Euro elections: Bringing Brussels closer to home?

Cafe Bruxelles in Leicester
Image caption Despite Leicester's Cafe Bruxelles taking its name from the seat of EU power, its owner is Eurosceptic

With a replica of Manneken Pis on the outside and a Tintin lookalike inside, it's hard to believe that Café Bruxelles is actually in the heart of Leicester city centre.

Just chat to the bar staff and you soon get a flavour of the very British ambivalence towards Brussels as the heart of the European Union.

One of the cafe's directors is Erkjon Dogan who came to Leicester from Turkey. His home country wants to join the EU.

But Mr Dogan is far from convinced that's such a good idea.

"The way it's going at the moment, Brussels is making all the rules. The British don't like that and I can't blame them," he told me.

Contrast that with the more pro-EU views of Cherkera Bates, his assistant at Café Bruxelles.

"We need to get closer and work more together in Europe and soon. We seem to have lost that spark of co-operation. We need to be more friendly," she said.

So what will this election be about? Certainly, it'll focus on jobs, the economy, immigration and the environment, even the growing powers of the European Parliament and whether to remain in the EU.

Image caption The East Midlands elected two Conservatives and one each from Labour, UKIP and Lib Dems at the last Euro election. Roger Helmer later defected to UKIP.

The East Midlands and its population of four-and-a-half million, has five MEPs representing the counties of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.

That includes the Labour-run cities of Nottingham, Derby and Leicester.

Clustered around the M1 motorway - as it cuts north-south through the region - are some of the most politically marginal Westminster seats in the country. This is the battleground territory.

It was the East Midlands that gave UKIP its big breakthrough 10 years ago. That was with the huge personality vote for its winning candidate, TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk.

That year, UKIP returned two MEPs from the East Midlands. Derek Clark, who was also on the UKIP ticket, is now standing down.

At the last European elections in 2009 and polling 30%, the Conservatives picked up the vote

The Conservatives returned two MEPs - Emma McClarkin and veteran Eurosceptic Roger Helmer.

Meanwhile, the region elected one each for Labour, UKIP and the Lib Dems.

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Image caption Most of the European parliament's voting sessions are held in Strasbourg

To many insiders, it came as little surprise when Mr Helmer defected to UKIP at the party's spring conference at Skegness two years ago. He joined Derek Clark in representing a deep well of Euroscepticism that can be found in many parts of the East Midlands.

The former Conservative claimed that on issues - such as EU integration, climate change and immigration - UKIP was more in touch with public opinion than David Cameron. In this election, Roger Helmer tops the UKIP list of candidates.

Support for the UK Independence Party actually fell by 10% at the last Euro elections.

One key reason was the decision of Mr Kilroy-Silk, its lead candidate in 2004, to quit UKIP to set up his own political party, Veritas. It bombed.

For Labour, its MEP is Glenis Willmott. The former union official is now the leader of the Labour group in the European Parliament and a member of Labour's National Executive and Shadow Cabinet.

Labour had 16.9% of the vote. UKIP were snapping at Labour's heels; just 0.5% - 5,000 votes - behind in third place.

Also defending his seat is the Liberal Democrat Bill Newton Dunn, the longest serving MEP from the UK. The Lib Dems attracted 12.3% of the vote. His concern will be a collapse in Lib Dem support that could take him under the voting threshold that guarantees his return to Brussels.

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Image caption The European Union also has offices in Brussels, where the majority of the work is done

Unlike some of the northern English regions, the BNP never made the headway it hoped for. The party polled 8.7%. In recent local council elections it has been losing its handful of seats.

The Greens are hoping to progress on their 6.8% share, mainly at the expense of a collapsing Lib Dem vote.

The Greens have been targeting fracking as an issue. The former coalfields of the East Midlands are thought to have big deposits of shale gas and their lead candidate, German-born Kat Boettge, has promoted a protest camp at a proposed fracking site in north Nottinghamshire.

So a date for your diary: Thursday, May 22 is polling day.

These European elections haven't exactly fired the voters' enthusiasm in the past. But if more than a third of us vote this time, that may be regarded as a success... at least something to drink to at the Café Bruxelles, both in Leicester and the Grand Place.

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