Where, how, and why you should vote in the European Elections
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The European elections are being held in the UK today, 23rd May 2019. These elections are unusual because firstly, no-one was really expecting they would actually happen; and secondly, the representatives chosen might be out of a job in a couple of months as the UK is set to leave the EU - at some point in the near, distant or hypothetical future.
Image Credit: Mounsey via Pixabay
But does that mean that you shouldn’t bother to vote?
On the contrary, these elections are vital in their own way; the results will send a message about the mood of the country towards the EU and Brexit, and the election offers ordinary people a voice in a debate which increasingly seems to have spiralled far out of our, or anyone’s, control.
There is no excuse for not getting down to the polling station - if you don’t know where that is, you can find out here. If it’s your first time voting or you’re unsure about how it works, click here for a step-by-step guide.
What are the European elections?
Elections are held for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), representatives of the EU’s only directly elected institution, every five years. MEPs pass laws, oversee the budget (€165.8 billion in 2019), and have a say in choosing the President of the European Commission - the institution that makes proposals for European laws).
Seats are assigned to member states on the basis of both population and state size, so smaller states hold comparatively more seats than larger ones. When (if) the UK leaves the EU, 46 of its 73 seats will be held in reserve for countries which might join in future. The remaining 27 will be reassigned to other, less well represented, countries including Spain, France and the Netherlands.
Once elected, MEPs can form groups in the Parliament along ideological lines. These groups must be made up of at least 25 MEPs from at least seven different EU countries. Joining a group has a lot of advantages, including access to more office space, staff, money and speaking time. It’s also the route to a say in influencing the choice of President of the European Commission, as each group picks their top candidate.
The UK has had a poor turnout in the past, with an average of just 34%. This isn’t unusual for European elections, as the average turnout across all member states is about 40%. However, the UK tends to have a much lower showing than other countries who joined the bloc at its foundation in 1979 – the average turnout among these countries since 1979 has been 51%, excluding Belgium and Luxembourg, which have turnouts around the 90% mark due to compulsory voting.
Who can you vote for?
Candidates in the elections can stand either as individuals or as representatives of a political party. The main political parties with candidates this year are:
The Brexit Party, launched a month ago by Nigel Farage, doesn't have a manifesto, but does have a pledge card. Farage wants to leave the EU as soon as possible.
Change UK, formally The Independent Group, which wants to remain in the EU and has advocated for a referendum or ‘People’s Vote’.
The Conservative Party, which doesn't have a manifesto for these elections. Some candidates have refused to campaign, in protest at Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit process. The Prime Minister wants to deliver Brexit, and does not support another referendum.
The Green Party, which wants to remain in the EU and would support another referendum. And of course, will push for changes to solve the climate crisis.
The Labour Party, which opposes May’s Brexit deal and wants another deal, a general election, or failing that a public vote on the government’s deal - alongside their usual stands on other subjects.
The Liberal Democrats, which wants to stay in the EU and supports another referendum.
The Scottish National Party, which wants to stay in the EU and supports another referendum.
The UK Independence Party rejects May’s deal and wants to leave the EU on its own terms.
There are several other parties which have put forward candidates, including Plaid Cymru, the DUP, the Women's Equality Party and the UUP. The BBC has put together a more comprehensive guide to them, and to the manifestos of the parties listed above.
Proportional representation - what does it mean?
Proportional representation means that seats are awarded in proportion to the votes each party received. Rob Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, said to Wire "It’s much harder to make an argument that you’re wasting your vote, which [is the argument that ] dissuades most people from voting for parties outside the big two in the first-past-the-post system.”
And smaller parties do better, generally. You can find out which parties (smaller or larger) are currently represented in the EU parliament here and see below a video explaining how the seats are allocated:
Lead image credit: Mounsey via Pixabay