The vast majority of voters in the UK don’t care about the European Union.
Or at least that’s the inevitable conclusion that follows a brief examination of voter turnout in Great Britain at every EU election since 1979.
Voting is compulsory in Belgium, Greece and Cyprus but in the UK every eligible voter is free to make up their own mind whether or not to take a trip to the polling station and as a result turnout has never made it above 39 per cent.
But given the influence the EU has on our everyday lives that simple fact begs an equally simple question: Do people know what they are voting for?
Put simply the EU is an economic and political union between 28 member states, set up to promote peace and prosperity.
The elections set to take place across Europe between May 22 and 25 will give more than 500 million EU citizens the chance to vote for the people they want to represent their interests in the European Parliament – the only directly elected EU institution.
The European Parliament will be made up of 751 MEPs with 73 of them representing the UK.
And while the Council of the European Union, made up of government ministers from each EU country, has a say on passing laws, it is the European Parliament that is the major player when it comes to much of the decision making at the EU, acting in much the same way as the UK’s Parliament.
MEPs serve on five year terms and once they are elected they usually join a transnational political group - like an alliance between national parties from across Europe that share similar beliefs.
At the moment the EU has seven political groups comprising of more than 160 national parties and no group has ever had an overall majority in the European Parliament which means “compromise” is the watch word for getting things done.
MEPs are tasked with sitting on parliamentary committees, of which there are 20 in total, with each committee in charge of certain policy areas.
It is in these committees where draft legislation, originally drawn up by the European Commission, a body made up of 28 commissioners, one from each of the EU member states, is scrutinised and changed before being presented to the European Parliament to vote on.
And with the EU’s broad remit MEPs can find themselves voting on any number of issues, ranging from agriculture to civil liberties, the environment to consumer protection and from transport to research.
In short: The EU can have a say on just about everything that affects you and ultimately when it makes a decision it is spending your money to make it happen with a large portion of its cash coming from contributions from member countries.
With the economic crisis still affecting so much of the EU, Brussels chiefs have billed this month’s elections as the most important in its history.
Decisions made in the European Parliament over the next five years will shape the UK in significant ways long into the future.
So: Will you have your say on May 22?
The results of the European elections will be announced on Sunday May 25.
HOW THE VOTING WORKS:
The European elections are decided using a proportional representation system of voting.
Voters will be given a ballot paper which lists the political parties and the candidates they have put forward for the election.
Voters only get one vote, putting an X next to the party they want to represent them.
Once votes are counted up seats are handed out to the parties with the most using a quota system.
The UK uses a closed list system of candidate selection which means it is up to the party to choose which candidate will be given a seat - should the party win one.
As such, the first seat a party wins will go to the first person on their candidate list, the second will go to the candidate listed second and so on.
THE PARTIES CONTESTING THE ELECTION:
The UK is split into regions when it comes to voting for MEPs.
Gloucestershire is in the south west region which stretches from Tewkesbury to Lands’ End, via Gibraltar.
There are six seats available.
Here are the parties vying for your votes:
@An Independence from Europe
@British National Party
@UK Independence Party (UKIP)