Why bother with the European elections?

by Marita Thomsen

How far do I care? To my front door? The end of my street? The borders of my council? city? country? I find that I pay most attention to what happens close to my family, friends and myself, of course.

We all, well, almost all, have to take out the rubbish regularly, so we notice when there is a change in the collection services. Library users notice when budget cuts affect opening times. Parents care about how local schools are run. It is easy to relate to what affects us directly – even politics become more tangible at the local level – council politics is about everyday concerns like rubbish, schools, parking and how much tax money to spend on libraries. Local residents get to have direct say in council politics only once ever four years, which is probably for the best; too many cooks spoil the broth, it would probably take all 220,000 or so residents of Camden a very long time to collectively agree on a rubbish collection schedule.

This year we will be delegating the pleasure of political administration in local council elections on May 22.  So far, so close to home, however, this is not the only power we will grant on that Thursday. We will also be asked to choose who we want to represent us in the European Parliament, the institution that represents the people of Europe in the EU structure.

We don’t seem very keen on voting for the European Parliament – only a third of registered UK voters (34.7%) bothered to vote in the last elections in 2009. Perhaps because home is where the heart is? The turnout in the last general elections was double that – 65%. But maybe also because European politics feel less tangible than local or national politics, after all, the EU does not have a say in our taxes, benefits or many other affairs of the wallet.

In that case, what exactly is it we are delegating the European Parliament the power to do so far from home? The power to affect daily life in the UK or merely to decide on the appropriate curvature of cucumbers? If the latter is the case, we should only bother voting if we have really strong feelings about cucumbers. Alas, it is a myth, one based on historical facts, it is true, but a myth today, that the European Parliament is of little or no political consequence. In fact, it has direct say over a raft of legislation ranging from non-discrimination legislation (including on grounds of sexual orientation) to curbing free distribution of plastic bags that harm the environment, to mention two examples.

Having said all this, it still feels very abstract, delegating power to someone in a Parliament all the way across the Channel, especially since this representative will be making decisions based, not just on my needs, but also the interests of millions of strangers, who are our fierce competitors in the Eurovision song contest. Moreover, some people may feel that we have so little in common with other Europeans that the EU should not even exist. However, in deciding to vote, whether or not we think the EU should exist is irrelevant, because, well, it does.

So what might we consider when weighing up if we should bother to vote?

First, self-interest of course, anything that is decided by the European Parliament over in Brussels will have an impact on us in the UK. So, if you have an opinion on anything from agriculture to copyright or non-discrimination, this is your chance to pick a candidate who agrees with you and, hopefully, makes your views count.

Second, globalisation, it is not going away, so we might as well try to get something positive out of it. Overall, we are more mobile than ever, we travel on holiday, some study abroad, perhaps we will even get a job abroad, so why not try to make life easier for ourselves when moving. For example, legislation regarding same-sex families varies greatly across the EU from areas with equal rights, like the UK, to countries such as Poland where same-sex families have no rights. The EU cannot directly legislate on this matter, family legislation is in the hands of each national government, however, EU citizens are guaranteed the right to live and work freely wherever they choose in the EU and there are initiatives to push for the recognition of same-sex family rights on the basis of this freedom to move in the EU.

Third, globalisation – yes, I know I already mentioned it – but anything decided on such a large scale as the EU – 28 countries with over half a billion people – can also shape global trends, so why not contribute to shaping the world we want to see, for example one where all LGBTQI people are protected by legislation banning discrimination.

Last, but most importantly, you may choose not to delegate, but others will. Not voting leaves it up to everyone else to decide for us. People without strong views are probably most likely not to vote, while anyone with a very radical opinion is perhaps likely to exercise the right to decide. So, if you would like the Europe and the UK to be shaped by moderate or progressive politics, make sure to make your voice count against more radical ones.

It is not the curvature of cucumbers that is a stake. So, whether you swing left or right, are into cucumbers or not, get registered (May 6 deadline) and make sure you whip out your voting card on the day. Should you be unable to reach the polling station on May 22, you can always vote by post, that is what I will be doing this year (May 7 deadline for registering). There really isn’t any excuse. And, remember, if you don’t bother to vote, you forfeit your right to gripe about both local and European Parliament decisions. So, if you think you might need someone to berate, pick a candidate.

You will find Camden dates and deadlines below as well as links to further information about voting.

Please note: EU citizens resident in the UK are entitled to vote in both local council and European Parliament elections in the UK.

Key dates:

Last day for Receipt of Applications to Register to Vote: 6th May 2014

Last day for Receipt of New Postal Vote Applications:     5pm 7th May 2014

Last day to Change Absent Vote arrangements:               5pm 7th May 2014

Last day for Receipt of Proxy Vote Applications:              5pm 14 May 2014

Day of Poll:                                                                7am to 10pm 22 May 2014

Camden Council information on the May 22, 2014, elections

https://www.camden.gov.uk/ccm/content/council-and-democracy/elections-and-voting/may-22-elections.en

European Parliament Information Office in the UK

http://www.europarl.org.uk

Why bother with the European elections?
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