BRUSSELS: Europeans turned out to vote on Sunday in bigger numbers than before in election pollsters predict will further dent traditional pro-EU parties and bolster the nationalist fringe in the European Parliament.
With the first results expected at 1600 GMT, notably from Germany, turnout was up on the 2014 level in some key countries, including Germany and France. At 1000 GMT, some 29% of Germans had voted, up from 26% five years ago, while 19% of the French had voted, up from 16%. Polls there close at 1800 GMT.
Spain saw turnout up about 10 percentage points from 2014 and in Poland, though just 14% at 1000 GMT, it was nonetheless double the participation rate at the same time five years ago.
Seven states have already voted, with 21 joining in on Sunday in what is the world’s biggest democratic exercise after India.
Right-wing populists top opinion polls in two of the big four member states – Italy and supposedly exiting Britain – and could also win in a third, France, rattling a pro-Union campaign championed by centrist President Emmanuel Macron.
In a Belgian national election held on the same day, early results in the Dutch-speaking half of the country suggested sharp gains for the hard-right Vlaams Belang at the expense of more moderate nationalists.
However, exit polls in some countries that have already voted have given pro-EU parties some comfort. The Dutch Labour party, all but written off, looks to have finished first, helped by the visibility of having the EU socialists’ lead candidate, current EU deputy chief executive Frans Timmermans.
In the Netherlands pro-Union parties scored 70%, up three points on 2014, and left the upstart anti-immigration party of Thierry Baudet fourth on 11%.
The Dutch also turned out in bigger numbers, albeit at just 41%, reinforcing hopes in Brussels of reversing a 40-year trend of declining turnout that critics cite as a “democratic deficit” that undermines the legitimacy of European Union lawmaking.