You may or may not know that there’s actually an election on next Thursday that’s rather important. You’re forgiven if you didn’t, as the European Parliament elections are often seen as the least significant of the major votes in the political calendar. Even though plenty of people brush it off, it’s still a vote that directly affects you for the next five years in ways you might not quite realise, so it’s well worth having a say in. So here’s everything you need to know about next week’s European Parliament elections:
What is the European Parliament?
The European Parliament is the only directly elected body of the European Union, an organisation that makes laws for people across the 28 European countries that are part of it. The EU Parliament votes on laws introduced by states and is there to directly represent the views of the people that voted for them.
What do MEPs decide?
The EU, and therefore the European Parliament, decides on things such as trade laws, health & safety, agriculture and fishing laws, human rights, workers’ rights and some foreign policy (generally peacekeeping) issues. Although these areas aren’t nearly as expansive as the powers of our own Parliament, EU laws are more powerful than UK laws – meaning that if the EU decides on a law to cover all of their members then the UK must apply it.
How does the European Parliament work?
The European Parliament is part of a very complicated system. The Parliament is only one of several stages of the law-making process of the EU, but is considered to be one of the most important.
In the Parliament, MEPs generally belong to a party of the nation where they were elected, and they will join in a coalition with similar-thinking parties from other nations. These coalitions broadly work as parties do here in the UK, with the largest being most powerful and having the most influence on change with the others in opposition trying to ensure that all voices are heard.
Is the UK going to leave the EU?
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU by 2017 if the Conservatives win the General Election next year. The Conservative party is split over the issue, while UKIP strongly support withdrawing from the EU and Labour and the Lib Dems favour staying in the EU.
The most recent poll in the issue comes from YouGov which shows that 40% of Brits want to stay in the EU, while 37% want to pull out and 23% are undecided or would not vote. This would translate into a 52-48 vote in favour of European Union membership if the referendum was held now.
Of course, there is uncertainty over whether Scotland would be a member of the EU if we choose to become independent in September’s referendum. Whilst Yes Scotland believe we will be able to continue our membership, on the basis that we are already part of the European Union through the United Kingdom, Better Together suggest that Scotland will have to: renegotiate entry into the EU, which could take years; require that we use the Euro as our currency and would need to be approved by all existing EU countries, including some that are trying to clamp down on separatist movements in their own backyards.
There is no definitive answer at the moment whether the UK or Scotland will be in the EU for the next elections in five years, but we still have to elect representatives that will serve us for the meantime. Even if we don’t want a voice in Europe, it’s best to have a strong one while we can.
How does the voting work in these elections?
If you are over 18 and eligible to vote, you will have received a polling card in the last few weeks with details of where you can go to cast your ballot. Once you go there, you will have to give your name and ask for a ballot paper. You simply put a cross on the ballot paper next to the party that you would like to see represent you then put your paper in the ballot box.
From there all votes are counted up and then seats are awarded by proportional representation, so that parties that win a significant share of the vote will win seats. You can find a handy explanation as to exactly how the seats are allocated on the European Parliament’s website.
Who am I voting for in these elections?
For the European Parliament elections, Scotland is its’ own constituency. You will pick one party from a list that includes: Britain First, BNP, Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, NO2EU, Scottish Green, SNP & UKIP. Each of these parties will have their own list of candidates ranked in an order of preference, and the more votes they receive the more MEPs they will be able to get elected. You can find out more about the candidates in the European elections by visiting the UK Polling Report’s page on the matter.
Who’s likely to win?
In the last elections in 2009, the SNP and Labour returned 2 MEPs each while the Lib Dems and Conservatives returned 1 apiece in Scotland.
On a UK-wide level, polls indicate that UKIP may be the party that wins ahead of Labour and the Conservatives but that’s not the case in Scotland. A YouGov poll published in the Sunday Times on the 27th of April showed that the SNP led the way in Scotland with 29% of the vote, Labour in 2nd on 25%, UKIP in 3rd on 18%, Lib Dems in 4th on 10% and the Conservatives 5th on 8%. This would suggest that the SNP and Labour would win 2 seats each whilst UKIP and the Lib Dems would win 1 each.
Polls aren’t necessarily indicative of the whole population’s views though, so it is important to vote and make sure your opinion is counted officially in the election.
Who should I vote for?
This is the one answer I’m afraid I can’t give you! It’s entirely up to you which party you vote for in the European elections, with different parties offering a different kind of representation in Parliament. Although most of the campaign leaflets you may have received in the post about the elections won’t touch on European matters very heavily, this election is not about domestic issues but European ones, so that’s worth bearing in mind when you cast your ballot.
I’m personally going to vote for the SNP. Although I would never class myself as an SNP supporter, and disagree with plenty of their policies, I do believe that they have Scotland’s best interests at heart – which is exactly what you are looking for from our European representatives. With the EU having power over industries that are vital to the Scottish economy like agriculture and fishing, I believe the SNP will make the strongest case on behalf of the people of Scotland. I’d also support Labour and Lib Dem candidates if I could, as they will try to improve trade links with the EU which is still the main focus of the organisation but I wouldn’t support the Conservatives or UKIP, because their parties aren’t going to whole-heartedly participate in proper law-making because of their lingering distaste for the idea of European government in principle.
I hope this has helped clear up any questions you have about the European elections. No matter who you vote for, please make sure you do – as it’s the easiest way of voicing your political opinion and making a real contribution to the direction of the country.