You might have heard that on May the 23rd that the UK will be voting for Members of the European Parliament, but aren’t we leaving the European Union? Why should I bother voting when it won’t matter anyway? Isn’t it just a waste of time?
Europe and the EU have always been controversial topics within the UK, and over the past 6-7 years they’ve been a near-constant aspect of debate; from Westminster and our devolved parliaments, to social media and between friends. It has also been divisive: we’ve seen election after referendum show that we as a country are divided, we’ve seen a rise in violent rhetoric and extremist views, and even the tragic murder of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament, a week before the 2016 referendum.
It’s safe to say that the UK’s relationship with the EU is complicated. However, with Brexit supposedly happening before the 31st of October at least, it still might seem a bit pointless to care about who your MEPs are when we’re on our way out anyway. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Here’s 5 reasons why you should vote on May the 23rd:
- Your vote really counts. The UK has 73 MEPs, the joint third highest number for any of the EU’s 28 member states. Whoever you choose to vote for, the upcoming elections give you the chance to really have your voice heard at a Europe-wide level, and the candidates you elect could have a massive impact on the European Parliament for however long we remain in it. The political party of the MEP you vote for also makes sure that your voice matters, as the European Parliament is broken up into “political groups” which each countries’ political parties can affiliate to. These groups can have a massive influence over the parliament, and due to the large number of MEPs the UK has, your decision can really make a difference. Find out more about the EU’s political groups here. The European Youth Forum has created a voter comparator tool that you can further use to compare the priorities of the different groupings.
- Send a message about Brexit. However you felt about the 2016 referendum, the European Parliament’s elections are a great way to show decision-makers how you feel about Brexit and the Government’s approach so far. A clear victory for pro-European or pro-Brexit MEPs would influence the decision the UK parties will make in the coming months. There are a large number of parties and candidates standing for these elections who represent a range of opinions and views. Proud ‘Remainer’ or ‘Brexiteer’? Somewhere in-between? Make your vote count! Find your region’s candidates here.
- It’s fairer for smaller parties. The UK uses a proportional representation system called the “d’Hondt system” for electing its MEPs. This means that there could be a better chance for smaller parties to gain seats than in our general elections! However, some people have also argued that the high number of small parties similar positions on key issues (like Brexit) could fragment the vote. Either way, if you support a political party that doesn’t often get seats in Westminster, your vote could be the deciding factor in whether or not your candidates become MEPs, and your party could potentially have a better shot than in the system we use for general elections. Find out more about the d’Hondt system here.
- This could be your last chance! If the UK really does leave the European Union before October the 31st, this could be your last ever opportunity to vote in an election for the European Parliament. Participating in the elections is a unique opportunity to vote alongside citizens from across 28 countries, electing representatives to a shared parliament with political groups that work hand-in-hand with colleagues from across borders to tackle issues. In a post-Brexit UK this would be an opportunity that future generations – our children, grandchildren, and even younger siblings – might not get: so if you’re eligible to vote, use your right while you still can!
- Speak up as a young person. The European Parliament elections typically have a bad turn-out for young people, and those aged 18-24 typically have the lowest voter registration of any age group (read more here). This means that some people say that young people don’t care about politics, or mark our turn-out down to laziness or a lack of interest in being an active citizen. However, just looking at the recent rise in young people taking a stand – from the Climate Strikes to the demonstrations and marches related to Brexit – it’s clear that they couldn’t be further from the truth. Regardless of Brexit, whether you’ve never voted before or campaign religiously at every election, voting on May the 23rd sends a message that you do care about politics, and you won’t let your voice be ignored. And even if you don’t decide to take part, remember that there’s hundreds of thousands of young people who just aren’t old enough, or aren’t quite eligible, who would jump at the opportunity to vote in something they care about.
Convinced? Thinking about it? Either way, you don’t have long left to register as registration closes on the 7th of May (register to vote here), and if you’re an EU citizen, or hold dual-citizenship, it’s a bit more complicated if you want to vote for MEPs in another country in the EU.
You also might have the chance to meet some of your MEP candidates, or attending hustings or debates, in the run up to May the 23rd! If you want to feel extra prepared for these hustings, check this document here with ideas of questions you can, on advancing youth’s position in societies.
Huw Sherrard is a UK Young Ambassador (Scotland) to the EU Youth Dialogue, the UK Youth Delegate to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and a member of the European Youth Card Association’s Youth Panel.