Later this week British voters will elect a new European Parliament following months of cutthroat campaigning. But how much do you know about the vote, and why should you care?
On Thursday, May 22nd, Britain will join millions of Europeans in electing representatives for the EU parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg.
The elections, which take place every 5 years, have this year amassed uncharacteristic levels of interest across the UK following increasingly vocal calls from Eurosceptic voters for Britain to quit the EU.
As well as approving the entire EU budget, the European Parliament currently influences a range of European laws, including those concerning animal and consumer rights, the environment, trade and economic development.
Out of a total 751 parliamentary seats, the UK’s 12 electoral regions will elect 73 Members of European Parliament (MEPs).
The Conservatives, who returned the highest number of MEPs in the previous election, have pledged to hold a referendum in 2017 on whether or not to stay in the EU. In the meantime however, the party have promised to ‘take back control of criminal justice’ and ‘keep control’ of British borders.
The party’s traditional rival, Labour, is hoping to drum up increased support in the elections this year after returning a disappointing 13 MEPs in 2009, the same number as UKIP and 12 less than the Conservatives.
The party is hoping to reassure the public that EU membership is beneficial to the UK and promises to push for jobs and economic growth as well as protect current environmental legislation.
Eurosceptics calling for the UK to leave the EU are predicted to vote UKIP, the most prominent party fighting to ‘opt out’ of the Union. Currently polling ahead of the major parties, UKIP is set to return the majority of MEPs and hopes to make its parliamentary representatives ‘redundant’ by returning a system of self-governance for Britain.
Recently, the party has come under fire for their immigration-focused PR campaign, in particular their controversial claims surrounding foreign labour, a matter which Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, recently debated with the party’s leader, Nigel Farage.
Hitting back against the ‘isolationists’, the Liberal Democrats are fighting to keep the UK within the EU. However, the Lib Dems, who returned 11 MEP’s in 2009, are set to see this number fall further following a decline in national support, with the most recent opinion polls predicting a return of 9 MEPs.
As well as the LibDems, the National party of Wales, Plaid Cymru, are taking a strong pro-EU stance in the hope of advancing Wales and Welsh causes within Europe and the Union. The party is focused on attracting skilled migrants to Wales – such as doctors and University lecturers – as well as increase the number of jobs and training opportunities throughout Wales.
However, Plaid’s vision is under threat as opinion polls suggest they are set to lose their only EU representative in this month’s election.
Along with the rest of the UK, Wales will look north to Scotland to see how the country will vote in the run up to their independence referendum in September. The SNP, who are spearheading the independence campaign, are looking to strengthen Scotland’s presence within the Europe.
However, there are discrepancies within the EU over whether or not the country will even be afforded parliamentary membership if it is granted independence in September.
Experts have claimed the election will be ‘the most important’ to date, with the voting results set to ‘produce a new political majority in the European Parliament.’
The result of the vote will not be revealed until elections across all 28 EU states have closed on Sunday, May 25th.