Preliminary results of the European Union parliamentary elections show that nationalist parties gained significant ground in the U.K., France, Italy, and Poland. Parties like Britain's Brexit party, led by Nigel Farage, and France's National Rally party, led by far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen, took the most votes in their home countries.
However, Reutersreported, these victories in individual countries still didn't "dramatically alter the balance of pro-European power in EU assembly." Pro-Europe groups, including the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the Greens/European Free Alliance party, held strong with 504 out of the 751 available seats in Parliament. The EU's new priority will be "the search for a majority," as no single party took enough seats to hold a simple majority.
Europeans managed to sharply buck the norm of low voter turnout at EU Parliament elections. This time, 51 percent of eligible voters cast their vote, the highest turnout in 20 years. Back in 2014, that figure was only 43 percent. But renewed nationalist sentiment, along with its opposition, seems to have invigorated European voters enough to reverse the trend of "falling participation since the first direct EU vote in 1979."
The European parliamentary elections will begin on Thursday, carrying on through Sunday. All 28 European Union member states will elect a certain number of Members of Parliament to the bench. EU elections are normally, as The Washington Post describes, "tepid" affairs, but this year they've come to the forefront across the continent. Here are four lingering questions to consider before the polls open.
Will the skeptics prevail? — Several EU-skeptic party leaders, like Italy's Matteo Salvini, France's Marine Le Pen, and Hungary's Viktor Orban, have forged a united front in an attempt to gain control of the parliament. But where they once called for Brexit-like referendums in their respective countries, most of the EU-skeptic leaders now believe the answer is to reform the system of government to favor individual nations. The skeptics are expected to gain a fair number of seats, but it's unclear if they'll procure enough to make a difference going forward.
What about Brexit? — Brexit is a disaster, that much is clear. But because the U.K. Parliament can't come to terms on a deal, British citizens will participate in this round of elections. The election itself doesn't have much to do with domestic politics in the U.K., but many see the vote as emblematic of where the country now stands on leaving the EU. As The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff writes, "This may be the closest we ever get to a second referendum." Currently, Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, which as its name suggests, wants the U.K. to leave, is currently leading the polls.
Will people actually show up? - In 2014, the last election cycle, voter turnout slumped to 42.4 percent. The truth is, in the past, Europeans have cared little about their Parliamentary elections. But with the rise of populist parties (and the possible consequences of their victories), and the Brexit-induced fragility of the EU on people's minds, it's likely turnout will surge. Tim O'Donnell