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European Elections 2014: Frequently Asked Questions

 

When are the elections taking place and how will they work?

European elections are held every five years. The next elections will take place 22-25 May 2014. In the UK they are on Thursday 22nd May.

Each member state has a fixed number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).  For the UK there are 73 MEPs. The allocation of seats is laid down in the European Union treaties on the basis of the “degressive proportionality” principle: countries with larger populations have more seats than those with smaller ones, but the latter have more seats than strict proportionality would imply. For the 2014 election, under the Lisbon Treaty, the number of MEPs ranges from six each for Malta, Luxembourg, Cyprus and Estonia to 96 for Germany, making a total of 751.

Elections to the European Parliament are largely governed by national electoral laws and traditions. Thus, each Member State decides whether to use an open or a closed list system. Some Member States, such as the UK, divide their territory up into regional electoral districts, while others have a single electoral district.  In the UK there are 12 electoral districts. However, there are common EU rules which lay down that the elections must be by direct universal suffrage as well as free and confidential. MEPs must be elected on the basis of proportional representation.

The election period is determined at EU level but countries may decide on the exact day of the elections according to their voting traditions. European elections usually span four days, with voting in the UK and the Netherlands taking place on Thursday and residents of most other countries casting their vote on Sunday. EU citizens living in an EU country other than their country of origin are entitled to vote and stand in European elections in their country of residence but national law may lay down specific procedures for how to do this.

One of the first tasks of the incoming Parliament will be to elect a new President of the European Commission (the EU’s executive body). The Lisbon Treaty states that the choice for this post must
take account of the election results. Candidates for the remaining Commission portfolios will have to pass a tough parliamentary vetting process too.

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I'm not sure if I'm registered to vote, how do I find out?

By calling your local elections office or going to www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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When can I register to vote?

Any time you like, but the deadline for registering to vote is 6th May 2014.

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How can I vote?

You can vote in person, by post or by proxy (appointing someone to vote on your behalf).

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What is the deadline for applying for postal and proxy voting?

The deadline for applying for postal voting is 5pm on 7th May 2014.

The deadline for applying for a proxy vote is 5pm on 14th May 2014.

In Northern Ireland the deadline for applying for a postal or proxy vote is 1st May 2014.

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What is the deadline for returning postal votes?

Postal votes must be received by 10pm on pollling day.

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If I have a postal vote and have missed the post/forgotten to send it, can I still vote?

Yes, just take your postal vote along to the polling station between 7am and 10pm on election day.

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I am a British citizen living abroad. How do I register to vote in the European elections?

You can register as an overseas voter as long as you were registered to vote in the UK during the last 15 years. The deadline for voting by post for British citizens is the same as for domestic voters: by close of poll on election day. You can also apply to vote by proxy if you are living abroad.

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I am an EU citizen living in the UK and want to know where and how I can register to vote in the European elections.

As an EU citizen and as long as you are resident here in the UK you can register to vote in the European elections.

In addition to registering you will need to fill out a European Parliament Voter Registration Form to declare that you will not be voting in the elections in your home country.

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Who is standing for election in the UK?

The main political parties have announced their candidates. Other parties have yet to announce their candidates. The Regional Returning Officers for all the European electoral regions in the UK will announce all candidates in their region once the deadline for nominations has passed on 24th April (22nd April for the South West).

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How does the voting system work?

The voting system for the European elections is by proportional representation - closed list - voting for a party or an independent candidate. For Northern Ireland the Single Transferable Vote is used (ranking the candidates in order of preference). The system is explained here:

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How many MEPs are there in total?

There are currently 766 MEPs in the European Parliament. In the last elections, in 2009, all 736 MEPs were elected.  In 2011, 18 additional MEPs brought the total to 754 and when Croatia joined in 2013 the number increased by 12 to 766. The Treaty of Lisbon allows for 751 but this has been temporarily raised until the end of this parliamentary term in 2014. In the 2014 elections some countries will be losing seats to bring the number down to 751.  The UK remains unaffected by the readjustment and will continue to have 73 MEPs also after the 2014 elections.

When will the results be announced?

Although counting can start after close of poll in the UK, results can only be declared after 9pm on Sunday 25th May (after the last close of poll in Europe). The counts are overseen by Local Returning Officers who report the results to the Regional Returning Officers. The RROs will then declare the results for the region some time after 9pm on Sunday 25th.

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How are the European Parliament President and committee chairs appointed?

At the first plenary session after the European elections Parliament elects a new President. The 14 new Vice-Presidents and Quaestors are also elected.

All elected offices in the European Parliament, i.e. President, Vice-President, Quaestor, Committee Chair and Vice-Chair, and Delegation Chair and Vice-Chair, are renewed every two and half years, so once in the 5-year legislative term. Current office-holders can be confirmed for a second mandate.

