Voters are heading to the ballot boxes in Britain and the Netherlands as both countries open up polling in European parliamentary elections. Euroskeptic parties were expected to make large gains in both countries.
British and Dutch voters were heading to the polls on Thursday, three days ahead of the bulk of other EU countries, with populist right-wing parties tipped to be the big winners of the day.
Britain's anti-immigration, anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) has confounded analysts with its popularity in opinion polls ahead of the vote. Although UKIP has no members of parliament in Britain's lower house, it enters the fray on Thursday ahead of the main opposition Labour Party.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has already ruled out a deal with the leader of the Dutch anti-Islam Party of Freedom (PVV), Geert Wilders, claiming that its European Parliament grouping is anti-Semitic.
Polls show UKIP, which wants Britain to leave the EU and introduce a points-based immigration system, even poses a threat to David Cameron's center-right Conservative Party.
In the Netherlands, Wilders' party hopes to win six of the 26 seats up for grabs. Unlike Farage he is a national lawmaker, and will not stand personally for an EU seat.
Grouped with French far-right
Wilders, whose party is leading national opinion polls, has conducted its campaign vowing to take the Netherlands out of the EU and abandon the euro.
Also a part of the PVV's European grouping is France's Front National, the former leader of which, Jean-Marie Le Pen, provoked outrage on Wednesday by suggesting that the deadly ebola virus in Africa could address Europe's immigration problem.
Most EU countries are holding their elections on Sunday, with Ireland, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Malta and Slovakia holding their polls in the interim.
With some 26 million people out of work across the EU, euroskeptic and far-right parties are expected to capitalize on rising support across the bloc for their anti-immigration and anti-EU platforms.
rc/tj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)