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Posted at: May 23, 2019, 7:58 AM; last updated: May 23, 2019, 8:51 AM (IST)VOTING BEGINS TODAY

Big question: How well will the far-right do in European Parliament poll?

Clash of basic values, between Europe growing more united or divided, has put continent at political crossroads
Big question: How well will the far-right do in European Parliament poll?
Workers adjust a European flag outside the EU Parliament ahead of the EU elections in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday. Reuters

Brussels, May 22

The European Parliament elections that start on Thursday have never been so hotly anticipated, with many predicting that this year’s ballot will mark a coming-of-age moment for the eurosceptic far-right movement.

The elections, which run through Sunday and take place in all of the European Union’s 28 nations, have never had stakes that high.

Europe’s traditional political powerhouses — the center-right European People’s Party and the center-left Socialists & Democrats — are set to lose some clout and face their strongest challenge yet from an array of populist, nationalist and far-right parties that are determined to claw back power from the EU for their own national governments.

Here’s a look at the vote that starts on Thursday in the Netherlands and Britain: 

This clash of basic values - between Europe growing more united or more divided - has put the continent at a historic political crossroads.

French President Emmanuel Macron, champion of the closer-integration camp, says the challenge at the polls this week is to “not cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration” that will seek to dismantle the unity the EU has built up over the past six decades. Facing off against Macron and Europe’s traditional parties are Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and a host of other populist, right-wing or far-right leaders who have vowed to fundamentally upend Europe’s political landscape.

Nationalist leaders from 11 EU nations stood together in Milan last weekend, a show of unity unthinkable in previous years from a group once considered to be on Europe’s political fringe. Salvini then declared “the extremists are in Brussels,” the home of EU institutions, for wanting to retain the status quo. “We need to do everything that is right to free this country, this continent,” Salvini said. Europe’s far-right and nationalist parties hope to emulate what President Donald Trump did in the 2016 US election and what Brexiteers achieved in the UK referendum to leave the EU.

That is to disrupt the powers that be, rail against what they see as an out-of-touch elite and warn against migrants massing at Europe’s borders ready to rob the continent of its jobs and culture.

Standing with Salvini, Le Pen promised the far-right “will perform a historic feat,” saying they could end up as high as the second-biggest political group in the EU Parliament.

Predictions show that is still extremely ambitious. Projections released by the European Parliament this month show the center-right European People’s Party bloc losing 37 of its 217 seats and the center-left S&D group dropping from 186 seats to 149.

As for the far-right and nationalists, the Europe of Nations and Freedom group is predicted to win 62 seats, compared to 37 currently. Such statistics though could be irrelevant as soon as Monday if national parties start shifting to other EU-wide political groups in the 751-seat European legislature which meets both in Brussels and France’s Strasbourg.

For many among the EU’s half billion citizens, the memories of war have vanished and the EU’s role in helping to keep the peace for 75 years is overlooked.

Yet Europe was body-slammed by the financial crisis a decade ago and struggled through a yearslong debt crisis that saw nations like Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus get bailouts and produced recessions that slashed the incomes of millions.

Since the first European Parliament election in 1979, the legislature has slowly changed from a toothless organisation where over-the-hill politicians got cushy pre-retirement jobs to a potent force with real decision-making powers. — AP

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