In electing the President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors, account should be taken of the need to ensure an overall fair representation of Member States and political views.

European Parliament President

The first act of a newly-elected European Parliament is to elect its President. If s/he is re-elected, the outgoing President will preside over the election of his or her successor. Otherwise this task is performed by one of the outgoing Vice-Presidents in order of precedence or, in the absence of any of them, the Member having held office for the longest period (Rule 12 of Parliament's Rules of Procedure).

Candidates for the Presidency may be proposed either by a political group or by a minimum of forty MEPs (Rule 13).

The election is held by secret ballot. Unusually for a vote in the European Parliament, MEPs take part by marking their preferred candidate on a paper ballot and placing it in a ballot box. The process is overseen by eight tellers, chosen by lot from among the MEPs.

To be elected, a candidate must win an absolute majority of the valid votes cast, i.e. 50% plus one (Rule 14). Blank or spoiled ballots do not count in calculating the majority required.  

If no candidate is elected at the first ballot, the same or other candidates may be nominated for a second round of voting under the same conditions. This can be repeated at a third round if necessary, again with the same rules.

If no-one is elected at the third ballot, the two highest-scoring candidates in that round proceed to a fourth ballot, where the one receiving the greater number of votes wins. (Should there be a tie at this stage, the older candidate is declared the winner).

The newly-elected President then takes the chair and is entitled to make an opening address (although s/he may also choose to make just a few short remarks, with a more formal speech at a later date), before presiding over the election of the Vice-Presidents and Quaestors.

Vice-Presidents and Quaestors

Candidates for the posts of Vice-President and Quaestor may also be presented either by a political group or by at least 40 Members. The vice-presidential election is also held using a paper-based secret ballot, with a single ballot paper. Candidates must obtain the support of an absolute majority of those casting valid ballots, with a second round held under the same conditions if all 14 posts are not filled on the first round. A third round may then be held if there are still vacancies, at which point a relative majority is enough for election to one of the remaining positions.

The order in which candidates are elected determines the order of precedence (Rule 15). If the number of candidates proposed is the same as the number of positions to be filled - fourteen - then they will be elected by acclamation, with a vote held simply to determine the order of precedence. A similar procedure is followed for the election of the Quaestors (Rule 16).  

Vice-Presidents may replace the President in performing his or her duties when necessary, including chairing plenary sittings. (Rule 21) They are also members of the Bureau, the body responsible for all administrative, staff and organisational matters in Parliament. The five Quaestors deal with administrative matters directly affecting MEPs themselves. (Rule 26).

Committee chairs

After the constitutive sitting of Parliament (and after the part session in the mid-term, when officeholders are elected), Parliament's standing committees will elect their Chairs and Vice-Chairs. Chairs and Vice-Chairs may also be confirmed for a second mandate in the elections taking place in the mid-term of the legislature. Parliament's inter-parliamentary delegations will do likewise.

Each standing committee elects its Bureau, consisting of a Chair and of Vice-Chairs, in separate ballots. The number of Vice-Chairs to be elected is determined by the full Parliament upon a proposal by the Conference of Presidents.

Where the number of candidates corresponds to the number of seats, the election may take place by acclamation. If this is not the case, the election takes place by secret ballot. If there is only one candidate, he or she will have to be backed by an absolute majority of the votes cast, including votes for and against.

If, at the first ballot, there is more than one candidate for each seat, the candidate who obtains an absolute majority of the votes cast, including votes against and in favour, is elected. At the second ballot, the candidate who obtains the highest number of votes is elected. In the event of a tie, the oldest candidate prevails. As is the case for electing the President, in the event of a second ballot, new candidates may be nominated.

Parliament’s standing interparliamentary delegations will also elect their Chairs and Vice-Chairs, using the same procedure as for committees (Rule 191 and 198).

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How are political groups formed?

MEPs from different EU countries form political groups on the basis of their political affinities. To get the formal status of a political group it must consist of at least 25 MEPs, elected in at least one quarter of the Member States (i.e. at least 7). No MEP may belong to more than one political group.

When a group is set up, the President of Parliament must be notified in a statement specifying the name of the group, its members and its presidium.

Normally, Parliament does not evaluate the political affinity of group members. By forming a group, MEPs accept by definition that they have political affinity. Only when this is denied by the MEPs concerned Parliament will have to evaluate whether the group has in fact been constituted in conformity with the rules.

Political groups are provided with a secretariat and administrative facilities, funded from Parliament's budget. Parliament’s Bureau sets the rules for how these funds and facilities are managed and audited “Non-attached" MEPs (i.e. those who do not belong to a political group) are also provided with a secretariat and have rights under the rules set by the Bureau.

