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10 key facts on the European Parliament election

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European Parliament
European Parliament

Elections for a new European Parliament take place over four days from May 22 across the 28 countries of the European Union, with 751 seats at stake, AFP reported on Sunday, May 11th.

Here is guide of 10 key facts on the vote.

1. DATE: May 22-25
Some 382 million voters across the EU will be called to the polls on different days; in Britain and the Netherlands on May 22; in Ireland and the Czech Republic on May 23; on May 24 it is notably Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and Italy’s turn. Voters in the remaining 20 countries cast their ballots on May 25.

2. 751 MEPs
The number of parliamentary seats allocated to each country varies according to its population. Germany gets 96 MEPs, or members of the European Parliament, followed by France with 74, and Italy and the UK each with 73 each. Smaller countries Luxembourg, Malta, Cyprus and Estonia each elect six members.

Voters choose a closed list, meaning they opt for a party list not candidates, using a proportional representation voting system. In most cases, there is a single electorate covering the entire country. But some of the larger EU states, for example France and Britain, are divided into electorates. Belgium’s electorates reflect the country’s linguistic divide (French, Dutch and German).

3. 1979
The European Parliament has been elected by universal suffrage since 1979, making this year’s poll the eighth in history. Before that, Parliament was made up of representatives from national parliaments. MEPs are elected for five-year terms.

4. TURNOUT FELL TO 43 PCT IN 2009
Voting is compulsory in only four countries: Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Luxembourg. As a result, voter turnout can vary and has been declining in recent years. In 1979, 63 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, 20 years later that had gone down to 43 percent.

5. SEVEN POLITICAL GROUPS
MEPs gather on the floor of Parliament along ideological, not national, lines. That’s in spite of the fact that often national considerations play a part in how MEPs vote.

There are seven groupings in the outgoing Parliament: the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) ; the Socialists and Democrats (S& D), the Liberals, Greens, the radical left, conservatives (mainly British, Polish and Czechs who do not identify with the EPP) and eurosceptics (mainly British and Polish MEPs). The far-right is hoping to create its own grouping in the new parliament around the French National Front and the Dutch People’s Party.

6. FOUR TOP EU JOBS
After the poll, the top jobs in four EU institutions will be up for grabs. Potentially most powerful is the presidency of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. For the first time, the heads of state or government of the bloc’s 28 members will be required to take into account the result of the parliamentary elections in choosing the new Commission chief. However some analysts are skeptical about whether Europe’s leaders will opt for one of the five candidates put forward by the parliament’s main groups.
European Council president Herman Van Rompuy will discuss who will take over from current Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso at a dinner days after the vote, on May 27.

7. PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT
The key post of European Parliament president, or speaker, which was shared in the outgoing legislature by the centre-right EPP and Socialist S& D, will be determined by vote during the new assembly’s first session July 1 to 3.

8. EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT
Heads of state and government will decide who takes over from Van Rompuy as the European Council president in November. The winner could well be one of the candidates currently running for the job of European Commission president.

9. THE 28-MEMBER COMMISSION
Once the Commission president has been chosen, the remaining 27 commissioners will be appointed -- one for each member state. Among them will be the head of the EU’s foreign policy service -- a prestigious position currently held by Britain’s Catherine Ashton that is hotly contested by member states.

10. ONE SEAT, TWO WORKPLACES
As a result of horse-trading among states, the European Parliament has an unusual arrangement under which it holds 12 plenary sessions a year in its primary location in the French city of Strasbourg. But the bulk of its committee work takes place in Brussels, where a large building provides facilities to parliamentary staff and officials.
Each month, around 5, 000 people -- including political staffers, public servants, interpreters and Commission representatives -- are required to travel between the two cities. For several years there has been a concerted campaign to scrap Strasbourg as a seat of Parliament, with critics pointing to the high cost of travel between the two cities.

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