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European Parliament poised for rightward shift after final voting

Voters in 21 EU countries including France and Germany will conclude a four-day election for the European Parliament on Sunday, which is expected to shift the assembly to the right and boost the numbers of eurosceptic nationalists.

The election will shape how the European Union, a bloc of 450 million citizens, confronts challenges including a hostile Russia, increased industrial rivalry from China and the United States, climate change and immigration.

The election began on Thursday in the Netherlands and in other countries on Friday and Saturday, but the bulk of EU votes will be cast on Sunday, with France, Germany, Poland and Spain opening the polls and Italy holding a second day of voting.

The European Parliament has said it will issue an EU-wide exit poll at around 2030 CET (1830 GMT) and then a first provisional result after 2300 CET when the final EU votes, in Italy, have been cast.

Opinion polls predict the pro-European liberals and Greens will lose seats, reducing the majority of the center-right and center-left and complicating efforts to push through new EU laws or increase European integration.

Many voters have been hit by the cost of living crisis, have concerns about migration and the cost of the green transition and are disturbed by rising geopolitical tensions, including the war in Ukraine.

Hard and far-right parties have seized on this disquiet and offered the electorate an alternative to the mainstream.

European Greens, facing a backlash from hard-pressed households, farmers and industry over costly EU policies limiting CO2 emissions, look set to be among the big losers.

Forecasts for the liberal group Renew Europe are also grim, given the expectation that Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National will trounce French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance in France.

In the Netherlands, exit polls from Thursday already showed nationalist Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration party was set to win seven of the 29 Dutch seats in the EU assembly, from zero in 2019, following up on his large win in last year’s national election.

His Freedom Party will be just one short of the combined seats of a Socialist Democrat-Greens alliance.

In Belgium, voters will also get to elect federal and regional chambers and are forecast to back the far-right Flemish separatist party Vlaams Belang in record numbers, although it could still be kept from office by other parties.

The government of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo will likely stay in office in a caretaker capacity for many months until a new multi-party coalition is formed.

The centre-right European People’s Party is forecast to remain the European Parliament’s largest group, putting its candidate to head the European Commission, incumbent Ursula von der Leyen of Germany, in pole position to be appointed for a second term.

However, she may need support from some right-wing nationalists, such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, to secure a parliamentary majority, giving Meloni and allies more leverage.

Parliament as a whole will also vote and often amend a slew of legislation expected in the next five years. The rightward shift means it may be less enthusiastic on climate change policies and the reforms required for EU enlargement, while eager on measures to limit immigration.

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