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British, Dutch voters kick off European election

British and Dutch voters were the first to go to the polls in four days of European parliamentary elections, amid concerns of widespread rising euroscepticism and high abstention rates.


AFP - Four days of voting for the European Union parliament started Thursday with the continent's leaders braced for high abstention rates and protest votes which could boost extremist parties.

Britain and the Netherlands started 27 nation election in which 375 million people are eligible to take part. The turnout and the impact on national governments are the key stakes in the election.

Several extremist anti-EU right and left wing parties hope to pick up votes and even a few seats in the 736 member assembly.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown is under increasing pressure amid a scandal over expenses by members of the country's national parliament which has seen ministerial heads roll.

His ruling Labour Party looks is likely to be beaten into third place, at best, in the European polls according to opinion polls, with even the anti-EU UK Independence Party snapping at its heels.

A Sunday Telegraph/ICM poll this week suggested Labour would garner just 17 percent of the vote, behind David Cameron's opposition Conservatives and the third party, centrist Liberal Democrats.

This was the worst Brown's party had done in an opinion poll since 1987 and surveys on the local elections also predict a weak performance.

An opinion poll in the Netherlands predicted the Christian Democratic (CDA) party of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende to get 14 percent of the vote, and its governing partner, the labour PvdA party, 12 percent.

That leaves no comfort zone for the main parties as the Party for Freedom of controversial far-right MP Geert Wilders could also get 12 percent of the vote, the liberal VVD 11 percent, and the Socialist Party 10 percent.

The Dutch government will give preliminary results from the vote on Thursday but other countries will wait until Sunday -- after the final 19 countries have voted to give the official results.

The European People's Party -- an umbrella group for centre-right parties from across the EU -- is expected to remain the biggest political bloc in the parliament, even if it loses some MEPS.

That is despite the fact that the British and Czech Conservatives have left the EPP, deeming it too europhile.

The European Socialists, currently the second largest group in the European parliament, are also preparing for mediocre results.

After the British and Dutch votes, attention will turn on Friday to Ireland and the Czech Republic.

Cyprus, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia will go to the polls on Saturday before Europe's Super Sunday, when the other 17 EU nations -- including France, Germany, Italy and Spain -- will round off the voting.

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