From Germany and France to Cyprus and Estonia, voters from 21 nations went to the polls yesterday in the final day of a crucial European Parliament election that could see major gains by the far-right, nationalist and populist movements that are on the rise across much of the continent.
The four days of balloting that began Thursday across the 28-country European Union pitted supporters of closer unity against those who consider the EU a meddlesome and bureaucratic presence and want to return power to national governments and sharply restrict immigration.
Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, seen as a unifying force among the anti-migrant hard-line nationalists, said that he felt a “change in the air” and that a victory by his right-wing League party would “change everything in Europe.”
The first full results were expected overnight from what was considered the most important European Parliament election in decades, a contest with the potential to significantly reshape EU policies. An estimated 426 million people were eligible to vote.
Mainstream center-right and center-left parties were widely expected to hold on to power in the 751-seat legislature that sits in both Brussels and Strasbourg. But the nationalist and populist parties that are hostile to the EU were expected to make important gains that could complicate the workings of the Parliament.
In the first major exit poll, in Germany, the EU’s biggest country, governing parties were predicted to lose ground while the Greens were set for big gains. The far right was also expected to pick up more support.
“I don’t want to see a right-populist Europe (that) wants to destroy the idea of togetherness,” said Germany’s Manfred Weber, the lead candidate of the Christian Democrat center-right EPP group, currently the biggest in the legislature.
Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian prime minister Viktor Orban, a possible ally of Salvini, said he hopes the election will bring a shift toward political parties that want to stop migration. The migration issue “will reorganize the political spectrum in the European Union,” he said.