The voting process for the 2019 European Parliament election has officially begun. Polls in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom opened on Thursday, May 23rd, starting four days of voting across the 28-nation bloc.
Half an hour after voting started in the Netherlands, polls opened across the UK, the only other country voting on Thursday, May 23rd. The country is still wrestling unsuccessfully with its plans to leave the European Union, and Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership is currently under the spotlight.
Voters across Europe elect a total of 751 lawmakers, although that number would drop to 705 when the UK leaves the EU. Results of the four days of voting will not be officially released until Sunday night, May 26th, but projections based on polls will be available earlier.
The big topic for these elections is expected to be the divide between supporters of deeper integration and populist Eurosceptics who want more power for their national governments, AP reported.
Leaders of traditionally big actors like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order. French President Emmanuel Macron said the challenge is "not to cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration" that would seek to dismantle EU unity built up over six decades.
In a significant challenge to those centrist forces, populists appear largely united heading into the elections. On Saturday, May 25th, Italy's anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was joined at a rally by ten other nationalist leaders, including far-right leaders Marine Le Pen of France's National Rally party, and Joerg Meuthen of the Alternative for Germany party.
On Thursday morning, May 23rd, the UK’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that "the far-right is on the rise," and adding that "the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future."
In the Netherlands, polls predict the right-wing populist Forum for Democracy, led by Thierry Baudet, are running neck-and-neck with the centre-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
In a debate on Wednesday night, May 22nd, Baudet called Salvini a "hero of Europe" for his crackdown on migration. "The immigration we get here from Africa and the Mideast is completely contrary to our culture, our values, our way of life, tolerance, love of women and so on," Baudet said. "That has to stop, and it will not happen at the European level."