The European election is the world’s biggest after India with four days of voting in 28 countries. In essence, each member state holds a national election, under common EU rules.
Just under 400 million people can take part in the ballot with voter age fixed at 18 years of age – Austria being the exception, where eligibility is set at 16.
In all, some 751 MEPs will be elected for a mandate of five years.
Seats are distributed according to the size of each member state’s population. The bigger it is, the more MEPs it gets.
Germany, Europe’s most populated country has the most members of the European parliament, with 96 seats. That’s in stark contrast to Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus which only have six.
With more individual political parties than any other election, once elected, MEPs sit in multinational groups rather than according to their nationality.
Groups must have a minimum 25 MEPs from at least seven different countries. Those members who wish to can remain independent.
Currently the Parliament has seven political groups, the two biggest being the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats.
Once the election is over, the next major step in July will be to decide who succeeds Jose Manuel Barroso as head of the European Commission.
In principle that should see Europe’s heads of state and government taking into account the outcome of May’s election when they make their final choice on who will get the top post.