In the wake of the UK’s referendum decision to leave the union and the rise of anti-EU populism, the upcoming European Parliamentary elections come at a critical time for the European Union.

The parliament is the world’s only directly elected transnational assembly. In short, it represents the interests of EU citizens at the European level.

Every five years, each member state elects representatives who meet to debate and shape EU policy. As Europe prepares to vote once again, here’s everything you need to know about the elections.


Why are MEPs elected?

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) speak for EU citizens and protect the interests of the city or region that elected them.

They have the power to approve, amend or reject nearly all EU legislation. Most of their work is conducted in Brussels, but each month they meet in Strasbourg to take part in parliamentary sessions, where major topics affecting the EU are debated and votes are held.

Once elected, they can join specialised committees, which deal with areas like transport and tourism, or security and defence – there are 20 in all. These committees draw up proposals and write reports advising on new legislation.

Although they are elected by country, MEPs sit in political groups based on shared values, which gives individual members more influence. There are currently eight groups, but the two largest are the European People’s Party, with conservative and liberal-conservative member parties, and the Socialists & Democrats, a centre-left group.


How do the elections work?

The European elections are an opportunity for citizens to select the candidate they feel will best represent their interests in Europe. Everyone in the EU has the right to vote as long as they are registered to do so.

The ballots are held under national election regulations, supported by common rules set by the EU, which means how the vote is held may differ from country to country.

Citizens of each nation and people from other parts of the union who are resident in that country are eligible to stand for election. They often represent one of their country’s main political parties but independent candidates can also stand.

How many MEPs can each country have?

There are currently 751 MEPs. This number includes the seats allocated to the United Kingdom, which remains a member of the EU until its decision to leave – known as Brexit – is enacted. Some of its seats will then be redistributed to other countries, while the total number will be slightly reduced.

Seats in the European Parliament are allocated based on population size, according to what’s known as the “degressive proportionality” principle.

Member states like Germany, France, UK and Italy have comparatively more seats than less populated nations.

What’s does the European Parliament do?

Once elected, representatives play a crucial role in allocating the EU budget and shaping policy. The parliament shares power over these functions with the Council of the European Union.

The parliamentary assembly determines which laws will affect the daily lives of the EU’s 500 million citizens, addressing areas like freedom of movement, food safety, intellectual property issues, environmental protections and economic policy, among many others. It also deals with global challenges in areas like security, migration and climate change.

The EU’s charter emphasises the importance of protecting liberty, human rights and democracy, and its parliament plays a central role in upholding these principles.