(EUROPE) – Three days of Europe-wide elections for the European Parliament got under way Thursday with voters in the Netherlands and also, finally, the United Kingdom going to the polls. The count starts Sunday.
The elections take place all over Europe from 23 to 26 May, with over 400 million voters in 28 EU Member States taking part in the elections for the European Parliament.
53 million UK voters were able to cast their ballots for 591 candidates competing for 73 seats. If the country is still an EU member state on 2 July, the current composition of the Parliament, with 751 MEPs will continue to apply. The ruling Conservative party, which has been leading Brexit negotiations and is in disarray after the announcement of prime minister Theresa May’s resignation, faces wipe-out in the polls.
In the Netherlands, around 13.5 million Dutch voters were able to select 26 candidates out of 308 running. Unofficial exit polls show that pro-Europe parties may have won the elections there.
Across Europe, economy and growth (50%) and youth unemployment (49%) top the voters’ agenda, according to the latest poll of public opinion by Eurobarometer. followed by immigration (44%) and climate change (43%). Combating terrorism moves down to fifth place with 41%. 54% of respondents said they would like to see the European Parliament’s role strengthened in the future, with a view to tackling these cross-border issues.
Friday, Czechia and Ireland went to the polls, to elect 21 and 11 MEPs respectively. Today’s voters are Czechia for the second day, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia.
Brexit continues to cast a long shadow over the vote, not just in the United Kingdom, with populists and the far-right claiming success in seizing the opportunity offered by fears over migration and the impact of austerity.
The EU sees the ongoing Brexit negotiations as demonstrating the uncertainties of separation and the risks of leaving the protection of the EU.
The Brexit debate has also shown how closely intertwined EU countries have become over years of working together as well as the many benefits that derive from being a member of a wider club. They say these benefits are sometimes only apparent when faced with the prospect of losing them.
The latest Eurobarometer figures (from February 2019) reveal that over two thirds (68%) of Europeans believe that the EU has brought benefits to their country and 61% ascertain that the EU is a good thing.
In parallel, external pressures from third countries mean that EU countries need to stick more closely together if they are to retain any influence and exert any weight in the new world order. The Eurobarometer report shows that citizens are mostly interested in the state of the economy, employment prospects, migration, climate change and the fight against terrorism, which all point towards a need for more togetherness, cooperation and joint action.
Official results of the European elections will be announced only after the last European voting booths close at 23:00 on Sunday.