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Tags: eu | election

All Eyes on Skeptics as Massive EU Vote Enters Final Day

By    |   Sunday, 25 May 2014 07:26 AM EDT

BRUSSELS  — From Portugal to Finland, voters of 21 nations are casting ballots to decide the makeup of the next European Parliament and help determine the European Union's future leaders and direction.

Polls predict candidates that want to slash the EU's powers or even abolish it could scoop up a third of the seats — an unprecedented showing of popular disillusionment with the EU. When official returns are known Sunday night, they could portend changes in EU policy in areas ranging from immigration to a new trade agreement being negotiated with the U.S.

Europeans in seven other nations have already voted. Unofficial exit polls reported a surge in support for Britain's anti-EU UKIP party. In the Netherlands, however, the right-wing Euroskeptic Party for Freedom dropped from second to fourth place, polls found.

Greece, Romania and Lithuania got the voting underway Sunday morning but no results will be announced in any of the countries until all polling is finished until late Sunday night.

If opinion polls prove correct, the euroskeptic parties could treble their presence to around 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 Sunday, 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 Thursday in local council polls held in parallel with the EU vote, rocking the establishment.

Turnout too 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 AFP.

"But a win for the fringe parties won't derail or change the way the parliament works." Techau said.

The polls suggest 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 out on the campaign trail.

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, however, 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 and more radical groups have picked up support on anti-immigrant and anti-EU issues made doubly sensitive when 26 million people are out of work, including more than half those under 25 in countries such as Greece and Spain.

"It's clear that these elections cannot just go on like this because people simply do not consider the European parliament to have political weight," Techau said.

"There will have to be substantial reforms."



In contrast in Eastern Europe, the Ukraine crisis and fears of a resurgent Russia appear to have bolstered the attraction of EU ties and the security they offer.

In Lithuania, 44-year-old civil servant Jurate Kiserauske said the EU "is our only salvation and future. If we are not there, we would not remain where we are but we would return back to Russia, to the Soviet Union".

Among the early voters in Romania on Sunday, which only joined the EU in 2007, was pensioner Didina Nicolae, 78.

"I went to vote because I want Romania to become a true European country with a higher standard of living," she told AFP.

On Saturday, Czech Republic voters backed three pro-EU parties, while in Latvia, a rightwing anti-EU party — the National Alliance — trailed in third.

A recent Pew Research Center poll showed 72 percent support for the EU in Poland, for instance.

Overall, the latest PollWatch survey forecast victory at the ballot-box to the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), on 217 seats in the EU parliament against 201 for the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

While that would leave the mainstream groups still the two biggest parties, the EPP would be down from 35.8 percent to 28.9 percent of total seats, and S&D up marginally from 25.6 percent to 26.8 percent.

In third place, the centrist Liberals (ALDE) would fare especially badly, falling to 59 seats.

The radical left parties as a whole, currently the sixth biggest group in the parliament, are expected to climb to fourth place with 53 seats.

That would put them ahead of the Greens, with 44, followed by an existing euroskeptic group made up of British and Polish conservatives, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), with 44.

"The new parliament would be more polarized," said analysts VoteWatch.


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From Portugal to Finland, voters of 21 nations are casting ballots to decide the makeup of the next European Parliament and help determine the European Union's future leaders and direction.
eu, election
Sunday, 25 May 2014 07:26 AM
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