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EU Elections – How does it all work?

May 21st, 2014 by

The European Parliament is the only directly elected body in the EU – it represents 500 million people in 28 countries – which is a pretty big job! Together, people across the EU elect a total 736 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent us. The elections happen every 5 years – so this week we will elect people who’ll make decisions on anything from the environment, to employment law and animal rights for half a decade.

The UK itself votes for 73 MEPs which represent 11 broader constituencies, like the South East, West Midlands or North East of England. The election uses a type of  proportional voting system – which is often seen as a fairer way of voting. It’s a closed list party system – this means that we don’t vote for individuals like in a general election. In UK elections you might, for example, tick the box next to “David Cameron MP, Conservative Party.”  But when it comes to the EU elections, you tick a box for the party only – the individuals are then elected based on a list of candidates prioritised by each party.

So, if the Green Party has a list of 20 candidates numbered 1,2,3 and so on – but they only get enough votes to win 2 seats then candidates 1 and 2 will take their place in Parliament. It’s a bit more complicated than a general election – but it does mean your vote can go a lot further! The election result  is based on the percentage of the vote each party wins – rather than the party with the most votes. So if a party wins 35 per cent of the vote it will get – you guessed it – 35 per cent of the seats. Most 38 Degrees members would agree that sounds like a pretty fair system!

National political parties like the Conservatives and Labour form coalitions within the EU Parliament. The main groupings are the European People’s Party, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the European Greens-European Free Alliance. In the last election in 2009 the centre-right group became the largest party in the Parliament – this is the group that David Cameron and the Conservatives are a part of. Polls are predicting that the vote might swing the other way this time.

Although the voting system used in these elections does seem to make your vote go further – the elections have a much lower turnout than other elections. Since 1999 the number of people voting across the EU has not reached over 50 per cent of the population! In the last vote, only 43 per cent of us made it to the polls. It’s pretty easy to vote too – even EU citizens are able to vote here. British citizens living overseas can also vote in the elections – as long as they’ve registered in their new country. EU citizens living in the UK can chose to vote in their home country or in the UK.

Though only half of us vote in the elections – there’s no doubt the EU has a big impact on the UK. The EU Parliament is widely known as one of the most powerful legislatures in the world. Though the Parliament cannot write laws, it can vote and amend them. It can also decide the budget of the EU, so where our taxes go – agriculture, fossil fuels or equality law. The Parliament can also hold huge inquiries, hold other bodies to account and can take institutions to court if they break EU law. Quite a large percentage of our laws are made in the EU – a House of Commons report suggested 6.8% of “primary legislation” and 14.1% of “secondary legislation”. There’s no doubt the EU has been responsible for huge changes in law – like the Working Time Directive, which changed employment rights for people across the EU. And the Renewable Energy Directive – which means EU states aim to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Are you off to vote tomorrow? What’s the biggest issue you’ll be thinking about at the polls? If you’re not voting, what’s the reason why? Comment below to start the conversation.

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  • Anonymous

    Typical of the EU, you cannot vote for an individual only for someone in the system.
    This is NOT democracy We need to leave the EU ASAP.
    The £55M /day we pay them would cover all this nations requirements and allow us to stop folk who have not paid into our welfare system coming in anf freeloading on us,
    As a long time Labour supporter I am voting UKIP

  • Anonymous

    We do need to have a vote, I suspect i would vote yes to stay in, but I still think you have to ask the people what they want the common market vote was not for the EU and to be honest i do not like the way politician some of them not very bright can make a judgement for the people.

    I would have voted UKIP sadly being disabled and being called many things from scrounger to to work shy I feel voting for any party would be a total waste of time

  • Lucy

    Shocked that people are opting for UKIP as a sort of protest vote. They are more Establishment than the Conservatives. I’ll be voting Green, the only decent alternative and with a good chance of winning a seat in the Eastern Region where I live!

  • alan

    The most important question of all, whether the UK should remain in the EU (which has no electoral mandate or constitutional legitimacy from the UK), was not asked in the 38 degrees poll. Since leaving the EU is the only common policy for all UKIP candidates, asking it would have produced a very different response.

    Intrigued to note that the European Parliament can “decide where our taxes go”, considering that, on the advice of its auditors, it has never signed off the European Commission’s accounts. A parliament that can sign cheques but not demand delivery or accountability of its own executive is just a waste of your money.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    So you lead with a lie, and demand that your very narrow agenda get pride of place, eclipsing all else.

