Britain Has Mixed Success in Influencing EU Decisions

The United Kingdom is outvoted more often than most countries, but it also has an outsized influence.

British prime minister David Cameron listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting in Brussels, March 17
British prime minister David Cameron listens to German chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting in Brussels, March 17 (Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann)

A familiar gripe of Britain’s Euroskeptics is that their country tends to get outvoted or ignored in Brussels. The island nation may have once held sway; it are now the integrationists who set the tone in Europe.

Simon Hix, a political scientist at the London School of Economics, looked at the numbers and found that while the Euroskeptics’ lament is not altogether without merit, it misses the point.

He reports for Politico that the United Kingdom does indeed find itself on the losing side of votes more often than most. But it supports the bulk of EU legislation at the same time and still has an outsized influence.


In the European Council, Britain was outvoted 2.6 percent of the time between 2004 and 2009, Hix writes.

Between 2009 and 2015, the years David Cameron’s Conservatives have been in power, the rate climbed up to 12.3 percent, higher than for any other country.

In the European Parliament, Britain hasn’t done much better. In the last two years, the majority of its lawmakers sided with the winning side only two out of three times.

But that’s also because Britain sent such a large Euroskeptic delegation to Strasbourg: Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party won 24 out of 73 British seats in the last election against twenty for Labour and nineteen for the Conservatives.

The Conservatives’ decision to leave the main center-right bloc and start their own group in the European Parliament didn’t help them gain influence either.


Hix points out that at least in the council — the European Union’s most important decision-making body — Britain has still supported EU legislation 97 percent of the time since 2004.

But votes don’t tell the whole story, he argues.

Even when it’s not in the majority, the United Kingdom plays an important role in influencing the positions of other member states, particularly those of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden; countries that share its liberal outlook. If it weren’t for the British, such smaller member states would probably feel pressured to support France and Germany whenever they agree on something.

British members of the European Parliament have also continued to win agenda-setting positions.

Since 2004, two Britons have served as the legislature’s vice president, four have served as political group leaders and ten have chaired committees. A Briton has continually chaired the important internal market committee since that year.

Other key positions of power in the European Parliament are rapporteurships: the lawmakers who write reports on legislation and propose amendments. Hix found that more members from the United Kingdom have authored or co-authored reports since 2004 than from any other member states except Germany.

Not bad for a nation that has only 13 percent of the EU’s total population.

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