EU votes as populists seek historic breakthrough

BRUSSELS (AFP) – Voters were called out for a third day in European Union (EU) parliamentary elections on Saturday as populists hoped to win a major breakthrough and disrupt European politics for the next five years.

Polls were open in Malta, Slovakia and Latvia, with most of the bloc’s 28 member states – including big players Germany, France and Italy – to vote today.

More than 400 million people are eligible to elect 751 members of the European Parliament with the first official results to be announced late tomorrow once voting in all EU countries is over.

Polling has shown for months that populists and the anti-immigration far right could make big gains in the vote, which will also help determine who replaces Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission as well as other top jobs.

An exit poll after voting in the Netherlands on Thursday however showed a surprise victory for pro-EU socialists, giving hope to establishment forces elsewhere in the bloc that the populist tide could be limited.

“To all our friends across Europe still campaigning, this one is for you too!” said Dutchman Frans Timmermans, the lead socialist candidate and one of the main contenders to replace Juncker.

Europhiles also had reason to cheer from an exit poll in Ireland that suggested Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael party, which is committed to closer EU integration, was in the lead.

A woman runs her hand through her hair, backdropped by a European Union flag, during a 2020 USR PLUS alliance European Parliament elections rally, in Bucharest, Romania. – AP