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The Ultimate WSJ Guide to European Elections: One, Two, Three … Vote
The Wall Stree Journal
By Gabriele Steinhauser
Eight days until citizens across the European Union start electing a new European Parliament. Yes, that’s right, eight days until they start — namely on Thursday May 22 — and 11 days until they’re done — in other words Sunday May 25. Countries aren’t allowed to release official results until the last polling station closes, which happens at 11 p.m. Brussels time on the 25th.
So when should you start paying attention?
First exit polls will be rolling in around 9 p.m. Brussels time on Thursday, when polls close in the Netherlands. Watch out for gains made by Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, which is hoping to form an alliance in the new Parliament with other far-right, anti-immigrant parties such as France’s Front National.
That same night, we’ll get first exit polls from the U.K. Here, all eyes will be on the result for the U.K. Independence Party, which wants Britain to pull out of the EU, and how much of a battering Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives will receive.
On Friday, the Irish cast their ballots, but they won’t start counting until Sunday. The Czech Republic allows its citizens to vote both Friday and Saturday.
Saturday is voting day in a bunch of smaller EU countries, namely Latvia, Malta, and Slovakia.
The real action doesn’t start until Sunday. That’s when voting starts in the remaining 21 EU countries. The first provisional results on the European level won’t be released until 11 p.m. Brussels time, when voting ends in Italy (the big story here is how much support there is for new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party and the rising Five Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo).
But there’s plenty of reason to pay attention before then. Between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. we’ll get first exit polls from Germany, France, Greece and Finland, some of the most interesting countries in this election.
For Germany, the big question is how many lawmakers the euroskeptic AfD gets to send to Brussels and Strasbourg this summer. Shortly after that, we will find out whether Marine Le Pen’s National Front will actually be the biggest party in France—a development that could easily become the biggest story of the night.
In Greece, exit polls for European and local elections will give a good indication of how stable the Greek government will be as it heads into new bailout and debt-reduction talks with the rest of the euro zone. Do citizens believe center-right Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s claims that the economy has finally turned a corner and how much of the vote goes to the leftist Syriza and the ultra-right Golden Dawn?
Other countries to pay attention to are Finland, where the The Finns (the nationalist party you may remember as the True Finns) are currently head-to-head with the center-right Kokoomus (part of the European People’s Party) and Denmark, where the nationalist Danish People’s Party has been making gains.
At 9 p.m. the Parliament publishes figures on turnout—an closely-watched metric after only 43% of potential voters cast their ballots in 2009—and at 10 p.m. the chamber will release a first estimate of its future make-up (just in time for print deadlines across the continent).
Of course, many of the key questions won’t be answered until some time after May 25. For instance, will far-right parties really manage to form an official voting group (which gives lawmakers extra funding and the right to lead negotiations on new laws) and will the European Conservatives & Reformists (home to the U.K. Conservatives) maintain enough delegates to do the same?
And of course, perhaps the biggest question: Will EU leaders actually appoint the lead candidate of the winning party (i.e. the Socialists’ Martin Schulz or the EPP’s Jean-Claude Juncker) as commission president? We may get a first indication the night of Monday May 26, when national prime ministers and presidents meet in Brussels for an informal dinner, but don’t count on all mysteries being resolved by then.
Before all this, keep an eye on our election infographic, which will be updated with the latest polls until the day before voting starts.
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