Page last updated at 06:12 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 07:12 UK

Q&A: European election in Wales

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg
EU law obliges the parliament to meet in Strasbourg 12 times a year

Who have been Wales' Members of the European Parliament until now?

If you live in Wales you have had four MEPs representing you for the past five years, elected under a system of proportional representation (PR). With Wales as one European constituency, two Labour politicians were elected in 2004 (Glenys Kinnock and Eluned Morgan), one Conservative (Jonathan Evans) and one Plaid Cymru (Jill Evans). All four MEPs represent the whole of Wales, rather than individual areas within it.

What do MEPs do?

The European Commission drafts laws, but MEPs in the European Parliament amend, or reject them. Increasing amounts of EU legislation drafted by the European Commission are affected by MEPs decisions. But any changes must be agreed by the governments of member states, whose representatives meet as the Council of Ministers. MEPs also have the power to dismiss the commission and hold hearings on new commissioners. Full, or plenary meetings, do take place regularly in Strasbourg but most MEPs do most of their work in Brussels, the site of their main parliament building and where committees examine legislation and consult the commission and Council of Ministers. MEPs also have the final say on roughly half of the EU budget.

How much does EU legislation influence my life?

More than many people realise. Amongst the legislation capturing the attention of the UK media in recent years have been the Working Time Directive and caps on mobile phone roaming charges. The Working Time Directive would limit employees hours here to an average 48 hours a week and regulate how many breaks and holidays they are entitled to. But fifteen member states, including the UK, negotiated an opt-out from the directive, which the European Parliament voted to cancel last December. However the opt-outs remain in place, for now at least, after the parliament failed to reach agreement with member states and the European Commission on phasing it out.

Last month MEPs voted to impose lower EU-wide caps on the costs of sending texts, and making voice calls and using the internet on mobile phones.

In recent years, the European Parliament has also voted on targets to combat climate change, to standardise food labelling and to regulate pesticides and chemicals more tightly.

Have the results of European elections changed much over the years?

European elections are held every five years. Before the last elections, in 2004, Wales had five MEPs. This was cut to four that year when ten new states joined the EU.

In 2004 two Labour, one Conservative and one Plaid Cymru MEP were elected.

In 1999 Labour won two seats, Plaid Cymru two and Conservatives one.

In 1994 things were very different, because in those elections and previous European elections Welsh MEPs were elected under the traditional first-past-the-post system, the same as is used for UK general elections. Because Labour won 56% of the vote it won all five of the seats and dominated all the previous elections since the first European poll was held in 1979.

How and when can I vote?

Local polling stations will be open throughout the UK between 7am - 10pm on Thursday 4 June. Polling cards are being sent to electors giving the address of the polling station, though most voters do not need to bring the card with them to vote.

Alternatively, you could also use a postal vote (application forms are available from aboutmyvote.co.uk or your local council's electoral services department). But if you want to vote by post and have not yet applied you will need to be quick about it. You must apply by 1700 BST on Tuesday 19 May. As well as being returned by mail, postal votes can also be handed in to council offices or polling stations. They must be received by the polling station or returning officer, who runs the election, by 10pm on 4 June.

If you need someone to vote on your behalf you can ask for a proxy vote. You must apply by 1700 BST Wednesday 27 May (application forms available from aboutmyvote.co.uk or your local council's electoral services department). If you change your mind and want to vote in person you can still do so on polling day, provided your proxy has not already voted on your behalf or applied to vote as proxy by post.

A plane flies in front of the sun
MEPs voted on targets to tackle climate change by cutting carbon emissions

When is the rest of the EU voting?

The Netherlands votes on 4 June, like the UK. Most of the rest of the EU votes on Sunday 7 June.

What does the ballot paper look like?

In Wales it is white and headed 'Election for the European Parliament WALES REGION'. (While Wales is a nation, in European terms it is referred to as a region).

The paper contains instructions to vote once (x) in one blank box. Each political party is listed alphabetically in a series of boxes, followed by individual candidates.

Political parties' candidates are listed underneath the party name. The higher up the list a party candidate, the more likely he or she is to be elected.

What is the voting system ?

It is a form of proportional representation called the D'hondt system.

It allocates the seats to parties in relation to the number of votes cast in Wales, but all you need to know as a voter is you must put a cross on the ballot paper by the party of your choice.

When will we get the result?

All the countries will have voted by 2100 BST on Sunday, 7 June, and the first results, including those from Wales, are expected that night. The regional returning officer for Wales, Pembrokeshire-based Bryn Parry Jones, will be announcing the Welsh results. It is hoped we will know the outcome for Wales by around midnight.




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