Voting continues in Euro polls after Dutch far-right gains

European Union-wide voting for the European Parliament continued Friday, with polls opening in Ireland and the Czech Republic – two of the member states that have provoked the most headaches in Brussels. Polling in Ireland began at 7 am (0600 GMT) and was to continue until the evening. Czech voters started voting in the afternoon, with polling stations closing on Saturday.

Friday’s round of voting was taking place a day after citizens cast their ballots early in Britain and the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, the far-right Dutch Freedom Party shook the country’s political establishment by becoming the second-strongest national faction after the ruling Christian Democrats, gaining a projected four seats in the process.

European Commission officials voiced their displeasure Friday at its decision to publish its election results before voting is completed across the EU, thus complying with Dutch election procedures but violating the bloc’s rules.

Spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said the commission planned to ask the Dutch government for “clarifications” and raised the possibility of action being taken against the country.

“The events that took place in the Netherlands yesterday would seem not to comply with the spirit of European elections,” Altafaj said.

The spokesman argued that the simultaneous publication of the results in all 27 member states on Sunday evening, when the last polling stations will have closed, is necessary to ensure that the elections are seen as European, rather than national.

Moreover, it is necessary to avoid “influencing voters in those countries which have not yet voted,” Altafaj said.

Despite Friday’s warnings, the controversy was widely expected to deflate in the coming weeks. The Netherlands also published its results early five years ago, when the previous round of European Parliament voting took place, but was not formally punished by the commission.

Britain has agreed to stick by its EU obligations by publishing its results on Sunday evening.

Most of the attention Friday was on Ireland, which has stalled the entry into force of the EU’s reforming Lisbon Treaty after it was rejected by voters in a referendum held in June 2008.

The man who spearheaded Ireland’s victorious no campaign, Declan Ganley, has launched the eurosceptic Libertas party, but its support was estimated at just 9 per cent, according to the latest poll commissioned by The Irish Times daily.

Analysts say the wave of anti-Lisbon feelings has abated in Ireland chiefly as a result of the global recession, which has hit the former Celtic Tiger particularly hard.

Domestically, the European Parliament election is being dubbed a “verdict” on the ruling Fianna Fail party, whose popularity has sunk to an historic low of 20 per cent.

With two-thirds of the Irish saying they will definitely vote, turnout is expected to be much higher than the predicted European average. Experts say the high level of interest in the election reflects the electorate’s desire to give Fianna Fail a kicking at the polls.

Turnout for the European Parliament election in Britain, where local elections were also held in England and Wales, was estimated at just 20 per cent.

Polling was also underway in the Czech Republic, whose six-month presidency of the EU has been marred by a string of diplomatic blunders, culminating in the collapse of the centre-right government mid-way through its stint at the EU helm.

The most powerful man in Czech politics is now President Vaclav Klaus, a renowned eurosceptic.

The remaining 23 EU member states open their polls over the weekend.


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