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Netherlands kicks off European elections

Photo: Phil Nijhuis Agence France-Presse Voters queue outside a polling station in The Hague on Thursday, the first day of the European elections.

Richard Carter – Agence France-Presse in Brussels

Posted at 7:24 a.m.

  • Europe

“I want Europe to change! »: the Dutch launched four days of elections across the European Union on Thursday to elect 720 MEPs, against a backdrop of an expected push from the nationalist right.

This long electoral sequence will end on Sunday, voting day in particular in Germany and France. Nearly two and a half years after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 370 million Europeans are called to the polls in a fraught climate, with the EU denouncing Russian disinformation attacks.

The air is crisp under the morning sun in The Hague, when the first voters present themselves at the city hall.

The ballot is crucial for Claudia Balhuizen, a 42-year-old engineer, eager to be the first to vote: faced with environmental damage and the predicted rise of radical rights, “we all need to wake up! », she exclaims.

In the Netherlands, the Freedom Party (PVV) of far-right leader Geert Wilders, surprise winner of the November elections, is given the lead with a fiercely Eurosceptic manifesto.

“We want less immigration, we want to tighten asylum rules and policies, we want to be responsible for our choices again,” said Mr. Wilders on Thursday, leaving the voting booth at The Hague town hall.

Simone Nieuwenhuys, a 48-year-old civil servant, says she voted for him: “I want the EU to change, I want a different voice […] that each country keeps its own sovereignty, its own identity.”

The Netherlands is one of the states whose main contingent of MEPs should come from nationalist forces, like from France where Jordan Bardella, head of the National Rally list, is leading the polls or from Italy, where Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her post-fascist Fratelli d'Italia party are seen as winners.

For Nathalie Brack, professor of political science at the Université libre de Bruxelles, the singularity of these elections is less the rise of the radical right than “a sort of normalization” of the latter.

“Their ideas are much more on the agenda, the idea of ​​cooperation with certain radical right forces is becoming almost normal since there are coalitions at the national level with the extreme right,” she explains to AFP.

What “faces” for Europe ?

One of the first tasks of the new Parliament will be to confirm or reject the choices of the “top jobs”, these heads of the EU institutions on which the leaders of the 27 member states will try to agree at a summit planned end of June in Brussels.

For the presidency of the Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, vying for a second term and from the EPP (right), the main group in Parliament, appears in a good position, even if a surprise cannot be ruled out.

If it is chosen by the Twenty-Seven, “VDL” will still have to pass through Parliament, a priori during a plenary session in Strasbourg in mid-July. A rejection and the search for a new candidate would delay the entire process.

“The ability to sail in bad weather requires going quickly,” emphasizes Sébastien Maillard , from the Jacques Delors Institute, emphasizing the impact, in terms of image, that a wavering in the designation of the “faces of Europe” could have.

“Cohesion against Putin”

“What is at stake is the European capacity to embody democracy, to find compromises, to maintain a minimum of cohesion […] in the face of Putin, of China, of the future American president,” he explains. to AFP, while the November 5 election across the Atlantic could see Donald Trump return to the White House.

If the “grand coalition” of the three main current groups (right, socialists, centrists) were to retain the majority, its room for maneuver could be much reduced, and it could need additional forces, suggesting intense negotiations.

According to surveys, the EPP should remain the leading political force, followed by the Social Democrats. At stake is the third position, currently occupied by Renew Europe (comprising Emmanuel Macron's Renaissance party), declining and threatened by the surge of the two radical right groups: the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and democracy (ID, including in particular the French RN).

The participation rate will be carefully scrutinized, to see in particular whether the surge of 2019 — the 50% mark had been crossed — is confirmed.

“Don’t take Europe for granted. Defend it, shape it, use your vote. Otherwise, others will decide for you,” urged the President (EPP) of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116