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

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EUGenDem (Gender, party politics and democracy in Europe: A study of European Parliament's party groups)

Reporting period: 2018-08-01 to 2020-01-31

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 the starting phase of EUGenDem (Stage 1), 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 some 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 period of the project (1.8.2018 - 31.01.2020) the major data collection was executed through an extensive qualitative pilot study using expert interviews from October 2018 to May 2019. The team developed questionnaires for MEPs and staff in their policy fields, press services and secretary generals. In total, the team interviewed 54 MEPs and staff in the European Parliament; reaching gender parity among the interviewees; covering all 8 political groups. Different team members conducted the interviews and discussed and adjusted the questionnaires during the process; some interviews were conducted in French, German and Finnish in addition to English.

After the EP elections 2019, the team started with the in-depth analysis of the interview data by developing together codes for the different research questions. Coding was completed in November-December 2019 allowing for in-depth comparisons of gendered practices and the role of affects across and between political groups. 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.

Ethnographic fieldwork in the period between October 2018 - May 2019, has allowed the team to gain a thicker and fine-grained understanding of (in)formal political grouping dynamics. Overall, there were 104 pages of fieldnotes, and 79 formal hours of shadowing and observations. A progressive focusing for the comprehensive ethnography that follows in the 9th Parliament has consisted of pioneering a five-concept observation protocol, alongside a fieldwork diary.

Preliminary analysis, conducted during period 1, fed into 10 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. Furthermore, the team is conducting the main data collection since January 2020.

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 fulfils the expected milestone for stage 1.
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 10 new project publications.

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.