Europe votes on ‘Super Sunday’ with far-right in spotlight

BRUSSELS: European elections culminate on “Super Sunday” when the remainder of the EU’s 28 countries go to the polls, with the vote expected to confirm the dominance of pro-EU centrists despite a rise in support for the far-right and left.
Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Poland are among the major EU member states voting on Sunday, representing the bulk of the 388 million Europeans eligible to cast ballots and elect the 751 deputies to sit in the European Parliament from 2014-2019. After years of economic crisis, rising unemployment and poor growth, many Europeans have come to question the wisdom of ever-closer EU integration and are expected to vote for Eurosceptic parties on the right or left that promise radical change. Opinion polls suggest at least a quarter of seats in the parliament will go to anti-EU or protest groups, but at least 70 percent will remain with the four mainstream, pro-EU blocs: the centre-left, centre-right, liberals and Greens.
Some of the earliest polls opened in Greece, where voting is compulsory. The last ballots will be cast in Italy, where polls will remain open until 2100 GMT. Turnout - the most basic measure of citizens’ engagement with Europe - is expected to fall again, dropping to just over 40 percent, marginally down from 43 percent in 2009. That would continue the trend of declining participation at every European election since the first direct poll was held in 1979. Dimitris Papadimoulis, a senior lawmaker of the Greek radical leftist Syriza party and a candidate in the election, said the vote would send a strong message to Europe against austerity.
“We ask that the message ‘enough is enough’ with these (austerity) policies is strong and indisputable. A clear Syriza victory ... will send the message that the EU is changing its course,” he wrote in a piece published on a news website. While expectations ahead of the vote were that far-right groups would record historic victories in countries such as France, the Netherlands and Britain, exit polls from the Netherlands, which voted on Thursday, were a surprise. Geert Wilders’ anti-EU and anti-Islam Freedom Party came fourth rather than first, according to exit polls from Ipsos, with the majority voting for pro-EU parties. That has left centrists hopeful.
“At the end of the campaign, and after reflection, the Dutch have drawn the conclusion that the European Union means strength and extreme nationalism is a danger,” said Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberal alliance and a former prime minister of Belgium whose group may win up to 70 seats in parliament. In France, some went to the polls concerned about the potential rise of the far-right National Front, which could forge an alliance with the Dutch Freedom Party. “It’s precisely an issue which we need to fight against, that’s why I came to vote today,” voter Jean-Paul, who declined to give his last name, told Reuters Television in the tenth arrondissement in Paris.
The European Parliament has said it will announce preliminary results shortly after 2100 GMT on Sunday, although officials caution that Italy’s decision to keep polls open until the same time may well delay any announcement. Final results and the precise allotment of seats in parliament is expected to be announced by the end of Monday. As well as determining the makeup of the next European Parliament, these elections will for the first time influence who becomes president of the European Commission, a powerful role overseeing pan-EU legislation.

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Aaj Kal