European Parliament elections in Wales: What you need to know
Let’s face it, in the past, some of us have probably been guilty of not taking sufficient interest in the European Elections (*raises hand guiltily*).
In 2016, it was found that a made-up MEP, Elwyn Davies, was better recognised that most of Wales’ real MEPs. Turnout has also been consistently in the lower 30% bracket.
However, with Brexit in the balance, there is an expectation that this year’s elections, on Thursday, 23 May, will be more hotly contested.
Wales currently represents a single constituency in Europe, and elects 4 MEPs under the d’Hont method of party-list proportional representation.
That means that unlike First Past the Post elections where only the top candidate is elected in each constituency, the parties that come second, third and even fourth have a chance of getting an MEP elected.
At the last elections in 2014 and 2009, Labour, Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and UKIP have won one seat each.
In the 2004 elections, Labour won two and the Conservative and Plaid Cymru one each. In 1999 Wales had five MEPs, two Labour, two Plaid Cymru and one Conservative.
The Liberal Democrats and the Greens have never won a seat in Wales, and Change UK and the Brexit Party have only been formed recently.
Where do the parties stand on Brexit?
Plaid Cymru, the Greens, Change UK and the Liberal Democrats are all standing on a pro-Remain platform.
The Brexit Party (as their name suggest), UKIP and the Conservative Party all strongly support continuing with Brexit. Although the Brexit Party and UKIP are more likely to support a no-deal clean break while the Conservatives, under the current leadership, favour Theresa May’s slightly softer Brexit.
Labour’s position is much more ambiguous. There is support in the party membership for Remain, and the party’s proposed MEPs are pro-People’s Vote, but the party leadership have so far continued to favour some form of Brexit.
What is likely to happen?
Recent polling by YouGov suggested that in this election both UKIP and the Conservative Parties could lose their seats to the newly-formed Brexit Party.
The election is likely to be particularly tricky for the Conservatives who might well be punished for a failure to deliver Brexit by the original deadline at the end of March.
Failing to get an MEP elected would be a big change in fortunes for them after they came first in Wales ten years ago, in 2009.
Labour could find the European Elections tricky as well. If they do become a de facto second referendum, then sitting on the fence on Brexit could put them in a tricky position.
Solidly Remain-supporting voters could turn to Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens or Change UK instead.
We could, therefore, see the votes for the two main Westminster parties being squeezed by other parties who can afford to take a less nuanced approach to the issue.
Implications for the European Parliament
It’s worth remembering as well that these elections will have implications well beyond Wales, and even the UK.
Our votes will decide the makeup of the European Parliament, where political parties sit as members of larger European groups.
One of the pro-Brexit arguments was that the European Union is undemocratic. But in truth, the UK is a bit like California or New York in a US Presidential election. It’s one of the larger members and can have a big impact on the balance of power. The UK elects 73 of the 751 total seats.
Wales on its own is more like a Montana – we elect four of those MEPs. Not enough to swing the balance of power, perhaps, but still important.
You may be surprised to learn that some parties that stand against each other in the UK are actually part of the same groups in the European Parliament.
For instance, both Plaid Cymru and the Greens are part of the Greens–European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, despite fielding separate candidates.
UKIP and the Brexit Party might be going at it hammer and tongs for the hard Brexit vote at this election but both represent the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group at the European Parliament. Nigel Farage is the leader of this European Parliament group.
Labour sit as part of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, which is currently the second largest group with 86 of 750 members.
The Liberal Democrats are part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe, which is currently in a ruling coalition with Labour’s Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
The leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe is Guy Verhofstadt. You may also know him as the Chief Brexit Co-Ordinator in the European Parliament.
Joining them in the coalition is the largest group of all – the European People’s Party Group which has 218 MEPs. This is the group of Jean Claude Juncker, the current President of the European Commission.
However, no Welsh MEPs sit in this group and only two independent MEPs in the UK are part of it.
The Conservative Party sit in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which has 73 MEPs.
Who is standing?
Not all the candidates have been announced yet.
Two MEPs who have represented Wales at the European Parliament since 2009, Derek Vaughan for Labour and Kay Swinburne for the Conservatives, are bowing out.
Mark Whitcutt, Jackie Jones, Matthew Dorrance, and Mary Wimbury have been chosen by Labour.
Jill Evans of Plaid Cymru, who has held her seat since 1999, is standing again for re-election. Carmen Ria Smith, Patrick McGuinness and Ioan Bellin will also be vying for a second Plaid Cymru seat.
Nathan Gill, who has represented UKIP as an MEP since 2004, and had a brief sojourn as a Welsh Assembly Member for a year between 2016-17, is standing again for the Brexit Party.
UKIP has chosen Kris Hicks and Keith Edwards as its candidates.
Sam Bennett, Donna Lalek, Alistair Cameron, and Andrew Parkhurst will be standing for the Liberal Democrats.
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