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Europeans vote, with EU future in balance

26 May 2019

Around the continent, pro-European leaders are seizing on the surprise in the Netherlands to mobilize their supporters to resist a populist gain, with opinion polls indicating nationalist parties lead in France, Italy and Hungary, among others.

Polls favor the leftist Smer-Social Democracy party, the senior member of Slovakia's current coalition government to win the most votes.

But the performance of Europe's far-right populist parties, who along with an array of conservative nationalists and far-left Eurosceptics are on course to win as many as a third of the parliament's seats, will be closely watched, even if observers doubt they will be able to form a coherent opposition bloc. Its members use Nazi salutes, blame the Roma minority for crime, consider North Atlantic Treaty Organisation a terror group and want the country to leave the western military alliance and the EU.

A similar result was forecast in Ireland, with an exit poll suggesting that Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael party was in the lead.

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Along with Britain, the Netherlands was the first of the 28 European Union member states to vote in parliamentary ballot. Official results will only be released Sunday night after all polls close.

Phased EU-wide elections take place in Ireland on Friday after a campaign dominated by concerns over neighbouring Britain's messy bid to leave the bloc, and as eurosceptic forces elsewhere in Europe hope to create a political natural disaster. Seven states have already voted, with 21 joining in on Sunday in what is the world's biggest democratic exercise after India.

Voters on Sunday are casting ballots for their country's 17 seats in the 751-member European Parliament.

The legislature affects Europeans' daily lives in many ways: cutting smartphone roaming charges, imposing safety and health rules for industries ranging from chemicals and energy to autos and food, supporting farming and protecting the environment.

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However, exit polls in the Netherlands gave an unexpected boost to his Socialist challenger, commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, placing his party in the lead domestically with 18.4 per cent of the vote.

"Whether we like it or not, the European election is also a test of satisfaction with the domestic politics", Zeman said.

The traditional parties warn that this strategy is worryingly reminiscent of pre-war tensions, and argue that unity is the best buffer against the challenges posed by a world in which China, the USA and Russian Federation are all flexing their economic and military prowess.

When the leaders of the European Union gather for a dinner in Brussels on Tuesday to begin the long process of wrangling over who will head its institutions for the next five years, sparks are expected to fly.

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Europeans vote, with EU future in balance