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New EUbusiness study: only 2% of MEPs have financial experience

Who are the people responsible for reviewing and legislating on around 75% of all laws enacted in the 27 EU member states on behalf of 375m voters? As Europe is about to vote for a new set of MEPs, the answer to this question is fundamental both for citizens of the EU and all organisations interacting with it.

EUbusiness has analysed the Curriculum Vitaes of all 783 members of the European Parliament. The source is the website of the European Parliament and our analysis includes the heads of its powerful Committees. The picture that emerges is one where though the backgrounds and qualifications of MEPs are diverse, the cadre is dominated by those with political, teaching and legal experience.

Methodology

There is no standardised format for the CVs, some are very detailed (mainly MEPs of newer member countries), others skimpy and a very few furnish no information. We have classified backgrounds into the following categories: business, practising lawyers, political, lecturer, financial, engineering, hard sciences (i.e. physics, chemistry) other sciences (mainly medical/veterinary) and journalism. The political category includes those with backgrounds in trade unions, think tanks/policy, local government and the central government. In many cases (though not all) these careers are intertwined.

So what is the picture that emerges?

82% of MEPs have at least a first degree and many have graduate degrees, with a few graduating in more than one subject. Unsurprisingly, many have law degrees (23%), 15% have an economics or business degree, 7% engineering, 6% politics and 5% in each of the ‘hard sciences’, medical and social sciences. The balance is spread across many disciplines ranging from education and history to philosophy and languages.

Overall, 14% of MEPs have some kind of business background. Some become MEPs directly others become involved in local or national Government before becoming an MEP. On the face of it, 14% is quite encouraging given the state of the world economy. However, in many cases their business experience is limited (either in time or responsibilities) and only a few have very senior experience. Also, while there are many MEPs with degrees in economics, there are only a very few with high-level banking or finance experience (and there are a few in the political category with a central banking background).

37% of MEPs have a background solely in policy, trade unions, local government or national government or a mix of these. Some have very little or no background outside of policy and research, others have a very impressive Government e track record and, there is a broad range in between. Many of those with law degrees are also in this category (as opposed to having a career in a law firm before entering politics).

19% of MEPs have their primary experience as either a university lecturer or a schoolteacher. The balance of MEPs experience is in a wide range of backgrounds as diverse as the Army to Acting.

Differences between countries

The number of MEPs from any one country depends on its size. Therefore, analysis of the smaller countries can be skewed with some having as few as 5 or 6 MEPs (for example Malta and Estonia) while the largest, Germany has 99. That said there are significant differences between major countries.

MEPs with business experience range from the UK with 26% of its 78 MEPs, Germany 22% of its 99 MEPs through to France and the Netherlands both with 15% and Spain (6% of its 52 MEPs). Practising lawyers range from Rumania at 14% (of its 35 MEPs), Spain at 12% and the UK at 10% through to Italy at 8% (of its 78 MEPs) and Germany 7% and France 5%.

Perhaps of most interest are those members with a wholly political background. Here, the Netherlands leads with 70% of its MEPs, Bulgaria is 2nd with 56% (18 MEPs) and Sweden is 3rd with 47% (19 MEPs). Of the largest economies, the UK and Spain tie with 33%.

Leading the pack of those with a teaching background is Belgium with 42% (of 24 MEPs) followed by Poland with 31% (of 54 MEPs) and Portugal with 32% (of 24 MEPs). Of the largest countries, France comes top with 22%, followed by Germany at 19%.

What about the Specialist Committees?

There are 22 committees, some of which should be all the stronger if there is deep technical expertise on Committee itself. Also, of course, the committees can call on outside expertise. That said, there does appear to be limited technical expertise in the backgrounds of some of the more technically complex areas. These include, International Trade, Environment, |Industry Research and Energy, Internal Market and Consumer protection, Transport and Tourism, Fisheries, Culture and Education.

What does this mean for the 2009 elections and the future of the Parliament?

As selection methods for MEPs have not changed between elections, it is likely that the profile of MEPs will be much the same as before.  However, in a world facing of economic crisis, ever more profound technological change, mounting threats to the environment and security (to name but a few), are Euro MPs made of ‘the Right Stuff’?

The European Parliament has to deal with a very broad range of complex issues, to say nothing of the mountain of initiatives from the EU Commission.  Therefore, significant technical expertise in its ranks in the major areas on which it legislates is likely to be of interest  to voters and organisations dealing with it. In particular, it would probably be healthy for substantially less than almost 60% of the legislature to be drawn from just  political and teaching backgrounds.

Conclusion
Our legislation is only as good as our legislators.  The report suggests the 'gene pool' in the European Parliament needs to be broadened with much greater financial, science and business expertise. This can only be addressed with radical changes in the selection process for MEPs.   Though not part of this study, it is also highly likely that most parliaments face the same issue.

EUbusiness'  full analysis of the current European members of Parliament is available for EUR 10 on application to service@EU business.com

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Michael Ter-Berg

   Michael Ter-Berg

Michael Ter-Berg is a director of EUbusiness.com and formerly Chief Executive of one of the UK's most successful University transfer technology companies, Medic-to-Medic/ Map of Medicine (University College London) and President of a leading Swiss Hotel Management School, DCT.