(Brussels) From Vilnius to Lisbon, tens of millions of voters voted on Sunday to renew the European Parliament, where the expected rise of the far right could set the political course for the next five years at a crucial moment for the EU .

The vote, intended to elect 720 MEPs, is taking place against a backdrop of concerns linked to the war in Ukraine triggered by Russia and major challenges for Europe, facing China and the United States.

Citizens of 21 of the 27 EU countries, including Germany, France and Spain, are voting on the final day of an electoral marathon that began Thursday in the Netherlands. In total, more than 360 million people are called to the polls.  

The results are expected in the evening. In Austria, the far-right FPÖ party is credited with 27% of the vote, becoming the largest political force in the country, according to exit polls published late in the afternoon.

“The European Union will only succeed if it stands together and stays together. I think it’s important to stand on the side of peace and democracy, especially in this world where everyone is trying to isolate themselves from others,” commented Tanja Reith, a 52-year-old German voter.

In Toulouse, in the southwest of France, Martine Dorian, 76, considers it “essential to vote”: “If tomorrow there is no more Europe, there is no more France,” says She.  

“The stakes are high,” emphasized Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, two days after being attacked in Copenhagen, citing in particular “safety and security with the war in Europe”, “climate change”, “the pressure on Europe’s borders”, and the influence of “tech giants”.

If the polls predict a surge of the extreme right in many countries, the current “grand coalition” of the right/socialists/liberals, which is forging compromises in the European hemicycle, should retain its majority there. But its room for maneuver could be reduced, forcing it to find backup forces and predicting intense negotiations in the coming weeks.

The Dutch, first to vote on Thursday, confirmed a rise in Geert Wilders’ far-right party, even if it should be content with second place behind the social-democrat and environmentalist coalition, according to estimates.

The President of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, who is seeking a second five-year term, voted mid-morning in Burgdorf, Lower Saxony, in the company of her husband.

“I hope that a pro-peace majority will emerge from these elections,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said after voting in Budapest. Always very critical of Brussels, the nationalist leader is also increasing attacks against NATO, accusing it of dragging the Alliance countries into a “global conflagration”.

In countries neighboring Russia at war with Ukraine, security is a major concern. “I would like security to be strengthened […] or even the deployment of a European contingent on our territory,” says Andrzej Zmiejewski, a 51-year-old doctor, after voting in Warsaw.

The mobilization of the electorate is one of the major challenges of the election.  

In Spain, turnout was down at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. Eastern), at 28.01%, compared to 34.74% in the last poll in 2019. In France, by contrast, it was up at 45.26% as of 5 p.m. (11 a.m. Eastern) compared to 43.29% in 2019.

In this country where 49 million voters are called to the polls to nominate 81 MEPs, President Emmanuel Macron called for a barrier to the far right, believing that the risk was that Europe would find itself “blocked”.

The latest polls place the National Rally, led by Jordan Bardella, well ahead with more than 30% of the vote, far ahead of Renaissance, the French president’s party, then the social democratic left led by Raphaël Glucksmann.

In Germany, the far right gathered behind the AfD is also in ambush, despite the latest scandals which have splashed its head of the list.

If the German conservatives of the CDU-CSU should come well ahead, with 30.5% of the votes, according to a poll, the party of social democratic chancellor Olaf Scholz, the SPD, should experience a bitter failure. The SPD and the Greens are battling for second place with the AfD.

In Italy, where voting began on Saturday, the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia (FDI) party of head of government Giorgia Meloni could send 22 MEPs to the chamber, compared to six currently.

Ms. Meloni, who ran as head of the list in this election, reaffirmed her desire to “defend the borders against illegal immigration, protect the real economy, fight against unfair competition.”

Spain’s prime minister, socialist Pedro Sanchez, encouraged voters to go to the polls. “It is the vote that decides whether the future that we are building together for Europe and for Spain is a future of progress or a future of regression,” he said.  

The first task of MEPs will be to confirm – or reject – the choices of the leaders of the member states for the presidency of the Commission.

If the 27, who meet at the end of June at a summit in Brussels, opt for a reappointment of Ursula von der Leyen, the vote in Parliament, a priori in mid-July, will be carefully scrutinized.   In 2019, when she was appointed to this position to everyone’s surprise, Parliament only gave her its confidence by a very narrow majority (nine votes).