Skip to main content

Gender, party politics and democracy in Europe: A study of European Parliament's party groups

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EUGenDem (Gender, party politics and democracy in Europe: A study of European Parliament's party groups)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2021-07-31

The project “Gender, party politics and democracy in Europe: A study of European Parliament’s party groups” (EUGenDem) provides a systematic analysis of the gendered policies and practices of European party politics. The research comprises a comparative study of the European Parliament’s (EP) party groups and generates empirical findings about the significance of gender in the current party political transformations in Europe.

EUGenDem provides a comparative study of the European Parliament’s (EP) political party groups and generates empirical findings about the significance of gender in the current party political transformations in Europe. EUGenDem is a collaborative research project that addresses crucial questions about the gendered and gendering policies and practices of European party politics:
• How does gender create lines of contestation and consensus between and within the EP’s party groups and what effects does it have on the democratic functioning of the European Union?
• How does analysing affects and emotions deepen our understanding of the interplay between formal and informal institutions, and discourses in explaining the change and continuity in gendered norms, practices and policies of the party groups?
• How are the EP party groups’ gendered policies and practices shaped by prevailing political projects of populism, neoliberalism, conservatism, authoritarianism, and nationalism?

To provide such critical gender analysis, EUGenDem undertakes an empirical analysis of party group policies and formal and informal practices in relation to gender. Focusing on selected party groups’ policies generates knowledge about political contestation about gender equality in relation to economy, social rights, and moral politics. The three selected policy areas cover explicitly gendered issues (gender violence); an issue where the centrality of gender is recognized but easily eclipsed (European Pillar of Social Rights), and an issue where gendered consequences are severe, but linkages to gender are omitted (economic governance).

Research potential lies in the key methodological and theoretical innovations whereby the EUGenDem project links informal institutions, everyday practices, and discourses to affects and emotions, generating research designs like parliamentary ethnography with which the persistence of gender inequalities can be analysed more thoroughly than current gender and politics research allows. More nuanced conceptualizations, and theories of inclusive representation, gender justice, and democracy at the transnational level, are a likely consequence of adopting an innovative methodological approach where empirical findings inform the theoretical level. Thus, the key ambition of this research project is: based on a thorough empirical understanding of gender and party politics at the European Parliament to build novel methodologies, concepts and theories about inclusive representation, gender justice and democracy.

The project has a high societal impact as it speaks directly to the current political crises in Europe, and provides an understanding of their gendered underpinnings.
Gendered Practices of the EP

Core to stages 1 and 2 of EUGenDem was the task to identify and analyse key formal and informal institutions of the EP and how they are shaped by gender and intersectional inequalities by gathering qualitative and quantitative data about the EP in general and the political groups in particular. Moreover, this initial analysis also aimed at examining the overarching discursive and political context as well as the role of affects across these questions.

During the first stage of the project, major data collection was executed through an extensive qualitative study conducting expert interviews from October 2018-May 2019 and January-March 2020. The team developed questionnaires for MEPs and staff in their policy fields, press services and secretary generals. In total, the team interviewed 135 MEPs and staff in the European Parliament; reaching gender parity among the interviewees; covering all political groups. Different team members conducted the interviews and discussed and adjusted the questionnaires during the process; some interviews were conducted in French, German, Polish, and Finnish in addition to English.

After the EP elections 2019, the team started the in-depth analysis of the interview data by developing together codes for the different research questions. Pilot study coding was completed in December 2019 allowing for in-depth comparisons of gendered practices and the role of affects across and between political groups. Since January 2020, the EUGenDem team has been coding the incoming data in an iterative process on a rolling basis. Parallel to the pilot study, the team collected a wealth of internal documents from the EP (e.g. rules of procedure, accreditation of Europarties and Eurofoundations) and the political groups on their practices (e.g. group rules, statutes, internal party documents). The documents fed into the context and interview analysis as substituting material.

The main methodological innovation, parliamentary ethnography, allowed the team to gain a fine-grained understanding of (in)formal political group dynamics. In total, 9 MEPs were shadowed, and 10 group meetings accessed. During the main data collection period, a 2-month placement at the EP Research Service allowed by-appointment targeted observations in political groups, as well as other activities in the EP. Overall, this amounted to 55 days, 440 hours in the field. Ethnographic fieldwork in the periods between October 2018-May 2019 and January-March 2020 have allowed the team to gain a thicker and fine-grained understanding of (in)formal political grouping dynamics. In terms of recording the data, a progressive focus on the 9th Parliament has consisted of pioneering a 5-concept observation protocol, alongside a fieldwork diary.

Preliminary analysis, conducted during stages 1 and 2, fed into 23 academic and peer-reviewed publications so far. The first results of the analysis appear in the project publications and blog posts on the project website.

The EUGenDem team organized 3 international workshops to disseminate the findings of the project: in Brussels in January 2019, including European stakeholders, MEPs and academics, and two research seminars at Tampere University in December 2018 and June 2019. This fulfills the expected milestone for stage 1. To respond and adapt to Covid-19 restrictions, the EUGenDem team has organized a series of 7 virtual workshops on 'Gender, democracy and polarised politics in Europe' from December 2020-June 2021.
From the beginning, the team collected and systematized data on women’s and men’s representation in the EP, in the different political groups and in different leadership positions, for instance, EP (vice-)presidents, group leadership (chairs, vice-chairs, secretary generals), committee (vice-)chairs, committee coordinators, lead candidates for the EP elections 2019. Data was collected from official EP statistics before and after the EP 2019 elections and in addition cross-checked in interviews with MEPs, EP staff and others. This method was also applied to and substituted with material from secondary sources for core data since 1994 as foreseen in the ERC application. The first results of the analysis appear in the project publications.

Simultaneously, the team gathered and scrutinized continuously new research publications to develop a profound account of the current discursive and political context for the EP and its political groups, in particular the role of neoliberalism and populism and occurrences of affects in politics. First results appear already in the 18 new project publications.

The EUGenDem project by design branches mainstream European Union studies with gender research as well as political science insights with ethnographic perspectives. The project has introduced and implemented methodological innovations to make a thorough empirical understanding gender in the EP political groups. The project has developed parliamentary ethnography as a methodological innovation. The ongoing goal of the project is the interaction with mainstream EU studies. The project team has successfully integrated the research approach on democratic practices to other, more conventional, approaches to studying political groups and political parties. The aim is to continue speaking to different audiences and branching out between the disciplines.

Regarding societal impact, our team can reliably claim that our interviewees (particularly whose without prior record and knowledge in gender equality) engaged in intensive exchange about possible gendered practices in the EP. Many also signaled that our research is of high interest to the political group and will help initiating debates about how to promote gender equality in the EP.