As the European Parliament election approaches, seven candidates have been confirmed and up to three more names are likely to join the ballot in the coming months.
The election will take place on 22 May, with three seats to be contested in Northern Ireland. The declared candidates are:
• Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin);
• Alex Attwood (SDLP);
• Mark Brotherston (Conservatives);
• Ross Brown (Green);
• Diane Dodds (DUP);
• Jim Nicholson (UUP); and
• Henry Reilly (UKIP).
Candidates for the Alliance Party and PUP are still to be selected. The TUV has not yet decided on whether to run a candidate after rejecting an apparent pact with UKIP.
The Green Party – across the EU – is running an open primary to select two ‘leading candidates’. This is open to all citizens aged 16 or above and more information is available at www.greenprimary.eu
The European Parliament poll is an anomaly for several reasons. Voters are firstly not choosing a government. MEPs instead hold the Commission and the Council (of national governments) to account. The Parliament sits in both Brussels and Strasbourg. The French Government opposes a move away from Strasbourg and sees the city as a symbol of post-war reconciliation.
Direct elections to the Parliament started in 1979 but EU-wide turnout has been below 50 per cent since 1994. Turnout at the last election in 2009 was 42.8 per cent in Northern Ireland, 34.7 per cent across the UK and 43 per cent overall.
The 751 MEPs will include 73 from the UK and 11 from the Republic of Ireland.
MEPs will be elected in three different ways:
• party lists (for 730 seats, including those in Great Britain);
• single transferable vote (20 seats in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Malta); and
• first-past-the-post (one seat in the German-speaking region of Belgium).
In a final twist, three MEPs represent France’s overseas territories – all of which are outside Europe but are included as they send representatives to the French Parliament.
Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour, who chairs the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, has visited Northern Ireland at the invitation of Jim Nicholson. The itinerary included visits to Schrader and Randox, and a seminar attended by 60 business representatives.
The seminar was also attended by Canadian High Commissioner Gordon Campbell and Canadian Trade Commissioner Halleh Koleyni. In October, Canada and the EU signed an initial free trade agreement.
Harbour outlined his work to simplify public procurement rules for SMEs, discussed the need for reform of the EU, and participated in a Q&A session.
“I was delighted to find innovative and ambitious firms taking full advantage of the European single market,” Harbour said afterwards. Harbour worked in the motor industry for 32 years before entering politics.
Nicholson saw the visit as a “useful opportunity” to showcase local businesses and listen to their views.