Brussels: Mainstream European Union parties are holding their ground against the assault from populists in elections for the bloc's Parliament, according to the first set of exit polls.
With voting still going on in some countries, the parties who rally against foreigners, want to rein in the EU and despise the cozy relationship between centrist groups, aren't performing as well as some establishment politicians feared.
Instead, it's the Liberals and the Greens set to post the biggest gains in the first EU-wide test of public opinion in five years. Turnout looks set to be the highest for two decades as voters respond to the populist threat.
The big exception looks to be France where President Emmanuel Macron talked up this election as a straight choice between those who are for or against the EU. His party has been defeated by Marine Le Pen's euroskeptic National Rally, according to exit polls.
"The French people gave a lesson in humility" to Macron, far-right candidate Jordan Bardella said.
With full results from across Europe filtering in over the next six hours, the focus will be on whether the mainstream postwar centre-right and centre-left alliances will have a majority in the European Parliament as has been the case since direct elections began 40 years ago.
According to the first official EU projection based on the exit polls, the two big alliances will make up 43 per cent of the seats, down from 56 per cent in 2014. Populist parties look set to win 29 per cent of the Europe-wide vote, slightly down from 30 per cent in the current Parliament, according to official EU projections. The pro-business Liberals and the Greens look like the big winners with 14 per cent and 9 per cent respectively.
That would mean that the EU is likely to broadly continue current policies: distancing itself from US President Donald Trump's protectionist trade strategy, gradually integrating the euro area, seeking a way to share the burden of non-EU migrants and holding firm against any UK attempt to reopen the Brexit deal.
While Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU bloc is a clear winner in Germany, with 28 per cent of the vote, according to exit polls, that's less than the 35 per cent recorded in 2014. The Social Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner, slumped to 15.5 per cent from 27 per cent, while the Greens surged to second place. The nationalist AfD is set to record 10.5 per cent, according to the indication, lower than forecast but up on 2014's 7 per cent.
"This election result is not a result that meets the ambitions that we've set for ourselves as a mass party," Merkel's chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told party members in Berlin.
Across Europe, it's a similar picture of euroskeptic parties failing to make breakthroughs:
- In Denmark, exit polls show the nationalist Danish People's Party will get less than 12 per cent of the vote, after getting 21 per cent in the last national election
- In Slovakia, the far-right party is set to finish third
- In Finland, with 21 per cent of the vote counted, the far-right Finns party is getting 13 per cent — more or less in line with its 2014 showing
- In Greece, the opposition centre-right New Democracy is on course to beat Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's Syriza
Turnout across the 28 countries is the highest in 20 years, according to official EU estimates, and has risen for the first time ever.
Results from the UK are due later on Sunday night, local time. The UK was obliged to participate in the election because it didn't leave the EU on March 29 as scheduled.