Prime Minister Theresa May is hopeful that she can push a Brexit deal through Parliament before the European elections at the end of May, which will mean the UK will not participate. But, it seems increasingly likely that the UK will still be a member of the European Union at that point and therefore be involved in this process. So how do the European elections actually work and who votes in them?
Who votes in European elections?
On May 23, EU voters will cast their votes for the European Parliament, which is the body that is responsible, along with the Council of Ministers from member states, for making laws and approving budgets.
Membership in the European Parliament enables the different interests member states to be represented within the EU.
Similarly to the UK general elections, EU countries go to the polls to elect members for the European Parliament every five years.
These elected members are called MEPs which stands for Members of the European Parliament.
Each country is allocated a set number of seats roughly depending on the size of its population.
The smallest member state is Malta – with a population of around half a million, it has a corresponding six members sitting in the European Parliament.
While the largest member is Germany – with a population of 82 million and a subsequent 96 MEPs.
Currently, there are a total of 751 MEPs representing the 28 nation states of the EU.
The UK currently has 73 members of European Parliament.
Candidates are permitted to either stand as individuals or can stand as representatives of any one of the UK’s political parties.
How do European elections work?
MEPs must be elected using a system of proportional representation – which is an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.
For example, a party which gains a third of the votes wins a third of the seats.
Once elected, the MEPs represent regions of the country according to population, for instance the north-east of England and Northern Ireland have three MEPs, while the south-east of England, including London, has 18.
Turnout in the UK for European Parliament elections tends to be low by EU standards and compared to other UK election standards.
In 2014, when they were last held, only 36 percent of those eligible to vote did, compared to 43 percent in the EU as a whole.
During that election, the UK spent £104 million on running the poll as well as mailing out candidate information and cards.
The government has said that if the UK does not end up participating in the 2019 elections, it will reimburse local returning officers, those responsible for running elections, for any expenses already spent.
But the real question is: what happens if the UK leaves the EU?
If the UK leaves before MEPs are elected, there will be a reallocation of 27 of the UK’s seats to 14 other members states that are currently underrepresented – with the remaining positions to be set aside and possibly allocated to any new member states that join in the future.
The EU is planning to reduce the overall number of seats in the parliament from 751 to 705 when the UK leaves, which means some seats will be made redundant.
But if the UK elects MEPs and then passes a deal to leave the EU, the UK MEPs would not take their seats and vacancies would be left.