The invisible web – from interaction to coalition-building in the EU

Press release


Close contact: who works with whom in Europe?
European Council on Foreign Relations presents interactive data explorer on EU coalitions

Survey of experts in 28 capitals illuminates the complex network of relationships among EU member states.

BERLIN, 22.05.2017 – Which European capitals have the greatest influence in the EU and who are perceived as “essential partners”? Which of the 28 EU member states share common interests and who cooperates most frequently and closely with whom? Which governments are perceived as particularly easy to work with? European experts in governments and think tanks understand the views of their own countries and how their own country’s government perceives other member states, but do not necessarily have a full picture of what is said and thought out on the table about their own country in the other capitals. It is yet to be seen what kind of cooperation will emerge among EU member states when assessments from all capitals are laid

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) brings clarity to the hidden network of relationships among EU member states through an interactive data explorer “EU Coalition Explorer” that presents the results of a survey of government representatives and European experts from all EU member states.

For the first time, expert views on coalition building in Europe have been uniquely graphically displayed. The complete data is available via the explorer to governments and research institutes, as well as to the public – a unique practice among think tanks.


The most important results of the expert survey have been summarized by Josef Janning and Christel Zunneberg in their study, “The invisible web: From interaction to coalition building in the EU” (see attached PDF).

In regards to interconnectivity among member states and the perceived influence of certain member states on EU policy, the key roles of Germany and France clearly stand out. The importance of other large member states (Great Britain – despite Brexit –, Italy, Poland and Spain), as well as smaller member states Sweden and the Netherlands, becomes apparent. These member states stand out for their strong links with others and the high esteem they receive from others. This same grouping of eight member states also comes into focus in the ranking of influence on EU policy and includes the member states named most frequently by others as “important partners.”

The coalition centre varies depending on the policy field, resulting in the existence of several political centres. The French-German axis is often at the core, yet successful coalition initiatives in foreign and development policy, security and defence policy and fiscal policy require the contribution of other partners. Countries in the centre of such initiatives will try to expand the circle of partners, bring in the member states with which they are connected, and build majorities. From Berlin’s perspective, for example, the involvement of another Visegrad country, such as the Czech Republic or Slovakia, would be welcome to stabilise outreach to the east.

On the path to a multi-speed Europe

The overall result of the expert survey show a distinct readiness for differentiated integration among the professional class in the EU. Experts were asked to name the preferred level of action of their governments in 16 different policy fields. More than a third of the respondents from all EU member states preferred either moving forward with working in groups with their own legal basis or in informal coalitions of the willing, as opposed to joint action of all member states or purely national policies.

The European Union is missing a group of member states who are ready and willing to work together and promote further European integration,” states Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of ECFR. “In order to counteract current centrifugal forces, EU member states must be strengthened in the future through structured groups or informal coalitions of the willing that will work together for ‘more Europe’.”

Christel Zunneberg, Research Assistant on the Rethink: Europe Project at ECFR adds: “It has been made clear that the coalition centre varies depending on the policy field, which results in the existence of several political force fields. This will shape the path to a multi-speed Europe.

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