European Elections: A dozen different ways to vote

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Indy Politics
THE European Parliament is the only multi-national body elected directly by the people it represents. But European electors cast their votes in a dozen different ways. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland and the UK, the voters will go to the polls on Thursday 9 June. Everyone else will wait until the following Sunday. The full results, even in Britain, will not be known until the end of the Sunday, or even some time on the Monday .

In Belgium and Luxembourg voting is compulsory; in some countries such as Italy, non-national residents may stand for election; in Greece, you must be at least 20 years old to vote (18 elsewhere). In the UK, MEPs represent one of 84 Euro-constituencies. The exception is Northern Ireland, which is a single constituency returning three members.

In France, the constituency is the whole country. The vote is on the basis of a party list whose composition and order is pre-determined by the national political parties; Luxembourgers also vote according to a national list, but they can vote for individual candidates from different lists.

There are no common rules about election finance, campaigns or deposits; in short, the only agreement is to disagree. Theoretically, parliament has promised to devise a uniform voting system, but no one expects it to happen soon. It took 16 years before an agreement to elect MEPs directly was hammered out and another three years - up to 1979 - for it to be applied. In the meantime, national voting systems with all their anomalies prevail.

For some MEPs such disparity is a reminder that the parliament is not really a mature legislature; for others, the fact that it has managed to unite around the ideal of closer integration is proof that is has earned greater power.

June's European elections will be run by the 12 national authorities of the EU member states. The right to vote is determined by national law (although, by agreement in Brussels, EU citizens will be able to vote in other countries for the first time). In the UK you must be at least 18, a citizen of the EU on the electoral roll in Britain, and eligible to vote in the country of your birth. Unlike national elections, members of the House of Lords have the vote. Election expenses are not as strict as in national elections. Political parties get no help but there is a ceiling on campaign costs per constituency. Candidates may spend up to a limit of pounds 2,000 and 3.1p per elector.