2009 European Elections
May 11, 2009 6:08 AM   Subscribe

I'd like a laymen's answers to how the european elections work in the UK and how the outcome effects British life on a daily basis.
posted by nam3d to Law & Government (4 answers total)
This BBC News page offers a pretty straightforward description of the upcoming European Elections and this one a list of key EU laws.

I'm not sure if that's exactly what you're looking for but it might be a good place to start.
posted by Del Chimney at 6:32 AM on May 11, 2009

There is widespead apathy, those who do vote generally do so on national political issues rather than European ones, and people rarely know who their MEP is. The outcome has a negligible effect on daily life, partly because the European Parliament has little influence on what the EC does anyway.

Don't know whether that helps.
posted by Phanx at 8:48 AM on May 11, 2009

Best answer: You vote for a party in your region (there are 12 in the UK, with between 3 and 10 MEPs per region). Based upon their proportion of the vote, each party gets the appropriate number of MEPs. Each party has a list of candidates for that region, ranked in order; so the top party may get, say, the top 4 MEPs off their list for that region, while the lowest (minimum 5% of the vote) gets only 1 MEP.

Most MEPs are members of a national party, and then also a member of a european party, which work in alliances in the parliament.

The European Parliament, which MEPs are elected to, is the only directly elected body of the EU. The other main body is the Council of Ministers, who are appointed directly by member governments. The Commission (EU beaurocrats) proposes legislation, and the Parliament and Council decide whether to pass it, or amend it. (if they disagree, there's various amounts of horse trading that goes on to resolve the disagreement)

Generally, the parliament has been much more responsive to the desires of their national electorate than the council or the commission. EU member governments have a habit of trying to pass legislation through the EU that they can't get past their own national parliaments - the UK and France are particularly prone to this. Once EU legislation is passed by both the council and the parliament, national governments have to implement their own legislation to implement the rules.

To draw an example from my own area of knowledge, there have been attempts to make software patents legal in the EU, and to implement the 'three strikes' rule EU wide (i.e. get accused of copyright infringement 3 times by a non-judicial body and your internet connection gets cut off). Both the Council and the Commission backed these despite strong opposition from national electorates, and it was the parliament that blocked both measures. The parliament has also been instrumental in ensuring caps on roaming charges for mobile phone use outside your home country.

So while there is widespread national apathy as to the impact of their MEPs (and to be fair, any one MEP is pretty minor when there's 785 of them) the parliament is about the only area where ordinary constituents have any influence at all as to what legislation is passed at the EU level, which then must be passed by EU member governments. They also have influence over things such as the Common Agricultural Policy, which is a huge part of the EU budget, and thus affects how much money the UK has to give to the EU annually (the UK is a net contributor, though not the largest last I checked, due to our rebate)
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:33 AM on May 11, 2009

Best answer: Arkhan's description of the process is fairly spot on. In terms of inpact, the answer is not very much. MEP's have huge constituencies, the South West, for example, has 5m people, who after the next election, will be represented by 6 MEPs. They don't have legions of staff - no more than a Westminster MP with a constituency of 80,000 might have, so its safe to say they don't do much in the way of casework.

Even if the UK were to elect 100% Conservative, or UKIP or Green, or whatever, because these 60 odd MEPs would then be diluted amongst the parliament of 750 odd MEPs, again they would have little effect. The De Hondt system makes it extremely unlikely that anywhere near as clear a message as that could ever be sent.

Even then, assuming a unity of purpose could be arrived at amongst the diverse parliamentarians of Europe, the powers of the parliament are still limited (although more than they used to be). All legislation still originates with the technocracy of the European Commission, and in many cases has to be universally approved by the national government of members states before the Europarl gets a say.

I'm sure someone more enthusiastic about the parliament would point to the powers of influence which MEPs can influence for their constituents, but I am always rather sceptical about how much claimed influence by MEPs would have happened anyway. At best they can be effective lobbiests for large industries or specialist interests in their areas. This is probably where they're most use - influencing technical detail of legislation - something which is generally too opaque for the majority of people to take an interest in...

The only place where the European election result will have a real and powerful impact in the UK is on Westminster politics. It will be seen by the UK press as a referendum on national politicians (its difficult to see it as anything else when the press take so little interest in what happens in Brussels). Hence a very poor result for Labour might further undermine Gordon Brown's premiership - or a better then expected result boost it. Aside from that, it would make much difference.

Sorry this is a bit rambly - hopefully in the finest traditions of mefi someone much better informed that me from a different political perspective will pop up and explain why I'm talking nonsense...
posted by prentiz at 1:07 PM on May 11, 2009

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