledge, develop leadership skills and form personal relationships with other EP or EU leaders irrespective of the committee they preside. This insider knowledge about the legislative processes is, in turn, perceived as most decisive for the nomination as committee chair. While other sets of explanations point to the importance of policy specialization or chairmanship in the same committee, the author argues that, in the case of the EP with its high levels of turnover, EPG and national delegation leaders should mainly value the skills and expertise acquired as chair in any committee. Analyses of the first seven terms of the EP (between 1979- 2014) confirm this expectation. The results reveal that one year of past experience in the role as committee chair increases the likelihood to hold such an office again irrespective of the committee the MEP has chaired. By contrast, neither expertise in the field through previous committee membership, nor loyalty to the party group in roll call votes or previously holding a leadership position in the EPG proves to determine the selection of chairs. As not all committees are equally powerful in terms of legislative involvement and influence over the EU budget, in a second step, the author further examines whether different dynamics are at play once he differentiates between more powerful and less powerful committees. Chair positions in the former are particularly prestigious as they generate a high visibility within and outside the EP. One might expect that party groups should nominate only the most specialized, experienced and loyal MEPs to such an important post. Yet, the analyses demonstrate that only chair seniority unfolds a consistent effect for both types of committees. Thus, in contexts with high level of turnover such as the EP, the party groups indeed seem to prefer general leadership skills and process knowledge irrespective of committee type and specialized expertise.

This study provides first insights into the complicated process of the selection of chairs in the EP and thus helps us to understand how these important positions are distributed among MEPs. In the future, I would like to reconsider the question of how different types of committees might shape nomination strategies of EPGs. Identifying powerful committees based on legislative influence and budgetary control assumes that all EPGs prefer a high level of legislative output irrespective of the policy area. However, I wonder whether the importance of committees varies between EPGs, in particular based on their substantial focus and the salience of the topic for the group. For instance, for the European Greens, the committee on Environment, Public Health and Safety should have a much higher value than for other groups – irrespective of the budgetary control or level of legislative output. Future research could hence analyse whether for these core committees, dynamics of chair allocation unfold differently than for committees that are less essential to a group’s main policy goals.

By Sarah C. Dingler in July 2020

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