Britain and the Netherlands went to the polls yesterday, starting the ball rolling on elections to the European Parliament that are expected to see a swing toward populist right-wing parties.
The elections, which began at 5:30 GMT in the Netherlands and are spread over four days in the EU’s 28 member states, are expected to see major gains for parties bent on dismantling the union from the inside.
“I believe in Europe, but I think there are far too many rules coming from Brussels,” Margreet de Jonge, 63, said, as she cast her ballot in the Hague, echoing the view of many that the EU has become a bloated bureaucracy.
When the results are announced from 21:00 GMT on Sunday, euroskeptic parties may top the polls in Britain, France, Italy and the Netherlands.
The anti-immigration and anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) of Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders’ virulently anti-Islam Party of Freedom (PVV), are both forecast to make big gains.
UKIP’s rise has rocked the British political establishment as a party without a single representative in its national parliament heads into the European election slightly ahead of the main opposition Labour Party, according to a poll published by the Times on the morning of the vote.
Farage, a former financial trader who likes to hold court with journalists in the pub, has ruled out joining a far-right bloc of Wilders’ party and France’s National Front, led by Marine Le Pen.
Wilders hopes UKIP will sign up to the grouping, but Farage has refused to do business with an alliance involving the National Front, which he considers anti-Semitic.
With 26 million people out of work across the EU, including more than half of those aged under 25 in countries such as Greece and Spain, euroskeptic and far-right parties have picked up massive support on anti-immigration and anti-EU platforms.
The latest polls show euroskeptics and others have struck a chord with disgruntled voters and could secure almost 100 seats in the new parliament, trebling their number in the 751-seat assembly.
A survey by PollWatch showed conservatives holding a narrow lead over their socialist rivals in the next parliament, with the European People’s Party (EPP) on for 217 seats against 201 for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).
While that would leave the mainstream groups still the two biggest parties, the EPP would drop from 35.8 percent to just short of 29 percent of the total seats, with the S&D up marginally to 26.8 percent.
UKIP highlights the trend of a shift towards euroskeptic parties. It looks certain to sharply increase the 13 seats it currently holds in the European Parliament. It is also likely to do well in local council elections that also took place in Britain yesterday.
“It could be perceived as a breakthrough election [because] they could win seats and win votes in all parts of the country,” said Simon Hix, a political science specialist at the London School of Economics.
Nevertheless, UKIP has endured a troubled few days in the build-up to the election.
Last week, Farage was forced to back-pedal after saying in a radio interview that he would be concerned if he had to live next door to Romanians, and on Tuesday, a “multicultural street party” that UKIP organized to counter allegations it is racist descended into farce.
Protesters hijacked the event in a London suburb and the Caribbean steel band booked for the event stopped playing after five minutes when its members realized who had booked them for the event.
In the Netherlands, Wilders’ party hopes to garner six of the 26 seats up for grabs, although unlike Farage, he is a lawmaker in his national parliament so will not stand for a Brussels seat.
Wilders has waged an energetic campaign, vowing to take the Netherlands out of the EU and abandon the euro.
However, analysts said that voter apathy among euroskeptics in the Netherlands could have a negative impact on the PVV’s score.
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