Europe’s longtime political center appeared to shrink Sunday as exit polls and early results from the hardest-fought European Parliament elections in decades showed both the anti-immigrant far right and the pro-environment Greens gaining ground. Turnout among the 426 million eligible voters was the highest in two decades.
The four days of balloting across the 28 European Union countries were seen as a test of the influence of the nationalist, populist and hard-right movements that have swept the continent in recent years and impelled Britain to quit the EU.While pro-EU parties still were expected to win about two-thirds of the 751-seat legislature that sits in Brussels and Strasbourg, other contenders appeared headed for significant gains, according to projections released by Parliament.
Exit polls in France indicated that Marine Le Pen’s far-right, anti-immigrant National Rally party came out on top in an astonishing rebuke of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has made EU integration the heart of his presidency. Le Pen said the projected outcome “confirms the new nationalist-globalist division” in France and beyond.In Germany, the EU’s biggest country, exit polls indicated that the party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and its center-left coalition partner also suffered losses, while the Greens were set for big gains and the far right was expected to pick up slightly more support.Parliament is projecting that the lion’s share of Britain’s seats will go to the Brexit Party – 29 seats for the 31% of the vote that Nigel Farage’s newly founded party was forecast to win. The projection released early Monday showed British voters driven to extremes, with the No. 2 winners being the strongly pro-European Liberal Democrats. Coming in distant fifth were the ruling Conservatives. Britain’s electorate is divided over the delayed departure from the European Union, but the vote tallied Monday showed a universal anger at the two long-dominant parties, the Conservatives and Labour, who have led the U.K. into Brexit gridlock. For the U.K. vote, turnout was a dismal 37%, up just over 1 percentage point from the 2014 EU election and well below the EU average this year.Britain voted even though it is planning to leave the EU. Its EU lawmakers will lose their jobs as soon as Brexit happens.