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Irish and Czech voters go to the polls on Day 2 of EU elections as the far right seeks more power

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Voters in Ireland and the Czech Republic, two countries where immigration was a key issue on the campaign trail, took to the polls on Friday, the second day of the balloting for the European Parliament. A surge of the far-right across the 27-nation bloc was likely to emerge from the electoral marathon.

Final results will not be released until Sunday night, once voting is completed in every country. However, an exit poll on Thursday after the elections kicked off in the Netherlands confirmed that Geert Wilders’ far-right PVV party would likely make big gains.

Although a coalition of pro-European parties pushed the PVV into second place amid a bigger turnout than at the previous EU elections, Wilders’ party looked to have made the biggest gains of the night.

Against the backdrop of the election, reports emerged that Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen was assaulted by a man on a square in the capital of Copenhagen on Friday. Police confirmed on X, formerly Twitter, that one person was arrested in the case and an investigation was underway.

Media reports said the attack was not linked to a campaign event. Her office told the Danish state broadcaster DR that she was “shocked” by the incident. Frederiksen has been campaigning with the Social Democrats’ EU lead candidate, Christel Schaldemose.

Since the last EU election in 2019, populist, far-right and extremist parties have taken over governments in three EU nations, are part of governing coalitions in several others, and appear to have surging public support across the continent. Far-right parties in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy are frontrunners in the EU elections.

Immigration has risen up Ireland’s political agenda, with independent candidates calling for tighter controls expected to win many votes. Ireland does not have a large far-right party capable of consolidating anti-immigrant sentiment.

The immigration issue is eroding support for left-of-center Sinn Fein, the party once linked to the Irish Republican Army, which had been on track to become Ireland’s most popular party.

In the Czech election campaign, the far-right and far-left were united over the condemnation of the EU’s plans to tackle immigration and climate change, as well as their strong opposition against military support for Ukraine.

Former populist prime Minister Andrej Babis and his centrist ANO (YES) movement campaigned under the headline “No to immigration and the green madness.” Babis espouses a strong anti-migrant rhetoric, which unites him with another anti-migration champion, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister.

ANO led the polls ahead of the center-right Together coalition, which consists of the conservative Civic Democratic Party of Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Christian Democrats and the liberal-conservative TOP 09 party. Two other government parties, the Pirate Party and STAN, a group of mayors and independent candidates, are also expected to win seats.

The Freedom and Direct Democracy party, the main anti-migrant force and a local ally of French far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party that won two seats in 2019, is looking to repeat that result if not improve it. Enough, a far-left coalition, is also expected to win at least a seat.

On Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the EU risked being brought to a standstill if far-right parties have a big representation at the Parliament. The lead candidate for France’s National Rally, Jordan Bardella, was quick to fire back at Macron, urging French voters to choose his party to block the EU’s “harmful policies, such as punitive ecology against our farmers or migratory submersion.”

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda delivered an address to the nation Thursday evening in which he argued that the elections are important because they will help determine whether Poland and other nations can maintain their national sovereignty.

“It is the coming years that will decide the direction in which the entire European Union will move,” Duda said. “Will it be, as the founding fathers of the Community wanted, a Europe of homelands that respect the history, culture, traditions and identities of individual member states, or will it be a centralised European state, as the Brussels bureaucrats would like it to be, where the EU treaties will be amended by the big ones and Poland’s influence on the most important decisions will be limited?”

Duda, a close ally of the former ruling national conservative Law and Justice party, opposes closer federalisation of the bloc.

Almost 400 million voters will be electing 720 members of the European Parliament to five-year terms.

EU lawmakers can vote on a wide range of legislation covering banking rules, climate, agriculture, fisheries, security and justice, and the stakes are high. They also vote on the EU budget, which is crucial to the implementation of European policies, including the aid delivered to Ukraine.

The number of lawmakers elected in each country depends on the size of the population. It ranges from six for Malta, Luxembourg and Cyprus to 96 for Germany. Voters in the Czech Republic will elect 21 members of the European Parliament, while 14 seats are up for grabs in Ireland.

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Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London, Karel Janicek in Prague, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and David Keyton in Berlin contributed to this report.

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN
Associated Press

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