Europe Voters Elect New Parliament 05/26 11:51
BRUSSELS (AP) -- From Germany and France to Cyprus and Estonia, voters from
21 nations went to the polls Sunday in the final day of a crucial European
Parliament election that could see major gains by the far-right, nationalist
and populist movements that are on the rise across much of the continent.
The four days of balloting that began Thursday across the 28-country
European Union pitted supporters of closer unity against those who consider the
EU a meddlesome and bureaucratic presence and want to return power to national
governments and sharply restrict immigration.
Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, seen as a unifying force among the
anti-migrant hard-line nationalists, said that he felt a "change in the air"
and that a victory by his right-wing League party would "change everything in
The first full results were expected overnight from what was considered the
most important European Parliament election in decades, a contest with the
potential to significantly reshape EU policies. An estimated 426 million people
were eligible to vote.
Mainstream center-right and center-left parties were widely expected to hold
on to power in the 751-seat legislature that sits in both Brussels and
Strasbourg. But the nationalist and populist parties that are hostile to the EU
were expected to make important gains that could complicate the workings of the
In the first major exit poll, in Germany, the EU's biggest country,
governing parties were predicted to lose ground while the Greens were set for
big gains. The far right was also expected to pick up more support.
"I don't want to see a right-populist Europe (that) wants to destroy the
idea of togetherness," said Germany's Manfred Weber, the lead candidate of the
Christian Democrat center-right EPP group, currently the biggest in the
Hungary's increasingly authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orban, a possible
ally of Salvini, said he hopes the election will bring a shift toward political
parties that want to stop migration. The migration issue "will reorganize the
political spectrum in the European Union," he said.
Because of the stakes this time, turnout appeared to be running higher than
usual during the afternoon Sunday in Spain, France and Germany. The trend has
been downward since the first elections in 1979 and stood at less than 43
percent five years ago.
In France, the interior ministry said turnout was over 43% at 5 p.m.,
compared with 35% at the same time in 2014. Several French polling institutes
estimated the final turnout could be over 50% at the end of the day, which
would be a first in the country since 1994.
The EU and its Parliament set trade policy on the continent, regulate
agriculture, oversee antitrust enforcement and set monetary policy for 19 of
the 28 nations sharing the euro currency.
Other countries voting on Sunday included Italy, Poland, Portugal, Denmark,
Sweden, Austria, Belgium and Lithuania.
Britain voted Thursday, taking part in the balloting even though it is
planning to leave the EU, after the government missed its March 29 deadline to
approve withdrawal terms. Its EU lawmakers would lose their jobs as soon as
Europe has been roiled in the past few years by immigration from the Mideast
and Africa and deadly attacks by Islamic extremists. It has also seen rising
tensions over economic inequality and growing hostility toward the political
establishment --- sentiments not unlike those that got Donald Trump elected in
Traditional parties like the EPP and the center-left socialist S&D group
want the mainstream to build a strong coalition to stave off the fringe
parties. Spanish caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Snchez called on "all the
political forces to open a horizon of political stability."
Projections released by the Parliament last month showed the EPP bloc losing
37 of its 217 seats and the S&D group dropping from 186 seats to 149. On the
far-right flank, the Europe of Nations and Freedom group was predicted to
increase its bloc from 37 to 62 seats.
Proponents of stronger EU integration, led by French President Emmanuel
Macron , argue that issues like climate change and reining in immigration are
simply too big for any one country to tackle alone.
Macron, whose country has been rocked in recent months by the populist
yellow vest movement, has called the elections "the most important since 1979
because the Union is facing an existential risk" from nationalists seeking to
divide the bloc.
Once the elections are over, European leaders will begin the task of
selecting candidates for the top jobs in the EU's headquarters in Brussels. The
leaders meet for a summit over dinner Tuesday. Current European lawmakers'
terms end July 1, and the new parliament will be seated the following day.