The funds available are intended to cover the administrative and operational cost of a group's staff as well as expenditure on political and information activities in connection with the European Union's political activities.

The budget may not be used to finance any form of European, national, regional or local electoral campaign or to finance political parties at national and European level or their dependent bodies.

How are the Commission President and Commissioners appointed?

Commission President

Under the Lisbon Treaty, Parliament's role in electing the Commission President has become more prominent. The European Council, composed of the EU's heads of state and government, need to
base their proposal for a candidate Commission President on the results of the European Parliament elections. The European Parliament will then vote on the proposed candidate, who will need a
qualified majority, i.e. at least half of all MEPs, to be elected.

If the candidate does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, will have one month in which to propose a new candidate.

(Lisbon Treaty Article 9 D, paragraph 7).

Commissioners

The Council, in agreement with the Commission President-elect, adopts the list of designated members of the Commission.

These Commissioners-designate first appear before parliamentary  committees in their prospective fields of responsibility. The hearings are held in public. Each committee then meets in camera to draw up its evaluation of the candidate's expertise and performance,  which is sent to the President of the Parliament and which in the past, has prompted candidates to withdraw. The Commission’s President-elect next presents the College of Commissioners and its programme at a sitting of Parliament.

The Commission President, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and other members of the Commission, then need to be approved in a vote of consent by Parliament.

Parliament may defer the vote until the following sitting (European Parliament Rule 106 (5)).

After the President and Commissioners have been approved by Parliament, they are appointed by the Council, acting by a qualified majority.

In the event of a substantial portfolio change during the Commission's term of office, the filling of a vacancy or the appointment of a new Commissioner following the accession of a new Member State, the Commissioners concerned again appear before the relevant committees.

What is a political party at European level?

A political party at European level is an organisation with a political programme, which is composed of national parties and individuals as members and which is represented in several EU Member
States. See Article 10 paragraph 4 of the Treaty on European Union and Article 224 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

How are political parties at European level funded?

Since July 2004, European political parties at European level have been able to receive annual funding from the European Parliament. The funding takes the form of an operating grant. It can cover up to 85% of the expenditure of a party, while the rest should be covered by own resources, such as membership fees and donations.

The grant can be used to meet the expenditure directly linked to the objectives set out in the party's political programme, such as:

 meetings and conferences,
 publications, studies and advertisements,
 administrative, personnel and travel costs, or
 campaign costs connected to European elections.

The grant may not be used to meet expenditure such as, inter alia:

 campaign costs for referenda and elections (except for European elections),
 direct or indirect funding of national parties, election candidates and political foundations both
at national and at European level, or
 debts and debt service charges.

What is a political foundation at European level?

A political foundation at European level is an organisation affiliated with a political party at European level which underpins and complements the objectives of that party. A political foundation at European level observes analyses and contributes to debate on European public policy issues. It also engages in related activities, such as organising seminars, training, conferences and studies.

What are "Intergroups" and how do they work?

Intergroups are unofficial groupings of MEPs who are interested in a particular topic which does not necessarily fall within the scope of the European Parliament's normal work but is important to  wider society. Intergroups hold informal exchanges of views and promote exchanges between MEPs and civil society.

As intergroups are not official organs of Parliament, they do not express Parliament's views. They must not engage in any activities which might be confused with Parliament's official activities.

Parliament's presidium has laid down conditions for establishing intergroups, which are formed at the start of each parliamentary term (for example an application must be signed by at least three political groups and a yearly declaration of financial interests is required). If these conditions are met, political groups may provide intergroups with logistical support.

Chairs of intergroups must declare any support they receive in cash or kind. These declarations must be updated every year and are held in a public file.

What happens to legislation unfinished at the end of this parliamentary term?

Although MEPs do their utmost to finish legislative procedures before the current parliamentary term ends, inevitably some legislation will remain pending before the May 2014 elections. To accommodate this, the so-called "principle of continuity" establishes that all legislation voted in plenary, whether in first or second reading or in consultation, will keep its legal status for the next Parliament. MEPs in the new Parliament are legally bound by the text approved in the previous term.

This means that after the elections, the Council can approve the previous Parliament's first reading and thus bring the legislation into force.

This differs from what happens in most of the EU's national parliaments, where all unfinished legislation dealt with by the previous parliament falls.

However,  Rule 59 of the European Parliament's rules of procedure allows the new Parliament (upon request by a committee and in agreement with the Conference of Presidents - the EP President and political group leaders) to ask the Commission to refer its proposal(s) to Parliament again, so as to allow the new House to take its own position.

In the event of changes in procedures or legal basis (as happened with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty when many topics for which Parliament previously was merely consulted came under the co-decision procedure), the new Parliament may take a new  position on any of those files. All non-legislative resolutions fall with the change of term.