The European elections of 22-25 May 2014 give voters the chance to influence the future political course of the European Union when they elect the 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent their interests for the next five years.
When is election day?
Each member state has its own electoral laws and each one decides on what day its citizens will go to the polls during the four-day election period from 22 to 25 May 2014. British voters will turn out on 22 May to elect their 73 MEPs. Irish voters will choose their 11 MEPs between 22 and 25 May (exact date to be decided by Irish Government). The results from all 28 states will be announced on the evening of Sunday 25 May.
How many MEPs will be elected?
There have been 766 Members of the European Parliament since Croatia joined the EU in July 2013 but this number is being scaled down at the 2014 elections to 751 and will stay at that level in future. These MEPs will represent over 500 million citizens in 28 member states. The seats are allocated among the various states, by the EU treaties, on the basis of 'degressive proportionality', meaning countries with larger populations have more seats than smaller ones but the latter have more seats than strict proportionality would imply.
Why are these elections different?
As the European Union seeks to pull through the economic crisis and EU leaders reflect on what direction to take in future, these are the most important European elections to date.
They not only allow voters to pass judgment on EU leaders' efforts to tackle the eurozone crisis and to express their views on plans for closer economic and political integration; they are also the first elections since the Lisbon Treaty of 2009 gave the European Parliament a number of important new powers.
One major new development introduced by the Treaty is that, when the EU member states nominate the next president of the European Commission to succeed José Manuel Barroso in autumn 2014, they will - for the first time - have to take account of the European election results. The new Parliament must endorse this candidate: it 'elects' the Commission president, in the words of the Treaty. This means voters now have a clear say in who takes over at the helm of EU government.
Of the 13 European political parties, five have nominated a candidate to succeed the current Commission President. The EPP has nominated Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourg prime minister and former Eurogroup president, the PES candidate is Martin Schulz, current president of the European Parliament, the Liberals and Democrats have opted for Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and current Liberal group leader in the EP, the Greens have nominated a duo of current MEPs, French José Bové and German Ska Keller, while the European Left have put forward Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Greek SYRIZA party.
The new political majority that emerges from the elections will also shape European legislation over the next five years in areas from the single market to civil liberties. The Parliament - the only directly elected EU institution - is now a linchpin of the European decision-making system and has an equal say with national governments on nearly all EU laws.