SIGNS are that the European elections next month will be met with a stifled yawn right across Kirklees.
If anything spurs people to get out of their armchairs on June 4, the threat from the British National Party (BNP) will be it.
Nobody seems interested in the fact that the European Parliament now sets 70% of the laws endorsed by its 27 member countries with a total population of nearly 500m. Its hotly-debated budget for 2010 is £139bn.
And that’s partly the problem. The European Parliament’s powers are just too huge, its money-shunting just too immense to comprehend.
We feel, with some justification, that our own votes for six MEPs in the tiny outpost of our region, Yorkshire and Humber, are meaningless.
Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik warned that the far-right BNP party would need as little as 11% of the vote in our region to collect a euro-seat in the 783-strong Parliament which sits in Brussels.
This is because European Parliament seats are awarded by proportional representation on a region-wide basis. The number of seats each party wins is calculated according to the share of the vote that party achieves in each region.
Sadly, Shahid Malik’s warning was eclipsed by revelations about his expenses claims.
We can’t even think about politics today without considering the all-party disgust with and distrust of our politicians of all stripes engendered by the current expenses scandal.
We just don’t know whether this will keep people away from the polls on June 4.
But there are some signs that apathy does not rule.
The forthcoming European elections have engendered mention on no fewer than 12 million Google sites. This is three times more site mentions than in 2004, the last time Europe went to the polls.
In 2004, just over 3.5m Yorkshire and Humber people were interested enough to vote.
The regional turnout was 42.6%, double that of the 1999 election, and nearly twice that of the national voting figure (22%).
It was, in fact, more than the percentage turnout (40.57%) for the Kirklees elections in 2008.
Only General Elections seem to grab the imagination more. In 2005, 29m or 61.3% of the electorate went to the polls with the result that Tony Blair’s New Labour received its endorsement for a third term of office.
Six Euro seats are up for grabs on June 4. In 2004, two went to Labour, two to Tories, one to the Lib Dems and one to UKIP, the UK Independence Party (Godfrey Bloom), which took 7.4% of the vote.
This year, the BNP is planning to capitalise on voters’ dissatisfaction with the main parties. They may get seats by default. A recent poll suggested only 34% of those registered to vote in Europe’s 27 countries – 375m – will do so.
Germans, Poles and Belgians take the elections most seriously, counterbalancing the UK’s 22% apathy.
Perhaps we believe we can no longer tug on the leash of the monster we have let rampage across Europe.
We do have every right to be cynical about a European parliament whose budget has failed audit for many years. Its accountants blame national accountancy neglect, false claims, money paid illegally or unconstitutionally to claimants, and fraud.
The expenses Euro MPs can claim put the House Of Commons MPs in the shade.
An MEP’s basic pay is similar to that of a UK MP: £63,291. After the June 4 elections, is goes up to £73,584.
But there the similarity ends.
The MEP elected on June 9 will be able to claim £104,000 in subsistence, £432,919 for staff, office expenses of £214,935, £53,041 in travel, and accrued pension rights of £348,299 during his stay at the European trough.
Barring accidents, an MEP sits for five years and may collect more than £1m in pay, expenses and pension rights.