EU parliamentary voting got underway in Greece, Romania and Lithuania yesterday, the final day of a massive process expected to give euroskeptic parties a boost. In all, 21 EU member states, including France, Germany and Italy headed to the polls yesterday to end four days of voting which began in Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday.
No results were to be announced until all polling was finished at 9pm.
If opinion polls prove correct, the eurosceptic parties could treble their presence to about 100 seats in the new 751-seat EU assembly.
In Denmark, France and Italy, anti-EU parties are poised to take first or second place, shaking up national politics and preparing to battle Brussels from the inside.
In Britain, the euroskeptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) led by Nigel Farage — a party without a single seat in the national parliament — surged on Thursday in local council polls held in parallel with the EU vote, rocking the establishment.
Turnout is likely to reflect growing popular exasperation with the EU, dropping even further from the record low of 43 percent in 2009.
“There is a legitimacy problem,” Carnegie Europe director Jan Techau told reporters. “But a win for the fringe parties won’t derail or change the way the parliament works. It will change a country’s domestic political scene and possibly affect the way national leaders act within the EU.”
The polls suggest that the mainstream parties, the center-right conservatives and center-left socialists, will hold about 70 percent of the seats in the next parliament. Traditionally they have worked together much of the time and should be able to continue to do so, analysts said.
Faced by mounting hostility to the Brussels bureaucracy and the harsh austerity policies adopted to overcome the debt crisis, EU political leaders have worked hard to correct a so-called “democratic deficit.”
For the first time, the five main groups in parliament named candidates to be the next head of the powerful European Commission and sent them to campaign.
They also organized televised debates between the candidates, exposing them to the harsh light of public questioning.
Summing up the hopes of reconnecting with the bloc’s 500 million people, a giant banner hung at EU headquarters in Brussels read: “This time it’s different — Your vote counts.”
Analysts have their doubts on that point.
“The European Parliament’s bid to politicize and personalize the vote has not worked,” said Jean-Dominique Giuliani of the Robert Schuman Foundation.
Instead, the euroskeptics garnered support on anti-immigrant and anti-EU issues made sensitive as 26 million people are out of work, including more than half those under 25 in members such as Greece and Spain.