Voters across the EU are going to the polls on Sunday in the last day of elections for the European Parliament, one of the world’s biggest democratic exercises and a political test for the bloc’s leaders, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron.
Opinion polls point to a shake-up in the parliament, with the major centre-right and centre-left blocs expected to lose ground in favour of both pro-EU reformers and Eurosceptic nationalists.
The results will have a decisive impact on the EU’s political direction for the coming five years, determining the parliament’s stance on sensitive issues such as green taxes and international trade deals. They will also weigh heavily on the race for the bloc’s top jobs.
The election will have major implications for some of the EU’s leading national politicians. Mr Macron and his La République en Marche are running a close race in France with the far-right Rassemblement National, while Italy’s Matteo Salvini is seeking to burnish his credentials as his country’s top politician and the standard-bearer of European nationalism.
Mr Macron has described the vote as the most important since direct elections to the European Parliament began in 1979 “because the union is facing an existential threat” from populist, anti-EU forces.
A number of countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Latvia have already voted since the elections began on Thursday, but much of the continent goes to the polls on Sunday.
The FT is prohibited by law from reporting on the exit polls, although other international media have done so. By UK law, exit polls may not be reported until the last poll closes at 11pm Brussels time.
The EU parliament will begin releasing live results and seat projections from around 6pm Brussels time on Sunday. It is set to publish a first aggregated projection of the make-up of the new parliament after 8pm.
MEPs will be elected for a mandate lasting until 2024, although it could turn out to be a considerably shorter stay for members elected to the 751 seat assembly from the UK, who are set to leave as soon as Brexit takes place.
One crucial factor in the elections will be turnout, which has fallen in every successive EU election since 1979 — a trend that the parliament is desperate to reverse. In 2014, 42.6 per cent of the electorate took part.
The election is the first act of a multi-part drama in which the EU will nominate fresh leadership for its institutions, including new presidents for the European Commission, the European Council of member states, and the European Central Bank.
More on the 2019 European elections
As the results become clear, EU leaders as well as lead candidates put forward by the union’s different political forces will be preparing their strategies for the haggling to come — especially over the powerful commission presidency.
In the hours after the vote, German Christian Democrat Manfred Weber, nominated by the centre-right European People’s party as its candidate for the commission job, and Frans Timmermans, the Dutchman nominated by the socialists, will be seeking to build coalitions of support in the new parliament.
Parliament chiefs will meet on Tuesday to chew over the results, while Donald Tusk, the current president of the EU Council, has convened national leaders for a first round of talks over dinner in Brussels the same day.