Tuesday, June 25, 2024

European elections: Dutch exit polls show progressive alliance just ahead of far right

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Left and Green parties in the Netherlands have said the far right can be beaten, after exit polls showed a progressive alliance narrowly ahead of their nationalist rivals on the first day of European elections.

Dutch voters were the first to be called to the polls in the four-day democratic exercise where citizens in 27 EU member states are electing 720 representatives to the world’s only directly elected transnational parliament.

Polls suggest hard-right and far-right parties are on course for their best ever results, although their representatives are likely to remain dispersed between at least two groups and non-aligned MEPs, blunting their power and influence.

An exit poll from the Dutch national broadcaster NOS on Thursday showed that the Green-Left alliance was on course to win eight seats, just ahead of Geert Wilders’ far-right Freedom party (PVV) on seven seats. The margin of error was one seat, suggesting a potential tie.

Both sides declared victory. Bas Eickhout, the veteran Green MEP who is his group’s joint lead candidate, said: “The narrative of the rise of the far right has been beaten. This is a message for the rest of Europe: go out and vote!”

Wilders said he was “so proud” of his party’s results in the last year, citing its first place in national elections that propelled it into a governing coalition for the first time, and its best ever result in the European vote. In the last European elections, in 2019, the PVV won only one seat.

Voters in Ireland and the Czech Republic were voting on Friday, and polls are due to open in Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and Italy on Saturday. Voting in Italy continues on Sunday.

The majority of EU citizens, including in the biggest member states, France, Germany, Spain and Poland, will vote on Sunday, and a fairly definitive estimate of results is expected in the early hours of Monday.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, who is running for a second term, was campaigning in Austria for her centre-right European People’s party on Friday. Von der Leyen, who has pledged more European cooperation on defence and a new “structure” to combat foreign interference in EU politics, has urged people to vote for “a strong Europe … that can defend itself”.

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While von der Leyen remains the clear frontrunner, there is a serious possibility of her failing to win the approval of the next European parliament.

One senior EU diplomat has predicted that von der Leyen has an 80%-85% chance of being reappointed by EU leaders and a 60%-65% chance of getting a majority in the parliament. She needs to win at least 361 votes, a simple majority of the 720 MEPs who will take their seats in July.

The European parliament will also play a decisive role in the implementation of the Green Deal, Europe’s response to the climate crisis.

Turnout will be closely watched on Sunday: voter participation jumped to a 25-year high of 50.7% in 2019.

Catherine De Vries, a professor of political science at Bocconi University, predicted a “consolidation of a slightly higher turnout … because there is more at stake when it comes to European issues”.

She said people could be motivated to vote by “irritation” with EU decisions as much as by support for the European project. A higher turnout was “not necessarily positive or negative; it just means that people are more aware of the kind of things that are going on at the EU level,” she said.

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