When French voters hit the polls on May 25 they will be choosing the lawmakers of the European Parliament (MEPs) who will make hundreds if not thousands of decisions that will impact on everyday life in France and the 27 other EU countries for years to come.
Yet the distance between voters' daily lives and what's happening in Brussels and Strasbourg leaves many somewhat bewildered about by how it all works and what's really at stake. Following on from our Five reasons why the European elections really matter, here's ten figures that will help shed some light on what's really at stake or not.
Note the figures are just as likely to persuade you not to vote as they will to impel you to cast a ballot.
- €96,246.36: That is the minimum, pre-tax salary of a Member of European Parliament. Though it may already sound like a decent pay day, it’s just the start. MEPs also get up to €4,299 per month for their office expenditures like postage and computer equipment. They also get travel expenses and living costs covered completely by the EU while in official business.
- 3,753 candidates: That is is the number of people who qualified for the May 25 ballot in France, of which half are women. The hopefuls, who only have to be aged 18 in many countries, have been grouped into 193 electoral lists, which is a 20 percent jump on the electoral field put forward for the last election in 2009. Aside from the classic left and right parties, there are a few original ones like Citizens of the Blank Ballot, Feminists for a Europe Together, and Europe Démocratie Esperanto, who are running on a platform to increase usage of the international auxiliary language Esperanto.
- €6.9 billion: It’s the difference between what France paid into the EU budget and what it got back in funding in 2012. France, with a contribution of €19.8 billion, was the second biggest funder of the EU that year. The union draws about 99 percent of its funding from members and European-wide taxes. 2012’s top funder was Germany at €22.8 billion with €12.25 billion returned to it in grants. The United Kingdom paid in €13.5 billion and saw €6.93 billion sent back in subsidies.
- 74 seats: French voters will decide on May 25 who will take up the 74 seats in the 751 member parliament, compared to 73 for the UK and 96 for Germany. Voting for the seats is broken down by districts, for example, with 15 up for grabs in the Ile-de-France region around Paris, 13 in the southeast of the country and ten each in the north west and south west regions. These electoral boundaries were drafted by France rather than the EU.
- €200 million: It’s estimated the EU spends up to €200 million per year on the so-called “travelling circus” of shuttling staff and deputies between its three different locations. The monthly, four-day Parliament sessions are held in the legislature’s chambers in Strasbourg, eastern France while most committee meetings take place in Brussels, yet support staff work out of Luxembourg. It makes for a lot of train trips. MEPs have mounted a recent campaign to move the parliament to Brussels, but French MEPs have resisted. Here one of them tells The Local why the parliament must stay in Strasbourg.
- 80 percent - That’s the number of French laws that come Brussels, well according to the extremely Eurosceptic Jean-Marie Le Pen. The organisation Fact Check EU pulled Le Pen up on this figure and pointed to a recent study that actually suggests only 19 percent of the laws passed in France “had an EU impulse”. Although a spokesperson for the EU parliament told The Local that around 70 percent of national laws were either directly or indirectly influenced by Europe. Make of that what you will.
- 40.6 percent of voters: It’s the record low number of voters who turned out in 2009 for the last EU Parliament elections. The number has been falling for decades. It was 42.8 percent in 2004; 46.8 in 1999; 52.7 in 1994. In light of the record low turnout in the March local elections, experts are expecting a further drop in mobilization this year, hence the kind of campaign posters shown above.
- 25 deputies: In order to form voting blocs in Parliament that can unlock million of euros in funding, politicians have to cobble together a coalition of at least 25 deputies. Those deputies in turn must be drawn from a total of a quarter of the member states, which is seven countries. Far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen is trying to compose just such a collective with parties that include Nazi sympathizers and anti-Islam lawmakers. Forming a voting block in the European Parliament is worth around €60 million of funding from EU coffers
- 83 percent - Thats the percentage that French MEPs took part in voting sessions at the European Parliament over the last five years. If that sounds high, it was actually one of the lowest percentages among MEPs from any nation, apart from Britain, whose members took part in 80 percent of "roll-call" votes. In Austria for example their MEPs participated in 90 percent of roll-call voting sessions. In the past the French MEPs have also been criticised for their poor attendance record at plenary sessions in Strasbourg and Brussels. So will the MEPs you actually vote for earn their money? To be fair there's more to EU parliamentary life than voting as a spokesperson from Vote Watch Europe tells The Local. "MEPs have different activities such as parliamentary questions to the Commission and Council, report drafting, tabling amendments and more," she said.
- 3 percent of ballots: Candidates who want to get reimbursed by the European Union for election expenses have to get three percent of the vote. It might seem a high burden for tiny, niche parties, but it’s two percent less than the minimum five percent for reimbursement during France’s national and local elections.