Polls Open in 20 EU Countries as Voting For the European Parliament Enters its Final Day

A man walks with a dog at a polling station during the federal, regional and European Parliament elections in Schoten, Belgium, June 9, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
A man walks with a dog at a polling station during the federal, regional and European Parliament elections in Schoten, Belgium, June 9, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
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Polls Open in 20 EU Countries as Voting For the European Parliament Enters its Final Day

A man walks with a dog at a polling station during the federal, regional and European Parliament elections in Schoten, Belgium, June 9, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
A man walks with a dog at a polling station during the federal, regional and European Parliament elections in Schoten, Belgium, June 9, 2024. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Polling stations opened across Europe on Sunday as voters from 20 countries cast ballots in elections that are expected to shift the European Union’s parliament to the right and could reshape the future direction of the world’s biggest trading bloc.
War in Ukraine, the impact of climate policy on farmers and migration are some of the issues weighing on voters’ minds from Portugal in the west to the alpine nation of Austria to Poland in the east and Cyprus in the Mediterranean as they cast ballots to elect 720 members of the European Parliament, The Associated Press said.
Sunday’s voting marathon winds up a four-day election cycle that began in the Netherlands on Thursday. Official results of the polls, which are held every five years, cannot be published before the last polling stations in the 27 EU nations close – those in Italy at 11 p.m. (2100 GMT).
Unofficial estimates are due to trickle in from 1615 GMT, but results will only become clear on Monday.
An unofficial exit poll on Thursday suggested that Geert Wilders’ anti-migrant hard right party should make important gains in the Netherlands, even though a coalition of pro-European parties has probably pushed it into second place.
Should that trend continue, lawmakers will find it harder to pass legislation and make decisions.
Since the last EU election in 2019, populist or far-right parties now lead governments in three nations — Hungary, Slovakia and Italy — and are part of the ruling coalition in others, including Sweden, Finland and, soon, the Netherlands. Polls give the populists an advantage in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy.
The elections come at a testing time for voter confidence in a bloc of some 450 million people. Over the last five years, the EU has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic, an economic slump and an energy crisis fueled by the biggest land conflict in Europe since the Second World War.
The polls also mark the beginning of a period of uncertainty for the Europeans and their international partners. Beyond the wrangling to form political groups and establish alliances inside parliament, governments will compete to secure top EU jobs for their national officials.
Chief among them is the presidency of the powerful executive branch, the European Commission, which proposes laws and watches to ensure they are respected. The commission also controls the EU’s purse strings, manages trade and is Europe’s competition watchdog.
Other plum posts are those of European Council president, who chairs summits of presidents and prime ministers, and EU foreign policy chief, the bloc’s top diplomat.
EU lawmakers have a say on legislation ranging from financial rules to climate or agriculture policy. They also approve the EU budget, which apart from funding the bloc’s political priorities bankrolls things like infrastructure projects, farm subsidies or aid delivered to Ukraine.
But despite their important role, political campaigning often focuses on issues of concern in individual countries rather than on broader European interests. Voters routinely use their ballots to protest the policies of their national governments.
Surveys suggest that mainstream and pro-European parties will retain their majority in parliament, but that the hard right, including parties led by politicians like Wilders or France’s Marine Le Pen, will eat into their share of seats.
The biggest political group – the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) – has already edged away from the middle ground, campaigning on traditional far-right issues like more security, tougher migration laws, and a focus on business over social welfare concerns.
Much may depend on whether the Brothers of Italy — the governing party of populist far-right Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, which has neo-fascist roots — stays in the more hard-line European Conservatives and Reformists, or becomes part of a new hard right group that could be created in the wake of the elections. Meloni also has the further option to work with the EPP.
The second-biggest group — the center-left Socialists and Democrats — and the Greens refuse to align themselves with the ECR. A more dire scenario for pro-European parties would be if the ECR joins forces with Le Pen’s Identity and Democracy to consolidate hard-right influence.
Questions remain over what group Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's staunchly nationalist and anti-migrant Fidesz party might join. It was previously part of the EPP but was forced out in 2021 due to conflicts over its interests and values.
The EPP has campaigned for Ursula von der Leyen to be granted a second term as commission president but nothing guarantees that she will be returned even if they win. National leaders will decide who is nominated, even though the parliament must approve any nominee.



Harris Condemns Flag Burning, Hamas Graffiti at Protest in Washington

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)
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Harris Condemns Flag Burning, Hamas Graffiti at Protest in Washington

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the American Federation of Teachers' 88th National Convention on July 25, 2024 in Houston, Texas. (Getty Images via AFP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris joined Democratic and Republican leaders in condemning protesters who burned American flags and sprayed pro-Hamas graffiti outside Washington's Union Station on Wednesday, describing the acts as unpatriotic and abhorrent.

The protests coincided with a speech to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Before he spoke, protesters marched near the US Capitol building, condemning US military aid to Israel during its war with Hamas militants in Gaza.

Following Netanyahu's speech, some of the demonstrators gathered in front of Union Station. They hoisted American flags outside the iconic train station, burned American ones and spray painted the words "Hamas is coming" and "Free Gaza" on a large monument.

Harris, the Democrats' presidential candidate, said in a statement on Thursday that she condemns any individuals associating with Hamas.

"I condemn the burning of the American flag. That flag is a symbol of our highest ideals as a nation and represents the promise of America. It should never be desecrated in that way," Harris said.

Harris and Biden were due to hold separate meetings with Netanyahu later on Thursday. More protests were planned for outside the White House.

During the protest on Wednesday, before some of the protesters converged near Union Station, police used pepper spray on some of the thousands of demonstrators present and made some arrests.

The flag burning and graffiti outside Union Station drew strong criticism from Republican US House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson and Hakeem Jeffries, the chamber's Democratic leader.