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European Parliament elections enter final day

Brussels, Belgium –

Tens of millions of people across the European Union voted in EU parliamentary elections on Sunday in a massive exercise in democracy that is expected to turn the bloc to the right and reorient its future.

The war in Ukraine, migration and the impact of climate policy on farmers are some of the issues weighing on voters’ minds as they vote to elect 720 members of the European Parliament.

Polls suggest that traditional, pro-European parties will retain their majority in parliament, but will lose seats to far-right parties such as those led by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France. .

That would make it harder for Europe to pass legislation and could at times paralyze decision-making in the world’s largest trading bloc. “I hope we manage to avoid a turn to the right and that Europe somehow remains united,” said voter Laura Simon in Berlin.

EU lawmakers have a say on issues ranging from financial rules to climate and agricultural policy. They approve the EU budget, which finances priorities including infrastructure projects, agricultural subsidies and aid delivered to Ukraine. And they have veto power over the appointment of the powerful EU commission.

These elections come at a time of testing for voter confidence in a bloc of some 450 million people. Over the past five years, the EU has been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis and an energy crisis fueled by the biggest territorial conflict in Europe since World War II. But political campaigns often focus on issues of concern to individual countries rather than broader European interests.

Sunday’s voting marathon ends a four-day election cycle that began in the Netherlands on Thursday.

An unofficial exit poll suggested Wilders’ far-right anti-immigration party would make significant gains in the Netherlands, even though a coalition of pro-European parties has likely pushed it into second place.

Casting his vote in the Flanders region, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency until the end of the month, warned that Europe is “at a crossroads” and “more under pressure than ever.” “.

Since the last EU elections in 2019, populist or far-right parties now lead governments in three countries (Hungary, Slovakia and Italy) and are part of governing coalitions in others, including Sweden, Finland and, soon, the Netherlands . Polls give populists an advantage in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy.

“The right is good,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who leads a stridently nationalist and anti-immigrant government, told reporters after casting his vote. “Going right is always good. Go to the right!”

After the elections comes a period of horse-trading, in which political parties reconsider their places in the continental political alliances that run the European legislature.

The largest political group, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), has moved to the right during the current elections on issues such as security, climate and migration.

Among the most closely watched questions is whether the Brothers of Italy (the populist Meloni’s ruling party, which has neo-fascist roots) remains in the harder-line European Conservatives and Reformists group or becomes part of a new group of extreme right that could form as a result of the elections. Meloni also has the option of working with the PPE.

A more worrying scenario for pro-European parties would be if the ECR joined forces with Le Pen’s Identity and Democracy to consolidate the influence of the far right.

The second largest group, the center-left Socialists and Democrats, and the Greens refuse to align with the ECR.

Questions also remain over which group Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party might join. He was previously part of the EPP, but was expelled in 2021 due to conflicts over his interests and values. The far-right Alternative for Germany was expelled from the Identity and Democracy group after a series of scandals surrounding its two main candidates for the European Parliament.

The election also marks the beginning of a period of uncertainty as new leaders are chosen at the helm of European institutions. As lawmakers jostle for places in alliances, governments will compete to secure high-level EU positions for their national officials.

Chief among them is the presidency of the powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which proposes laws and ensures that they are respected. The Commission also controls the EU budget, manages trade and is Europe’s competition watchdog.

Other notable positions include president of the European Council, who presides over summits of presidents and prime ministers, and EU foreign policy chief, the bloc’s top diplomat.

Unofficial estimates will be published from 1615 GMT. The official results of the elections, which are held every five years, will begin to be published after the closing of the last polling stations in the 27 EU countries in Italy at 11:00 p.m. (9:00 p.m. GMT), but they will not be will have a clear idea of ​​what the new assembly could do. It looks like it won’t become clear until Monday.


Sylvain Plazy in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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