Fri, May 24, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Populists eyeing upsets in EU elections

FORUM FOR DEMOCRACY:In the Netherlands, flamboyant populist Thierry Baudet, a classics-quoting climate skeptic, is on course to beat the prime minister’s Liberals

AFP, LONDON

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy leaves a polling station on a bicycle after voting in the European Parliament elections in The Hague yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Populists yesterday were hoping to cause upsets across the EU as the European Parliament elections got under way in polls that could challenge the Brussels consensus.

Britain and the Netherlands began four days of voting across the continent in a contest in which rising populist forces are hoping to make significant gains, threatening closer EU integration.

Polls early yesterday opened within half an hour of each other in the two nations, with the first results not announced until late on Sunday once voting in all 28 EU members has been completed.

More than 400 million voters across the bloc are eligible to elect 751 lawmakers — with Britain unexpectedly included.

Having voted to leave the EU in a seismic referendum in 2016, Britain was originally meant to depart on March 29 and therefore not take part in the elections, but its lawmakers have not been able to agree on a divorce deal and Britain now finds itself in the absurd situation of electing lawmakers to an institution it is planning to leave.

The Brexit Party, formed only this year by euroskeptic Nigel Farage, is leading the latest British opinion polls by a solid margin.

“We are attempting a peaceful political revolution in this country,” Farage told the party’s final rally on Tuesday. “The establishment: they’re not frightened — they’re absolutely terrified.”

In the Netherlands, flamboyant populist Thierry Baudet, a classics-quoting climate skeptic, is on course to beat Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals.

Once best known for naked Instagram selfies and controversial comments about women, Baudet, 36, stunned Europe in March when his Forum for Democracy became the biggest party in the Dutch Senate.

Around the continent, national leaders are scrambling to mobilize their supporters to resist the populist surge.

These are the ninth European Parliament elections since they began in 1979 and voter turnout has dropped each time, hitting 43 percent in 2014.

European governments fear a good showing for euroskeptics would disrupt Brussels decisionmaking.

Opinion polls predict a significant advance for nationalist and populist forces opposed to closer EU integration, threatening mainstream reform efforts.

Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini anti-immigrant League and Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right National Rally (RN) want their Europe of Nations and Freedom to become the third-largest group in Brussels.

Le Pen wants to strike a blow to French President Emmanuel Macron’s faltering rule by overtaking his Republic on the Move. Polls give RN a slight edge.

“Everything has changed,” Le Pen said. “Before we were on our own on the European scene ... we didn’t have any allies, but in the space of a few months, a whole range of political forces have risen up in spectacular fashion.”

Meanwhile in Britain, the rise of Farage is adding to the pressure for British Prime Minister Theresa May to announce her resignation in the days to come over her failure to deliver Brexit.

The British leader’s woes on Wednesday were made worse when her representative in parliament, Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, quit, putting May’s government under further strain.

However, the strong showing by euroskeptics is not expected to sweep the whole bloc, with voters from Spain to Ireland and the former Soviet Baltic states showing solid backing for the EU.

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