Saying you don’t know what the European Parliament does is like saying you don’t ‘do’ maths. It’s something you know you should understand, but you don’t.
And while turnout for this year’s European elections is expected to be low, shouldn’t we wonder why?
The rise of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), continued calls for an in-out referendum and British people being some of the least trustworthy of the EU establishment in Europe goes to show we do have some interest in what is going on.
According to research by the European Commission published in March 2014, 21 per cent of British people surveyed said they trusted the European Parliament; 29 per cent said they trusted their own national parliament, and 25 per cent said they trusted their own national government.
The statistics show across the 28 member states as a whole, 34 per cent of residents tend to trust the European Parliament; British people are the least trustworthy out of the 28 countries.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are the only directly elected representatives we have in the EU, and yet only 34.7 per cent of us turned out to vote in the last election, five years ago.
MEPs are the EU’s lawmakers. Without their input and approval, most EU laws cannot come into being.
But MEPs cannot pitch their own ideas for laws. The European Commission proposes the legislation that MEPs vote on.
The European Union’s long-term spending budget has to be approved by national governments and MEPs, then each year the two sides decide together how the annual budget will be spent.
Last February, David Cameron negotiated a cut in the EU budget. It was the first time in its history that the budget went down.
Dan Hannan, a Conservative Party MEP representing the south east region, said the cut in the EU’s budget was one of the biggest things he has helped achieve in this parliament.
He told The News: ‘The parliament is a remote and distant bureaucracy and that is something people all over Europe would say.
‘It is distant and that is the reason why people feel like they are not connected to it.
‘I would like the powers from the European Parliament and bring them back to a more local level.
‘Why should people vote in these elections? My view is our membership has been going along for 40 years. The public should be able to decide if we want to be part of what the EU is turning into.’
Ukip candidate and Bedhampton and Leigh Park Hampshire County Councillor Ray Finch says the more votes his party gets, the stronger its message.
‘Voting in the European elections will show the political class that the public is not happy that the advances in the EU has not been in their name.
‘People need to vote to say that we deserve a say with a referendum and that we want to vote out.’
Liberal Democrat MEP for the south east region, Catherine Bearder, says the elections matter because of the wide range of areas of our lives it affects.
‘The EU has a lot of influence over all sorts of things in our daily lives and from the environmental work that I have campaigned a lot on things like bees and biodiversity and fishing.
‘I brought a delegation of MEPs to Hampshire to show people what we have done with EU money in recent years.
‘I have done a lot of work with the trade community and that is very important in Portsmouth, such as the banana agreement which is also important for Europe.
‘Most people say they don’t know what their MEPs are doing but they are out there doing an important job.’
The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas was elected in 2009. She is now the party’s only MP in Westminster
Keith Taylor, her successor in Europe, says: ‘These elections really matter to people in Hampshire.
‘Though the European Parliament can seem far away and complicated it actually affects us in a number of ways.
‘Over the last few years Greens have pushed for legislation which has cleaned up our beaches, clamped down on air pollution and protected people’s rights at work.
‘On some issues, like protecting our seas from over fishing, or capping bankers bonuses, international action from the EU is required to make the positive changes for people across Europe.’
Anneliese Dodds is the Labour Party’s first choice candidate for the south east region.
The party’s existing MEP for the area, Peter Skinner, is standing down after 20 years in the European Parliament.
Anneliese says the priority in the European Parliament should be creating jobs and growth.
Asked why people should vote on Thursday, she says: ‘The point is we need people in the EU to represent us and we need to have people who put in the time to help people for Portsmouth and south east Hampshire.
‘It is different to other elections because every vote counts. Whoever you vote for, it is an important vote for everyone.
‘With the things going on in Portsmouth with the shipyard closure, we think we need good representatives in Europe to bring investment and help people affected by the closure with jobs and training.
‘I think it is very important that MEPs are visible and easy to contact.’
And it is not just politicians who have an opinion on the EU.
Stewart Dunn, Hampshire Chamber of Commerce chief executive, says: ‘Successive polls of chamber members show continuing broad support for Britain remaining in Europe but with a renegotiated relationship.
‘There is I believe a groundswell of impatience with significant numbers of companies wanting greater clarity on the UK’s position in the EU.
‘Most believe that staying in, but with more powers transferred back to Westminster from Brussels, would have a positive impact on our economic prospects. To achieve that position, reform is needed.’
There will be 28 elections in 28 member states taking place from Thursday in the UK and the Netherlands until Sunday, when most countries will hold their votes.
According to Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics organisation, there were 505,665,739 people living in the European Union in 2013.
It is compulsory for residents to vote in European elections in Belgium, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Greece.
The number of seats representing each country is directly related to how many people live there. For example, Germany has the most MEPs (96) because it has the largest population of all EU member states.
The UK has 73 MEPs, with 10 of those representing the south east region.
South east region MEPs represent people living across Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, East and West Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
The system of voting is a type of proportional representation, meaning smaller parties have a better chance of getting a seat.
Voters put a cross next to the party they prefer, not the candidate, unlike British parliamentary elections.
