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European Election turnout highest in last 20 years

John Thys, AFP | People watch a screen displaying the results for France during the European elections outside the European Parliament in Brussels on May 26, 2019. Turnout EU-wide was estimated at 51 percent.

The European Parliament spokesman says turnout for Sunday's election is nearing 51% for 27 nations, according to preliminary figures. This suggests more than 200 million voted in a poll billed as a battle between populists and pro-European forces.

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The parliament spokesman Jaume Duch Guillot says the figure, which excludes voting in Britain, is the highest in at least 20 years and reverses years of steady decline. U.K. figures are expected later Sunday evening, as final tallies roll in for an election that both centrist parties and the far-right have portrayed as a referendum on sovereignty and the European Union.

Four days of voting ended on Sunday. 426 million people were eligible to vote for the makeup of the European Parliament. In the case of Britain, voters are electing legislators who will lose their jobs when Brexit is finalised.

It is, Guillot said, a “very significant increase in turnout for the very first time since the first European elections took place in 1979.”

Each previous EU election since the first in 1979 has seen turnout fall, but initial figures from across the 28-nation bloc suggested this year’s culture clash has mobilised both populists and those who oppose them.

In France, there was a significant surge for the Green party, but it was Marine Le Pen’s far-right party that celebrated the main victory. Eurosceptic forces made strong gains across the EU parliamentary election.

Across Europe, according to a projection based on partial results and exit polling and prepared by the parliament, the centre-right EPP group is on course to have the most seats in the assembly with 173, down from 216.

European Parliament seat projection
European Parliament seat projection FRANCE 24

‘Marginals less marginal’

With the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) projected to win 147, down from 185, the two mainstream parties between them will no longer have a majority and will have to reach out to liberals to maintain a “cordon sanitaire” and exclude the far-right from decision making.

According to exit polls, Germany’s anti-immigrant AfD broke 10 percent in a national poll for the first time, while the mainstream socialist lost ground and Greens move into second place behind the ruling centre-right.

And in Belgium the far-right Flemish separatist Vlaams Belang was on course to triple its previous score.

In his home country of Poland, European Council chief Donald Tusk expressed confidence that voters would not succumb to the approach of what he called “radical political movements, eurosceptics”.

But he admitted that the stakes were high: “The first priority, not only for this institution, is to save the EU as a project, not only at this time but in the long term, and I’m sure that they will manage.”

Meanwhile, the mainstream parties are vying between themselves for influence over the choice of a new generation of top EU officials, including the powerful president of the European Commission.

>> Tune in live at 9 p.m. Paris time to watch FRANCE 24's special European elections coverage

Even if Britain leaves the European Union on October 31, the latest deadline set for its Brexit date, its MEPs could still play a role in this summer’s scramble to hand out top jobs.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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