MEP numbers to fall Nov03
When it comes to the European Elections, our electoral system
bewilders most voters. 'Who is my Member of the European Parliament? How
many do we have from our region? How are they selected and elected why can
I only vote for the Party?' are questions I hear all the time.
Until 1999, each county in East Anglia elected its own Member of
the European Parliament (MEP) on a first past the post system. In 1999,
despite Conservative opposition, the Government chose to switch to
proportional representation and extended the constituency from counties to
'Eastern Region' comprising six counties (Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex,
Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire). This region of 5.5
million people would be represented by 8 MEPs.
Such an election based on proportional representation offers the
electorate a choice of party but not of any specific candidate. Each party
chooses its candidates and expresses preference on the ballot paper
according to its own rules. Labour chooses centrally; the Liberals apply a
gender equality rule and the Conservatives offer a free selection to their
party members. The percentage of total votes cast determines the number of
seats a party can claim out of the total (8 in 1999 and 7 in 2004 for
It is not surprising that the UK turnout for the European Elections
in 1994 was 36% whilst with proportional representation and a larger
constituency in 1999 it dropped to 23% - the lowest in the European Union.
Our Region is represented by 57 MPs in Westminster but only 8 MEPs
in Brussels. How can 8 people from 4 political parties represent and meet
with so many constituents over such a vast constituency? Four elected
Conservative MEPs in 1999 acknowledged this and the Party chose to divide
the Eastern Region into four areas (Norfolk & Suffolk; Cambridgeshire
Hertfordshire; Essex) offering each one of its MEPs the chance to serve in
one area in particular and the Region in general.
I chose to serve the residents of Norfolk and Suffolk, although I
regularly respond to farmers, small businessmen and industries in the
other counties. In the European Parliament, I sit on the Industry,
External Trade, Research and Energy Select Committee as well as the
Committee for International Co-operation and Development. I have also
taken a keen interest in health and environment, agriculture and
fisheries, financial services, and fraud and mismanagement.
The next European Elections will take place on June 10, 2004. It
will also see the accession of 10 new Member States bringing the total
membership of the EU to 25 states with a population of almost 500 million.
With this enlargement, it was announced last week that the UK's allocation
of MEPs will drop from 87 to 78 and the Eastern Region will have only 7
With only 7 MEPs in our Region, it is vital that our people assess the manifestos and quality of the candidates of each political party in order to choose what is best for them. This is why a high turnout is crucial at next year's elections for the prosperity of our Region.