Up to 10 candidates can be chosen by every party to stand in each region.
Party members vote for the order of their candidates on the ballot paper.
The closer a candidate’s name is to the top in the party list, the more likely they are to become an MEP.
The parties and how they fared last time:-
34.8 per cent share
Four MEPs (now five)
PRIME minister David Cameron says only a vote for the Conservative Party will deliver change in Europe.
That was his message as he launched the party’s campaign for this year’s European parliamentary elections.
He says: ‘The Conservatives are the only party with a track record of delivering change in Europe – and the only party that can and will hold an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU,’ he said.
‘Many people in Britain – including me – feel strongly that the European Union must change.
‘I hear time and again from people about their frustrations with the EU: it is too bureaucratic and too undemocratic.
‘It interferes too much in our daily lives, and the scale of European Union migration triggered by new members joining in recent years has had a huge impact on local communities.
‘I vetoed a treaty that was not in Britain’s interests.
‘We cut the European Union budget for the ﬁrst time in its history, saving British taxpayers billions of pounds.’
11.6 per cent share
THIS year’s Green Party manifesto is titled A Europe for the common good.
‘Too often, the story we are told about our future is one of pain and decline: austerity, falling wages and climate crisis; unemployment, rising housing costs and depleting pension pots.
‘But it doesn’t have to be this way.
‘The economic crisis, the environmental crisis and the democratic crisis we face are intertwined.
‘We can’t save the planet when the world is run by those who profit from destroying it.
‘We can’t solve poverty when the decisions are made by the wealthy.
‘The EU is the forum through which the peoples of Europe can work together to build a better future, together.
‘And we’ll be there. We’ll be there to stand up to hired voices of the rich and work for an EU that puts people and our shared future before the profits of the wealthiest.
‘We shall be there to ensure the EU hears the voices of the many, not the few, and that it plays its part in building a fairer future for its people.’
8.2 per cent share
THE Labour Party’s living standards theme continues into this year’s European election campaign.
Leader Ed Miliband says working with the EU can work for the people of this country.
He says: ‘The focus for Britain at this time should be to promote growth at home and secure influence abroad.
‘Our priority is to make Britain better off by dealing with the cost of living crisis and building an economy that works for hardworking people.
‘Labour MEPs will continue to take action to tackle the pressures facing families, and make the big long-term changes we need to build an economy that works for working people.
‘Labour’s position on Europe is clear and principled: we strongly believe Britain’s future lies at the heart of a reformed EU.
‘The benefits of being in the EU are strategic, economic and are about the character of our country – an outward looking, confident Britain.
‘That is why Labour is working for change in Europe so that it works for the hardworking people in Britain.’
14.1 per cent share
DEPUTY prime minister Nick Clegg says the Liberal Democrats is the only party campaigning at these elections to keep Britain in the European Union.
And it’s not only trade that he cites as a reason to keep Britain in Brussels.
He says: ‘On May 22, your choice is simple: do you think Britain is better off in Europe or do you want us out of it?
‘Will you back a party that will lead us towards the exit, or do you want your representatives to make sure Britain remains engaged with our neighbours – a leading nation in our European backyard?
‘We want Britain to stay in Europe – because that is how we keep our country strong, prosperous, safe and green.
‘As members of the European Union, our businesses have access to 500 million European customers.
‘Trade with other European countries supports millions of British jobs.
‘As members of the European Union, our police can work with their counterparts abroad to crack down on the criminals who cross our borders.’
18.8 per cent share
Two MEPs (now one)
UKIP goes into this election with half the number of European MPs it had following the 2009 polls.
But it’s not something that will put off party leader Nigel Farage, who represents the south east region in Europe.
He says: ‘It’s time to decide. We don’t need to wait until 2017 to have a referendum: let’s have one right now. Use the European elections on May 22 to tell them what you think about the EU.
‘It’s time for the truth.
‘We’re frequently told that we’ll lose three million jobs if we leave – a shameless lie.
‘No sensible commentator has ever predicted this, because the EU countries have far more to lose by interfering with our trade with them, than we do.
‘We’re more likely to gain jobs.
‘A few big businessmen are regularly wheeled out to say they want to stay in; but when the EU is geared to help big businesses and prevent small ones from challenging them, that’s not surprising.
‘It’s our 4.8 million smaller businesses that suffer from the burden of EU laws and regulations.’
THE British National Party (BNP) is again fielding a full 10 candidates for the European elections, after receiving more than 101,000 votes in the south east region five years ago.
One of the party’s top candidates is Gavin Miller, who lives in Gosport. John Laurence Henry Moore from Hayling Island is also standing.
A new political party called An Independence from Europe sits at the top of the ballot paper, but is a separate party to the UK Independence Party (Ukip).
The party was founded by Mike Nattrass MEP in 2013 following his deselection as a Ukip candidate.
Ukip has raised concerns it may confuse voters on polling day.
Also standing are:
- The Christian Peoples Alliance
- English Democrats (52,526
- Harmony Party
- Liberty Great Britain
- The Peace Party (9,534 in
- The Roman Party.AVE (5,450
- The Socialist Party of Great Britain