EU elections under way in Netherlands and UK
The 2014 EU elections got under way in The Netherlands and in the UK on Thursday (22 May), with Dutch voters starting at 7.30am local time and British voters at 8am British time.
The results will not be available until Sunday night - to be published at the same moment as pan-EU numbers, so that the outcome in early member states does not influence voting in latecomers.
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But Dutch exit polls are expected already at 9pm on Thursday evening.
Both countries foresee turnout as low as 30 percent, but strong results for what used to be fringe eurosceptic parties.
In the UK, the latest YouGov poll put the anti-EU Ukip party neck-and-neck with the ruling centre-right Conservatives on 23 percent, the centre-left Labour party in third place and the Liberals in a distant fourth.
Another poll, by Survation, put Ukip on par with Labour on 29 percent each. But both surveys say if you count only those people who promise they will definitely vote, then Ukip beats its closest rivals by 5 percent.
Figures from the UK’s Central Electoral Commission indicate just how big a scoop the result would be for Ukip given its resources.
In the first quarter of 2014 it received €608,000 in donations, compared €8.2 million by the Tories and €5.4 million by Labour.
On the Dutch front, the Nos poll earlier this week saw the two main Liberal parties, the VVD and D66, on between 15 and 18 percent, the anti-immigrant PVV party of Geert Wilders on 14 to 17 percent and the centre-left Labour faction on 12 to 14 percent.
A poll by the EenVandaag broadcaster saw the PVV coming top, but some pundits say, in contrast to the situation in Britain, that euroscetipcs are less likely to vote than mainstream Dutch people.
Wilders’ recent stunts include cutting up an EU flag in front of the European Parliament in Brussels and chanting anti-Moroccan slogans.
The chants drew criticism and apologies. But their popular appeal was visible on Twitter: Researchers at the MDI monitoring group recorded 1,717 anti-Moroccan tweets between January and 19 March, when the chanting incident took place, and 60,000 tweets from 19 March until 19 May.
The Dutch Liberal parties are pro-Europe, but have also called for reforms, including less power accruing to the EU institutions, which saw a surge in new competences during the financial crisis.
In the UK, where the EU poll is taking place in tandem with elections for local councils, part of the campaigning has focused on domestic issues: hospitals; housing; wages.
The Tories and Labour have tried to woo votes from Ukip by speaking of greater restrictions on migrants from the EU. The Conservatives have also promised an in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017, leaving the field free for Labour and the Liberals to claim they are the only pro-EU options in the country.
The Liberals’ Nick Clegg said this week that only “forces of chauvinism and insularity" want the EU to quit, while Labour shadow treasury secretary, Chris Leslie, noted: “The biggest threat to British business would be walking away from our biggest market - the European Union.”
Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, lambasted the Conservatives for being too soft in their EU criticism.
Referring to pro-EU comments by the Tory treasury chief, George Osborne, in recent days, he told press: “He thinks that Europe has to be in charge of Britain's global trade and Ukip’s got a bigger, broader, global vision."
Forty one parties are competing for 73 British seats in the European Parliament. Nineteen parties are contesting the Dutch allocation of 23 MEP posts.