Guide to the European Parliament
Since the first European election in 1979, voter turnout has been in steady decline.
The overall turnout figure in 1979 was 63%; in 2009 it was 43%. These figures mask very different participation rates between different member countries: turnout in Slovakia was 19.6% in 2009, compared with 65% in Italy.
It was also high in Belgium and Luxembourg, where voting is compulsory.
Over the same period, the number of people participating in national elections has also tended to drop, in some cases by 10% or more.
However, participation in European elections is lower than in national elections.
In the new member states in Central and Eastern Europe the turnout picture was mixed in the 2009 European election. Compared with the 2004 election, turnout rose in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia, but fell in Lithuania and Hungary. It stayed about the same in the Czech Republic and Slovenia.
The parliament's powers have increased steadily since 1979 but that has not boosted voter engagement. National issues - especially feelings towards the incumbent national government - tend to dominate the European elections.