Nicola While on the European Parliament elections

Nicola While Amid all the frenzy around the economic crisis, MPs expenses, and celebrity gossip, one would be forgiven for thinking that the British media have forgotten all about the forthcoming European Parliament elections.

Never the most popular news topic, this year’s European Parliament election will none the less be the biggest transnational election in history. Between 4 and 7 June, 736 MEPs will be elected to represent 500 million Europeans. UK voters will go to the polls on 4 June to elect a total of 72 MEPs for a five year term.

Because of the growing influence of the European Union on health policy, these MEPs will wield unprecedented power over issues around public health policy, employment law, and cross-border mobility. Yet voter turnout in the UK for this important election has never risen above a paltry 39%.

The new cohort of MEPs who will take their seats in the autumn will have a number of important dossiers in front of them that will have a great impact on UK health professionals. These are likely to include issues around cross-border patient and professional mobility, work aimed at reducing health inequalities across the EU, and any potential new attempt to revise the European Working Time Directive.

A number of important dossiers that were published earlier in the year but have yet to be adopted will also be put on hold until the new cohort of MEPs take their seats. This includes the pharmaceutical package with its proposal to revise the rules on the provision of information on prescription-only drugs.

Indeed the co-decision making process in Brussels means that MEPs will have more power over these issues than most national politicians. Yet turnout for European elections is consistently below that for national elections.

Voter apathy, confusion over the role of responsibilities of Euro MPs, media misinformation and the increasing nationalistic reaction resulting from the economic crisis may explain why UK voters fail to recognise the importance of the European elections. However it is more important than ever for medical professionals to make their voice heard on the EU arena if they are to have a continued influence over important health matters.

Nicola While is the BMA’s EU liaison officer and is based in Brussels