With the toxic tone of the Remain/Brexit campaigns so far resulting in political mudslinging, fear-mongering and tantrum throwing rather than proper debate, it’s understandable to feel a little confused about Europe and its lawmaking processes. With these European bodies having no visible presence in Manchester, it can seem distant and separated from our lives, which only helps to foster a sense of unease and mistrust of a body which we seem to be forever told is unaccountable and unwilling to listen to the wishes of British citizens. But one quick look at the facts shows that this is simply not true.

The lawmaking process in Brussels is not too different from the process at home. When a law is made it goes through three EU bodies all made up of different representatives. First stop is the European Commission, which is made up of 28 commissioners, one representative of each member state. Ours is Jonathan Hill, former leader of the House of Lords. He was appointed by David Cameron (who we elected to make these kinds of decisions) in 2014. (You can find out more about him and the Commission in general here). Before suggesting a new law, the commission consults citizens and interest groups, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local authorities and representatives of industry and civil society, then writes up proposed text for the law and an assessment of its potential economic, social and environmental consequences. Citizens like us can participate in the consultation process via the public consultations website.

After this, it goes to the European Parliament. Here, Manchester is represented as part of the North West, alongside Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire and Merseyside, by eight MEPs who are part of three different political groups within the European Parliament. These groups work like political parties in the UK, but on a European level. So, two MEPs who are perhaps from the equivalent of the Green Party in their respective countries would join a MEP Green ‘group’. One group is the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group. Our three UKIP MEPs – Paul Nuttall, Louise Bors and Steven Woolfe – are members of this one. Another group where North West MEPs are represented is the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. Our two Conservative MEPs – Sajjad Karim and Jacqueline Foster – are members of this one. And last but not least, there is the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. Our three Labour MEPs – Theresa Griffin, Afzal Khan and Julie Ward – are members of this one. You can find out more about your MEPs and the committees they sit on, here.

If you voted in the last European elections (22 May, 2014), you will have voted for your favourite party, rather than politician. Each party puts forward a list of candidates, then gets a proportion of the seats in their region. In the 2014 election, Labour got 34% of the vote in the North West, which equalled three seats. The top three people on their list were appointed as MEPs. In this election, the turnout in the North West was 1,763,761 voters, which was a measly 33.68% of people eligible to vote.

The European Parliament assigns a Parliamentary Committee to write a report on the proposed law. This is then debated – if it’s deemed bad, then it’s returned to the committee with proposed amendments. If it’s deemed good, then it goes onto the Council of Ministers. Note! The Council of Ministers is not to be confused with the European Council or Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is a totally separate organisation and nothing to do with the EU, existing to promote democracy, human rights and other good stuff across Europe.

The Council of Ministers doesn’t have a fixed membership, but brings together government ministers, civil servants and government ambassadors from each of the member states. Each member state sends the relevant Minister(s) for the policy area being discussed, so if the council were discussing finance laws or policy, we’d send George Osborne and probably a couple of people from the treasury. For anything to pass this council, there has to be a 55% majority vote that represents 65% of the EU population. Sensitive issues, such as foreign policy and taxation, require a unanimous vote – so Britain effectively has a veto. If you’ve got any further queries on this, you can send your questions to the council’s public information service.

If they approve it, then it passes. If they don’t, they propose amendments and it goes back to the Parliamentary Committee and then back through Parliament – who can block any legislation that they disagree with the council on – and once more back to the council of ministers. If they then approve it, it passes. If not, then it goes to a Conciliation Committee, which exists for the purpose of bringing Parliament and the Ministers to an agreement. If they reach a point where everyone can agree – it passes. And if not, the law is binned for good.

When the leave campaign talk about unelected bureaucrats forcing Britain to do awful things such as label what’s in our food and provide mandatory holiday pay, saying that they’re unelected isn’t entirely true. Of course, it’s unelected bureaucrats who do the legwork, but this is really no different from the system in Britain where we have civil servants within different departments.

The Commissioners are appointed by our elected representatives, similarly to our House of Lords, although as they don’t get a seat for life (terms are only five years) and it’s a full-time job rather than a grand title, there’s less of a ‘cash for honours’ incentive. The Council of Ministers is made up largely from our own ministers – ones that we elected – so the MEPs are directly elected by us and no EU laws can pass without their agreement. Also, even you as an individual can get directly involved with the formation of EU laws via special interest groups and public consultations, nothing short of a referendum is more democratic than that.

This is only a brief explanation and obviously I have my own opinion, but I hope that this explanation can help you make up your mind, whatever your politics, by at least giving you the facts on Europe’s lawmaking process. The decision each one of us can choose to make on the 23 June is too important to be left to personalities who want to gain political capital. It’s a huge decision which will have major repercussions on the political landscape for future generations. So before you cast your ballot, if you are choosing to do so, try and make yourself as informed as you can.

Catriona Watson