European Parliament Vote: Extreme Right Poised to Gain Ground

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Europe is bracing for a lurch toward populist, anti-European parties of the right this weekend as the world's biggest transnational elections unfold across 27 countries.

Fringe parties hostile to immigration, foreigners, and the European Union (EU) in general were poised to score well in the first two countries to vote in European parliamentary elections, Britain and Holland, according to exit polls and expert projections.

Geert Wilders, a populist who despises Islam, opposes immigration, and wants the European Parliament abolished, was given more than 15 percent of the vote in the Netherlands and just one seat less than the ruling Christian Democrats, according to an exit poll.

In Britain, two right-wing parties opposed to the EU - the UK Independence Party and the British National Party - were predicted to get one-fifth of all votes, according to the predict09.eu website compiled by leading political scientists.

"It's clear from the Netherlands that the populist right is going to do well," says Wyn Grant, a politics professor at Warwick University in Central England. "It's a trend across Europe, and it's not surprising in a recession," he adds.

Most EU countries are deep in recession and this week unemployment figured showed almost one in 10 Europeans were jobless.

Sara Hagemann, a Danish analyst with the Brussels-based European Policy Centre adds that extreme parties would get a much higher proportion of seats than in national elections. "Voters who turn out [in European elections] often have quite strong opinions about the EU," she says.

Though elections to the European Parliament habitually throw up a protest vote, this time around they could prove fatal to governments in at least two countries if the ruling elite perform as badly as predicted. Hungary's ruling socialists are so unpopular that a bad result could see their government fall apart.

But no leader is more vulnerable than Britain's Gordon Brown, who has seen support ebb not just from his Labour Party voters but from his own ministers. The Labour government, humiliated by revelations of mercenary expense claims by legislators, may struggle to stay afloat much longer if overall results are as poor as some predict.

On Friday, Brown was forced to reshuffle his remaining ministers after four big names quit in 72 hours. A terrible result when voting tallies are announced on Sunday evening could be the final straw, experts say.

"The results are going to be very bad for Labour; the question is, will they be disastrous," says Professor Grant. "If he's got 20 percent of vote, though bad, that will be seen as just enough. The problem is if he went as low as 16 percent," which could leave Labour in fourth place and Brown's mandate looking anachronistic.

A giant election, but does anybody care?

The twice-a-decade European Parliamentary vote is sometimes grandiosely billed as the world's biggest multinational elections. This time, around 375 million people are eligible to cast ballots in 27 countries, sending 736 legislators to Brussels. …