    You also, once more, deliberately confuse the issue that some countries – like the UK – fail to properly account for the EU money they spend. There is not, and never has been, a suggestion of issues at the EU level itself.

    You want to smash Britain’s trade access. Now that’s waste!

  • Leon Wolfeson

    So you lie repeatedly and repeat a far right line, then expect people to believe you voted Labour, right. Keep attacking British workers, young and disabled British people, etc.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    So you need lies on TV and foreign cash pouring in. Moreover, both Thatcher and Atlee condemned referendums, using remarkably similar language.

  • alan

    Britain’s net trade deficit with the EU, around £1million per week when we joined the EEC, now stands at around £1 billion per week (Office of National Statistics). “Trade access” works both ways: if you want to leave your front door open, don’t expect others to be as generous.

    The Common Fisheries Policy has turned the North Sea into a desert. The Common Agricultural Policy pays farmers for not growing food. The EU Renewables Directive pays wind farmers for not generating electricity. And on and on…the EU is about protecting markets, not consumers. Of course it’s not the policy that pays, but you and I – and we have no part in deciding that policy.

    We elect MPs under the Representation of the People Act, and your MP at Westminster is sworn to represent his constituents’ interests, not his party’s (political parties have no constitutional status in the UK). Significantly, MEPs are elected on a closed party list so even if they had any authority, it wouldn’t be on your behalf.

    I don’t demand that this “narrow agenda” (which covers everything from the fruit content of jam to Abu Hamza’s human rights) should eclipse the other questions, but it does seem strange not to question whether we want this elephant in the room at all.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    Blaming the EU for the Tories suicidal domestic economic policies is wrong.

    You’re a decade and more behind the times on actual policies, of course – the CFP is being blames for not paying for enough overfishing, the CAP stopped paying for non-farming long ago, the non-production here for Wind is entirely down to the idiotic renewable obligation system we have.

    You’re making up chimeras to show that your policy of isolating the UK is valid, That YOU are not a voter and have no vote is YOU. I have a vote, and a say. (And I don’t care about your excuses)

    You are not demanding a narrow agenda, you’re demanding a straight-line one it seems. That you are a supporter of judicial torture and false labelling comes as no surprise to me – that’s what those issues were actually about, of course.

    You keep attacking the UK economy, calling it an elephant. Why, you still have to pay workers.

  • alan

    You make an interesting point about Tory policies, but the inevitable decline in the UK-EU trade balance has been fairly continuous, regardless of the colour of our government.

    Fact is that fish stocks in the North Sea have not recovered and the UK fishing industry probably never will. Payment for nonfarming may have stoppped, but no farmer has had to repay it. And the absurd renewables obligation derives from a current EU Directive. By their deeds shall ye know them, and whilst history is not always a reliable indicator of future performance, it’s the only measure we have of corruption, incompetence and inappropriateness.

    I have a vote and I have exercised it. Problem is that the people we elect have no power or mandate to represent us.

    I don’t know where you get the idea of support for judicial torture from. There are some nasty regimes about, but that’s no reason why I should tolerate the presence of nasty individuals who preach hatred against me.

    “False labelling”, eh? Under EU legislation, a carrot is a fruit. Interesting story behind it, but it derives from a combination of ignorance at the Commission level and commercial pressure from the sugar industry. Who represented your interests? The UK Sale of Goods Acts predated the EU. But you will be pleased to know that I can’t call the stuff I’m brewing this week “elderflower champagne” because that would apparently damage French industry and bring the world to an end. Your taxes paid the dozens of lawyers who drafted and debated that interesting piece of legislation.

    The UK economy isn’t the elephant. The problem is that whilst it’s being trampled by the elephantine EU, it is in danger of becoming a dead duck. And I do pay my workers: without the EU overhead, I could and would pay them more, and in the absence of EU Directives they would be using safer machinery.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    “Problem is that the people we elect have no power or mandate to represent us.”

    So you deny democracy, and want something else in it’s place. I see. Well, that rather does define your goals. One vote’s simply not enough for you, I understand.

    Well, perhaps the UK government should stop (successfully) getting fish quotas raised, so it could recover? Nah, too hard.

