EU leaders sound alarm over populist election threat

- AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BRUSSELS

May 22, 2019-

Two days before voting begins in European parliamentary elections, national leaders are scrambling to mobilise their supporters to resist a populist challenge.

European governments fear a good showing for eurosceptics in the vote, which begins on Thursday and runs to Sunday, will disrupt Brussels decision-making.

Opinion polls predict a significant advance for nationalist and populist forces opposed to closer European Union integration and threatening mainstream reform efforts.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the vote the most important European parliamentary election since the first in 1979 and warned the EU faces “an existential threat”.

Turnout has fallen in each EU vote since 1979, and mainstream leaders hope Britain’s Brexit spectacle and a scandal for the Austrian far-right will mobilise voters.

The outgoing president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, urged an audience at a trade union convention in Vienna “to fight where it is worth fighting”. British voters—along with the Dutch—will vote first on Thursday, with those in the 26 other member states following suit over the next three days. In Britain, Nigel Farage’s anti-EU Brexit Party is expected to top the polls, and eurosceptic populists are riding high in Italy and breaking through elsewhere. The eurosceptics have not had it all their own way, though. In Austria, far-right Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache was entrapped on hidden-camera footage offering to sell influence to a supposed representative of a Russian oligarch.

Published: 22-05-2019 09:25

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