THE European elections are not only unusual in size but also in the voting system.
For the European Parliament is the only body most people in the UK elect using proportional representation.
But despite this potential for intrigue there is comparatively little interest shown in the European elections next month as compared with the General Election which will take place in 2015.
Turnout at the last European elections in 2009 was only 34 per cent across the UK, compared with 65 per cent at the last General Election a year later.
Conservative MEP Marta Andreasen – who defected from the UK Independence Party last year – said Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge for an in-out referendum by the end of 2017 on a renegotiated relationship with Europe is proving popular.
Conservative MEP Marta Andreasen, who defected from the UK Independence Party last year and has since called its leader Nigel Farage, pictured, “Stalinist” and “anti-women”
She said: “I think a lot of people in the South East are looking forward to having a referendum on the EU.”
Yet the “withdrawalist”, a former European Commission chief accountant, said: “The reform would have to be really significant for me to come out in favour of staying.
“For the time being I don’t think this reform is going to be as significant as I would expect.
“The EU is a non-transparent, non-accountable organisation and therefore you cannot rely on the EU to sort out the problems that Europe faces.”
The Conservatives had “stood up” to the EU to “defend the interests of industry”, such as David Cameron’s role in cutting its budget last year, she added.
The MEP said: “There are MEPs here who have fought in favour of the British financial industry very strongly.
“Although we are not a majority here, we have succeeded in having regulations watered down or blocked that would have seriously impacted on the main industry of the UK.”
Oxford-based Labour candidate Anneliese Dodds, who is top of her party’s list for the elections, said these elections could go some way towards influencing how the EU is run for the next five years.
Oxford-based Labour candidate Anneliese Dodds
The 36-year-old from Rose Hill, currently a lecturer at Aston University, points to the fact that the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – of which her party is a member – is predicted in the most recent opinion polls to snatch control of the parliament from the centre-right European People’s Party.
She said: “There is a big chance that the direction of politics in the EU could change.
“I don’t support a number of elements of what the EU has been doing but for the past few years it has been controlled by the right.
“For example, we have been saying that spending on the Common Agricultural Policy [which subsidises farming in the EU] should be reduced and we should be focusing it on growth, particularly jobs for young people.
“The EU is really important for the Oxfordshire economy.
“I have spoken to BMW and they are a very big employer here in Oxford and they have said they want the UK to stay in the EU.
“It also affects the research income at the two universities.”
The influence of the European Parliament – which is the EU’s only directly elected body – is steadily growing.
Beginning as a consultative assembly, it has been directly elected since 1979 and now has the power to amend and reject laws proposed by the European Commission in nearly all areas.
Catherine Bearder, a current Lib Dem MEP who is based in Oxford, said she has noticed the increased powers the parliament has been given since she joined it in 2009.
Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder
She said: “It is quite interesting seeing how much more determined the parliament is in holding the commission to account and we do call the commissioners in and question them regularly.
“This commission was the first one where we interviewed every commissioner and as soon as these elections are over the MEPs will interview them again. The whole parliament is stronger and more comfortable in itself.
“Reform of the EU is going on all the time and there are regular treaties coming forward.
“The next one is planned in three or four years, but you can only influence that if you are sitting round the table.
“That’s why we are the party of ‘in’.
“The UK is the third largest country in the EU and that gives us the third largest number of MEPs.
“We are very important and we make a lot of the decisions happen or we can block them.
“So many of our jobs rely on our trading relationship with our biggest market, which is the EU.
“So much of the framework for the rules which affect our day-to-day life is set by the EU and the parliament represents the voice of the citizens of Europe.”
But Janice Atkinson, a UKIP candidate who is second on the party’s list for the South East, disputed Ms Bearder’s claims about the benefits of the EU.
UKIP candidate Janice Atkinson
She said: “The car companies that have invested in Oxford and in this country have done so because we have a history of making cars and manufacturing in this country.
“BMW likes the relationship they have with us because we have got one foot in the USA.
“If people want their sovereignty back and they lower taxes and they don’t want the European Court of Human Rights stomping over their laws they should get out there and vote in May.
“They should even if they believe in total integration because this is effectively a poll on whether we should be in or out of the EU.”
THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
TOGETHER with the Council of the European Union and the European Commission, the European Parliament is responsible for deciding legislation and policy of the European Union.
However, it is the only one of these three bodies which is directly elected by the people of the EU.
It is made up of 766 members who represent the second largest democratic electorate in the world after India.
The parliament cannot initiate legislation itself but can amend, reject or approve proposals brought forward by the Commission and can ask for new laws to be proposed.
It also approves all development grants and has a non-binding vote on new EU treaties as well as having an important role in the approval of a budget for the EU.
Elections have been held every five years since the parliament was born in 1979.
It sits in both Brussels and Strasbourg, though this is controversial because of the cost and inconvenience of travelling between these two places.
HOW THE ELECTION WORKS
MEMBERS of the European Parliament are not elected by any single voting system, rather each member state chooses its own system as long as it complies with three restrictions.
These are that it must be a form of proportional representation, that candidates must get at least five per cent of the vote to be elected and that the area of the member state may be subdivided into constituencies.
MEPs are allocated to each member state according to the principal of “degressive proportionality”, which means it is done according to the states’ population but smaller ones elect more representatives than is proportional to their populations.
The UK has chosen the party list system which means the parties draw up lists of candidates and a number of seats are allocated to each party in proportion to the votes they receive.
Unlike in general and local elections, voters choose a party on their ballot paper rather than an individual.
Since this system means most of the main parties are highly likely to secure some form of representation, candidates at the top of these lists have a strong chance of being victorious.
This also means each of the parties list their candidates in order of how keen they are to see them elected – so, for example, UKIP leader Nigel Farage is at the top of his party’s list in the South East.
AT the moment the largest representation comes from the Conservative Party which has 26 seats.
Following the last election, UKIP was the second-largest party with 13 seats but since then the party has suffered two defections to the Tories and three MEPs – most notably Godfrey Bloom – have left.
It now has nine seats since one Conservative went to UKIP but Labour is the second largest party with 13 seats and the Lib Dems are fourth.
Once elected, the national parties from across Europe group themselves together in coalitions of broadly similar ideologies.
Despite being the largest representation from the UK, the Conservatives sit in one of the smallest groups in the European Parliament – the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists.
Prime Minster and Witney MP David Cameron removed his party from the centre-right European People’s Party – which is the largest grouping in the parliament – after deciding it was too pro-EU.
Meanwhile Labour sits with the second largest grouping – the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats – and the Lib Dems sit with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe – the third biggest grouping.
UKIP sits with the smallest group – Europe of Freedom and Democracy – in which it is the largest party.
Meanwhile the Greens sit with the fourth largest group, European Greens-European Free Alliance.
The UK also has two MEPs from the Scottish National Party and one from Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, the British National Party, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the British Democratic Party, We Demand A Referendum, An Independence Party and an independent.
THE South East is one of the 12 electoral regions which make up the UK and it elects 10 of this country’s 73 MEPs.
As well as Oxfordshire it is made up of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Kent, West Sussex, Surrey and the Isle of Wight.
The Conservatives currently hold half of the South East’s seats while the Lib Dems are the second largest group with two MEPs.
Labour, UKIP and the Green Party have one each.
Notable MEPs from the South East include UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Eurosceptic Tory Daniel Hannan.
In 2013, UKIP South East MEP Marta Andreasen defected to the Conservatives after branding Mr Farage “Stalinist” and “anti-women”.