    The RO is something which we have implemented domestically, other EU countries don’t have the same issue. And yes, indeed, thanks for talking about your record.

    No surprise you’re also against protecting British brands (cheap knockoffs, okay), as you try and say the economy really isn’t the economy, and your excuse for the slaughtering knife is the EU. No, it’s the right and austerity wielding it.

    I’m sure you pay your workers a pittance. And “safer” machines which would only mangle a few in the absence of basic safety rules, and you could pay them “more” in company store credits. Why, what marvellous Dickensian ideas! Nothing like unsafe brewing, after all.

    Nope, I’ll stick with basic workplace safety and demand you pay in the coin of the realm, thanks. (And you didn’t address your support of judicial torture either did you?)

    (But don’t let me use more than 10% of your hyperbole, after all! A nice rich man like you..)

  • alan

    Not sure how you define democracy,but where I come from it’s something to do with electing representatives who can control the executive. The EU doesn’t allow this.

    Norway has plenty of fish thanks to a policy on by-catch thatt was exactly the opposite of the CFP. The UK could adopt the same policy tomorrow if we had control over territorial waters. Far from difficult, it would be welcomed by the industry.

    Apparently we can’t resile from the RO because it is EU policy. All we can do is complain that nobody else is jumping over the same cliff. This looks like insanity to me.

    I have no idea what your next paragraph means. Do you?

    My employees earn considerably more, and have considerably better working conditions, than their equivalents in the public sector. And why not? I’m only sorry that in order to satisfy the requirements of the single market, we aren’t allowed to use safe electrical equipment. And that every one of them pays something like £500 per year in taxes to support the parasites in the European Commission.

    I’d like to adopt better radiation safety standards in the clinics I design, but the European Court has ruled that no member state may impose a higher standard than the EU norm.

    It was only by sheer luck and a hell of a lot of hard work that we managed to get the Physical Hazards Directive delayed so we can continue doing surgery in our MRI machines. The complete absence of any contraindications wasn’t the point: the machines are made in the USA, and the European market must be protected even if it involves killing a few patients, it seems.

    Of course I don’t support judicial torture, Neither does the UK government. That’s why they quietly ship suspects off to other countries for enhanced interrogation, along with a few UK specialists in the subject. But apparently you can’t do export a public persona, however repulsive, in case someone else has done the same thing to a third party. That’s an area that needs sorting out: it seems that human rights don’t apply when the USA requests extradition of a feebleminded twit. But the EU won’t help us resolve that issue.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    Well yes, I’m sure you have a very narrow definition in the foreign country you came from, but the actual definition is very broad, in English. Britain is, despite your attempts to change it, a Democracy.

    So, you’re don’t know the actual facts about the EU, saying things which exist are “not allowed” (they do, stop trying to abolish them), refuse to admit the UK government is a large part of the problem with the CFP, and of course want to dredge out every last fish from UK waters.

    And we can, of course, change RO’s (and the Tories have, but in ways which
    have made them worse) to a more rational model – the UK government simply *refuses* to do so. Let’s see…you have poor English reading skills, not my issue…

    And I see, you “only” moderately underpay your workers, public sector workers are grossly underpaid, on average, for their qualifications. And right right, you demand the right to use unsafe equipment, based on your own back of the envelope calculations and ignoring basic safety standards. Can’t have those now, I understand,
    profit margins, etc.

    You explicitly and strongly supported judicial torture, as you’ve done so again there explicitly – a good preview of your intent, which is chilling since apparently you’re
    involved in a medical business, and hence are opposing the Nuremberg Protocols, And no surprise you’re a huge fan of “enhanced interrogation” either. Of course you need to make it far easier to do that to people, check. Feeble-minded…ah, you’re a good old fashioned eugenicist. Well, no surprise there, see “Nuremberg Protocols”.

    And oh hey, we finally agree on something – the UK-US extradition treaty is entirely domestic. Like virtually all the pressing issues the UK faces. But you’ll blame the EU for every other one anyway.

  • alan

    I don’t think there is much point in discussing the matter with you as you simply make ever more ridiculous and unfounded assertions. I think your condition is treatable, or at least containable, but it is outside my scope and probably harmless to others. But for your own safety, stay out of discussions with large men in pubs: many people are intolerant of unprovoked insult.

    Have a calm day.