EU elections kick off as Dutch polls open

Last Updated 23 May 2019, 06:03 IST

Polls opened in the Netherlands on Thursday for European Parliament elections, launching four days of voting across the EU in which populists hope to make big gains.

Britain and the Netherlands are the first countries to vote in the polls, with more than 400 million voters across the 28-nation bloc eligible to elect 751 MEPs.

Flamboyant Dutch eurosceptic Thierry Baudet and his populist Forum for Democracy are on course to match Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberals with five European Parliament seats each, according to recent opinion polls.

Dutch exit polls are expected on Thursday night but official EU results will not be announced until Sunday.

Rutte and Baudet held a fiesty television debate on the eve of the vote, facing off on issues including immigration, Russia and Baudet's controversial comments about women.

Once best known for naked Instagram selfies and controversial comments about women, Baudet, 36, stunned Europe in March when his upstart party came out of nowhere to became the biggest in the Dutch Senate.

These are the ninth European parliament elections since they began in 1979 and voter turnout has dropped each time, hitting 43 percent in 2014.

European governments fear a good showing for eurosceptics will disrupt Brussels decision-making.

Opinion polls predict a significant advance for nationalist and populist forces opposed to closer EU integration and threatening mainstream reform efforts.

Matteo Salvini of Italy's anti-immigrant League and Marine Le Pen of France's far-right National Rally (RN) want their Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group to become the third largest in Brussels.

(Published 23 May 2019, 06:00 IST)

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