Today voters have been heading to the polls for both Worcester City Council elections and the first European ballot in five years.

So what is it all about, and why are our MEPs so important?

There's a pretty important set of elections going on in Worcestershire, and that's not just at Worcester City Council.

People across Worcestershire and the entire West Midlands region are getting to vote seven MEPs into the European Parliament.

And despite the crucial role our European politicians play, in everything from the price of bananas to funds for new roads, apathy rules strong.

Ever since the first set of European elections in 1979 voter participation has been in steady decline.

The overall turnout figure in 1979 was 63 per cent, but in 2009 it was just 43 per cent, a fall that has mirrored council elections.

Yet MEPs will handle a budget worth £1.3 trillion from 2014-2020, and they make laws which affect people in this country as much as anywhere else in Europe.

They can't raise taxes, go to war or sack a government, but they can pass laws that impact on every householder in Worcestershire.

Most food labelling at your local supermarket is there because MEPs passed laws to force it to be displayed.

Immigration rules come from the EU, as do the rules compelling airline companies to display details on any taxes they levy on customers.

Limits on what mobile phone companies can charge customers abroad are EU-led, as is the climate change directive which calls upon EU countries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

There are 11 parties vying for votes this year in the region, with all eyes on UKIP, the right-wing party which is expecting big gains because of its popular anti-EU rhetoric.

But one factor which could threaten the party's outcome is the presence of five other strongly anti-EU parties campaigning on similar ideals.

The votes will be collected up tonight and sent to Birmingham City Council, where the results for the seven West Midlands seats will be released on Sunday to tie in with announcements across Europe.

At the moment, of the region's seven seats the Conservatives hold three, belonging to Malcolm Harbour, Anthea McIntyre and Philip Bradbourn.

Labour holds one in Michael Cashman, the Lib Dems also have one in Phil Bennion and MEP Mike Nattras was elected for UKIP but now belongs to 'An Independence from Europe' party after falling out with Nigel Farage.

MEP Nikki Sinclaire also used to be part of UKIP but now represents the 'We Demand a Referendum Now' party, as the seventh.


An Independence from Europe - led by former UKIP MEP Mike Nattras, wants to take Britain out of the EU without a referendum

British National Party - anti-EU, wants an exit, strongly right-wing

Conservatives - pledging to hold a referendum in 2017 if the party wins the general election next year

English Democrats - says it wants to "look after English interests" and scrap prescription charges and tuition fees for English people

Green Party - committed to the EU project, saying the debate does not have to become a shouting match over being 'in or out'

Harmony Party - calls itself "zero immigration, anti-EU, pro-jobs" but does little publicity and has no website

Labour - says it wants to campaign for change within the EU, insisting it will focus on jobs and growth

Liberal Democrats - is battling hard to defend Britain's position in the EU

NO2EU - campaigns for workers rights and anti-privatisation, has a strong left-wing stance but wants an EU referendum

UKIP - led by Nigel Farage, wants an exit from Europe

We Demand a Referendum Now - its main policy is to force a referendum on EU membership, led by former UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire


THERE are 736 MEPs in the European Parliament's offices in Strasbourg and Brussels representing more than 500 million people in 28 countries, but it is being set at 751 at this month's elections.

The laws they vote on are put forward by the European Commission, which has 28 members, one representing each nation, and acts like a cabinet government.

Germany has the most, at 99, but the UK has the second highest tally with 73 because it is based broadly on population.

MEPS have roles similar to MPs, but get to vote on legislation affecting the whole of Europe rather than just this country.

They earn the equivalent of £78,444 a year, based on the current rate of 7,957 euros a month.

Each MEP gets a five-year term in office, as the last set of election took place in June 2009 and the next count after this one is due in 2019.

Each one gets to cover a region of their homeland, which means Worcestershire is part of the West Midlands constituency, which has seven seats.

Across the country there are 10 regions, with each having between three and 10 MEPs based on size.


The seven seats up for grabs will be awarded using a 'quota' electoral system.

The quota is the total number of votes received by a party divided by the number of seats already gained in the West Midlands +1.

So, for a party with no seats like NO2EU, the number of votes received is divided by one, and so stays the same.

If it has one seat, like Labour, its number of votes is divided by two, if it has two seats it is divided by three, and so on.

So the more seats you have, like the Tories, the harder it is to gain more.

The first seat that a party wins goes to the first person on its list, the second seat to the second person, and so on, until the party has either not won any more seats or has run out of names on its list.

Ten of the 11 parties contesting seats here have put forward the maximum of seven candidates, apart from the Harmony Party, which is standing just one.

Essentially, voters are therefore being asked to back a party, rather than in local elections where they often choose to support a particular candidate.