Tuesday, May 25, 1999 Published at 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
European parties and groups
Elections to the European parliament are carried out on a national basis and fought by national parties, but when the MEPs reach Strasbourg they sit in groups representing common political beliefs.
For example, British Labour MPs sit with German Social Democrats and members of the French Socialist Party in a group known as the Group of the Party of European Socialists, or PES.
The same group can sometimes appear to have different acronyms. This is because the label can also be constructed from a group's English name or the French version, so the PES is also known as the PSE, or Parti des Socialistes Européens.
There are nine of these groups at present in the European Parliament, with the following strengths at dissolution:
These groups do not mean a great deal to most members of the public, however, so for the purposes of this election, the BBC has arranged them under convenient labels in order to explain the political make-up of the Parliament:
The European groups
Group of the Party of European Socialists (PES or PSE) Mainstream left-wing parties such as the UK Labour Party, the French Socialist Party, the German Social Democrats and Pasok in Greece.
Group of the European People's Parties (EPP or PPE) Mainstream centre-right parties like the UK Conservatives or the Christian Democrats in Italy or Germany. Also Ireland's Fine Gael, Spain's People's Party and most of Forza Italia.
Group of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR) Liberal parties such as the UK Liberal Democrats, two centrist parties in the Netherlands (Freedom and Democracy, and Democrats 66), and the Centre Parties in both Sweden and Finland.
Group Union For Europe (UFE or UPE) Centre-right, but non-traditional and with a pro-European slant. It includes Ireland's Fianna Fail and France's Gaullist RPR, as well as two members of Forza Italia.
Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL or GUE/NGL) More radical left-wing parties such as the Communists in Portugal and Greece, and Spain's United Left.
The Green Group in the European Parliament (G or V) Environmental parties such as the Green Parties in Germany, Austria and Finland.
Group of the European Radical Alliance (ERA or ARE) Centre-left, but with a strong commitment to Europe, the group includes the Scottish National Party and France's Energie Radicale.
Group of Independents for a Europe of Nations (I-EN or I-EDN) An anti-European voice comprising some right wing parties, religious groups and independents, such as France's Majority for an Alternative Europe, the religious coalition in the Netherlands and the Ulster Unionist Party.
Independents (IND or NI) Not so much a group, but an amalgamation including far-right parties and independents. France's National Front, Austria's Freedom Party and Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party come under this heading.