The why, what and who of the EU elections taking place on 22nd May 2014.

Why should you vote in the EU elections?

The EU elections in the UK have often been considered as ‘second order elections’. EU election campaigns have traditionally focused more on domestic UK politics rather than EU policies or pan-European issues and public debates about European issues have been rare. UK voter turnout in the 2009 EU elections was only 34.7% (EU average 43%), which is also not surprising as the UK consistently polls as the ‘least interested in’ and ‘least informed’ about the EU.

However, the 2014 EU elections DO matter and everyone should use the current debates on the UK’s future in EU as an opportunity to better inform themselves as this is not an issue that is going to go away any time soon.

The UK debate has been largely fuelled by the rise of Euroscepticism, UKIP scandals and the debate on the possible EU in/out referendum and although these are all important issues, until a referendum does take place British interests still need to be represented at the EU level.

The power of the European Parliament, the only directly elected EU Institution, is increasing. Elected Members of European Parliament (MEPs) now have the power to approve, amend or reject new EU laws that effect UK citizens. EU laws and regulations will always have an impact on the UK – even if we choose to leave the EU. That’s why it is important to make sure that British interests are represented at the EU level and that UK MEPs are there to help draft and vote on EU legislation.

Below is a 3 step guide to better preparing yourself to vote in next week’s EU elections.

1. Check the party manifesto and the party’s stance on Europe

The EU and local elections will be considered as a test for the General Elections in 2015 and each of the main political parties is already gearing their ‘European’ campaign more towards the 2015 elections. Polls keep changing and it will be a close election so your vote will make a difference.

A brief summary of the four political parties likely to come out on top in the EU elections:

Conservative Party 
– David Cameron has promised to re-negotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and is focusing his campaign on the pledge to hold an in/out referendum in 2017, arguing   that it is the only party that can and will hold a referendum.
– Currently there are 25 Conservative MEPs elected. You can watch the Conservative Party election broadcast here.

– David Miliband has been at times ambivalent about his stance on the UK-EU relationship and a possible referendum but says Labour MEPs will put “jobs and growth” at the heart of the EU.
– Currently there are 13 Labour MEPs elected. You can watch the Labour Party election broadcast here.

Liberal Democrats
– Nick Clegg promotes his party as one of “optimism and openness” fighting against the “fears and falsehoods” of “isolationists” and as the only true pro-European/IN
party, fighting for British jobs (“IN Europe, IN Work“).
– Currently there are 11 Liberal Democrats MEPs elected. You can watch the Liberal Democrats Party election broadcast here.

– Nigel Farage has predicted “an earthquake” in politics at these elections. The party wants an in/out referendum as soon as possible, is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU and is focusing on the impact of being in the European Union on control of the UK’s borders and immigration.
– Currently there are 13 UKIP MEPs elected. You can watch the UK Independence Party election broadcast here.

There are 24 other parties fielding candidates in the EU elections (including Greens, SNP, BNP and Plain Cymru who all currently have at least 1 MEP). 5 of them are anti-EU parties and one is a pro-European party.

You can find a complete list of the campaign websites of the different UK parties standing in the EU elections here and a full list of all the party election broadcasts here.

<p><strong>2. Check the candidates in your electoral region</strong></p>
<p>There are <a href=73 UK MEPs and the UK is divided into 12 electoral regions which elect between three and ten MEPs.

You can find the list of individual candidates nominated for each electoral region for each party here and download an A4 page showing all the MEPs for each region here.

In sounds obvious, but you should know who you are voting for and who will be there to represent your views at the EU level. For incumbent MEPs you can check their attendance and voting record using VoteWatch. 

<p><strong>3. Check the candidates for the European Commission Presidency and what European policy issues they are focusing on.</strong></p>
<p>The 2014 EU elections are additionally important as for the first time, the composition of the new European Parliament will determine who will be the next President of the European Commission.</p>
<p>There are 5 main candidates – Martin Schulz (Socialists), Jean-Claude Juncker (European People’s Party), Guy Verhofstadt (Liberals), Ska Keller (Greens) and Alexis Tsipras (European Left) and on Thursday May 15 they will hold a <a href=public EU elections debate, which you can watch live here. 

Although the candidates are all almost entirely unknown in the UK, they represent 4 of the main political groups in the European Parliament, which UK parties are part of (the ECR Group, which includes UK Conservative MEPs, decided not to put forward a candidate).

It might not be a very exciting ‘Presidential Election’ but it’s important to remember that whoever ends up the President of the European Commission will be in charge if and when David Cameron attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU after 2015.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the candidates – you can even use the Euronews online tool to find which one of the candidates best represents your views on Europe.

<p>The EU debate in the UK might be more focused on domestic politics but the issues being debated are the same across Europe. In many other EU countries debates are focused on the economy, immigration and Euroscepticism. <a href=Euronews gives an overview of some of the issues.

The EU elections may not have the same immediate and obvious impact as the results of the local Council elections but will have far reaching consequences for the UK – and its relationship with the EU. That is why even more important to get informed and know what and who you are voting for.

Natalia Marczewska is PLMR’s Digital Executive and has previously worked as a Press Officer to a British MEP.

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