Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Sunday, 3 May 2009 00:00 UK

Countdown to Euro decision time

European Parliament building
More than 300 million voters across 27 countries will be asked to elect 736 MEPs to attend parliament in Strasbourg (above) and Brussels

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

This summer a major international event is coming to a town near you.

Over four days in June, hundreds of millions of people will be asked to take to the streets to make decisions which will shape the future governance of more than two dozen countries.

Okay, okay, it's the European elections - you know, that poll where not a huge number of people elect politicians they've never really heard of as MEPs and send them off to Brussels and Strasbourg, sometimes barely to be seen again.

But, with a global financial crisis, and issues such as immigration and the European time working directive at the fore, these polls are a fairly big deal.

Between 4 June and 7 June, 375 million voters across 27 countries will have the chance to elect 736 members of the European Parliament.

It might not seem so relevant in Scotland - just six MEPs will be elected, down from seven in the last election, due to EU expansion.

The level of interest in Euro elections in the UK has always been proven by the historically low turnout, although the figure has tended to be higher in Scotland

There are still plenty of issues for voters to get their teeth into, including fishing, farming and ferries, as well as the all-engulfing financial crisis.

It is also hoped changes in the rules for MEP allowances will dispel the "gravy train" perception, held in some quarters, of life as a Euro parliamentarian.

And there is the timing of the elections too. Parties will be keen to use the results to predict the outcome of the next Westminster election, which will be held by next summer.

The Euro Elections fall on the same day as local elections in England - the date was shifted so the two coincided.

But, with no such elections in Scotland much of the focus north of the border will most likely fall on the battle for Euro votes between Labour and the SNP - although the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will also be fighting hard to win seats.

And the outcome can have political ramifications too. Remember the last Euro elections in 2004? The SNP's result - 19.7% of the vote - came before John Swinney quit as leader of the party.

Last time round, Labour took a 26.4% share in Scotland, the Conservatives stood at 17.8%, while the Lib Dems - which returned one MEP compared to two for the other main parties, won 13.1% of the vote.

The level of interest in Euro elections in the UK has always been proven by the historically low turnout, although the figure has tended to be higher in Scotland with the exception of 2004.

'Long divorce'

It is thought all-postal voting in certain areas - which will not be happening this time and a strong push from UKIP - drove up the vote in England.

In the European Parliament, political parties align themselves to larger groups, which generally give them more say on issues, such as gaining committee seats.

After the 2009 election, groups will need at least 25 MEPs from seven states to win recognition.

The SNP has membership of the European Free Alliance, which forms a group with the Greens, while British Labour MEPs make up part of the second largest group, the Party of European Socialists.

The British Liberal Democrats - surprise, surprise - are part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

The British Conservatives, meanwhile, have been involved in a long divorce from the parliament's largest group, the centre-right, lengthily-titled European People's Party and European Democrats.

This spat is over the the group's claimed federalist leanings - the Tories will name new partners after the election.

John Swinney
The SNP, under John Swinney, returned two MEPs in 2004

And what about the European Parliament itself?

Sometimes it may seem we only hear from Brussels when the bureaucrats pass fabled regulations on what shape our bananas should be.

But, from its humble beginnings as an indirectly elected assembly, the European Parliament has built up its bank of powers.

Parliament can now, among other things, sack the Commission with a two-thirds majority and make laws jointly with other EU institutions.

MEPs also have the right to be consulted on issues such as agriculture and tax laws and foreign and security policy.

Despite this, it is still argued the member states in the European Council and the appointed members of the Commission still have the greater clout.

Polling takes place in the UK on 4 June. The UK count will be on Sunday 7 June with one exception - the Western Isles will not count votes or declare a result on the Sabbath.

Parliament expansion

So, while the substantial Scottish picture will have emerged by then the final result will not be known until the Monday.

Scotland's MEPs are returned on a party list system with votes counted under the D'Hondt system - as used in Scottish Parliament Elections - although in the Euro polls, Scotland counts as a single region within the UK.

Votes in Scotland are counted by the 32 local authorities before being transmitted to Edinburgh city chambers.

On Monday 8 June, anxious candidates and parties will gather at the Scottish capital's Mercat Cross, on the Royal Mile.

The returning officer will make a declaration, the traffic stopped, victory speeches made and then, by late-morning, it will all be over.

When the European Parliament re-convenes on 14 July one of the most immediate issues on people's lips will be the Lisbon Treaty - as previously rejected by Ireland.

If ratified, the number of MEPs will rise to 751 members in total, with one more from the UK, bringing its number up to 73.

But that extra member would come from the most populated English region - Scotland's membership would remain unchanged.

Now, only another five years until the start of the next Euro election campaign.

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