Britain, the Netherlands kick off EU election
The European Union's marathon parliamentary election kicked off today when polls opened in Britain and the Netherlands, where far-right, anti-EU parties are forecast to top the ballot, spearheading a surge in protest votes across the continent.
After two months of campaigning that opinion polls suggest has largely failed to inspire the electorate, up to 380 million Europeans are entitled to vote in 28 countries, choosing 751 deputies to represent them in the European Parliament.
Despite efforts to mobilise voters by telling them they will for the first time indirectly be choosing the next president of the European Commission, pollsters forecast a low turnout, possibly below the 2009 nadir of 43 percent.
With Europe struggling to recover from economic crisis, including record high unemployment and negligible growth, the election is expected to produce a surge in support for Eurosceptics on both the far-right and hard left.
In Britain, the UK Independence Party, which wants to withdraw from the EU and impose tighter immigration controls, is expected to win the vote, pushing the governing Conservatives into third place behind Labour, latest opinion polls show.
That could raise pressure on Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who has promised an in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017 if he is re-elected next year, to take a tougher line on reducing the EU's powers.
A similar story is expected in the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders' anti-Islam and anti-EU Freedom Party - which plans to forge an alliance with France's far-right National Front - is expected to win with up to 23 percent of the vote.
Only Britan and the Netherlands are to vote today. Ireland will go to the polls tomorrow, Czech Republic tomorrow and on Saturday. The rest of the EU will vote on Sunday.
The Dutch will release exit polls this evening, but Britain will only announce its results late on Sunday, once voting has finished in all EU member states.