The Latest: European Election turnout is highest in 20 years

1 / 40
A young boys waves an EU flag during a festival outside the European Parliament in Brussels, Sunday, May 26, 2019. From Germany and France to Cyprus and Estonia, voters from 21 nations went to the polls Sunday in the final day of a crucial European Parliament election that could see major gains by the far-right, nationalist and populist movements that are on the rise across much of the continent. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Latest on elections for the European Parliament (all times local):

8:05 p.m.

The European Parliament spokesman says turnout for this year's pivotal election is nearing 51% for 27 nations, according to preliminary figures.

Jaume Duch Guillot says the figure, which excludes Britain, is the highest in at least 20 years and reverses years of steady decline. U.K. figures are expected later Sunday evening, as final tallies roll in for an election that both centrist parties and the far-right have portrayed as a referendum on sovereignty and the European Union.

Four days of voting will end Sunday, and 426 million people across 28 nations were eligible to vote for the makeup of the European Parliament. In the case of Britain, voters are electing legislators who will lose their jobs when Brexit is finalized.

It is, Guillot said, "very significant increase in turnout for the very first time since the first European elections took place in 1979."

___

8 p.m.

In Greece, an updated exit poll shows the conservative opposition New Democracy party winning between 32.5% to 34.5% of Sunday's vote for the European Parliament.

Greece's governing left-wing Syriza is projected to get between 24% and 26%. The socialists of Movement for Change are expected to see between 7.2% to 8.2% support; the Communists between 5% to 6%; while the extreme-right Golden Dawn and the nationalist Greek Solution both are projected to get 4% to 5% support.

The threshold to elect one of Greece's 21 European lawmakers is 3%. The exit poll was conducted jointly by five polling firms.

Greece is also voting for regional and local councils Sunday.

Voters from 21 EU nations went to the polls Sunday in the final day of a crucial European Parliament election.

___

7:45 p.m.

The Greens are celebrating projected strong gains in Germany in the European Parliament elections and a good showing in Ireland.

An exit poll published by the European Parliament says that in Germany, the Greens finished second with 22% support, double their result five years ago. The poll shows that in Ireland the Green Party was in a three-way tie for second place behind the governing Fine Gael party.

Ska Keller of the European Greens hailed the results Sunday evening. She says, "it is a great celebration but it's also a great responsibility. It is a great task to now put into action those things that people asked us to do: Climate protection, social justice in Europe and fighting for civil liberties all over."

The strong showings for the Greens follow protests by students and activists across Europe calling for faster action to tackle climate change.

___

7:35 p.m.

In Bulgaria, the ruling center-right GERB party is projected to come in first in the European election in that nation, according to an exit poll jointly conducted by two Bulgarian polling firms.

The poll by Alpha Research and Gallup International says GERB is projected to win 30% to 33% of the vote, compared to 23% to 25% for the opposition Socialist party.

The liberal Movement for Rights and Freedoms party is projected to win 13%, while a nationalist formation, the VMRO, and the right-wing Democratic Bulgaria party are projected to get between 6% and 8% each.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev says "we need a united and strong Europe" based on solidarity.

Voters from 21 EU nations went to the polls Sunday in the final day of a crucial European Parliament election that could see gains by nationalists and far-right movements. The EU's other seven nations voted earlier this week but results on all the voting will not be released until after all polls close Sunday night.

___

7:08 p.m.

The center-right candidate to lead the European Union Executive's Commission is promising to bring "stability" to the European Union over the next few years and predicts pro-EU forces will lead the next parliament.

Manfred Weber, the candidate of the European People's Party, said in Berlin that Sunday's European Parliament elections appear to have weakened the political center. He says it's "most necessary for the forces that believe in this Europe, that want to lead this Europe to a good future, that have ambitions for this Europe, ... (to) work together."

He said those forces have to have a "clear division" from other political groups who oppose Europe on both the right and the left.

Weber said the EPP will be "hopefully the strongest group" in the new European parliament. He said "we promised stability, and (we) will guarantee this stability in the coming years."

___

6:35 p.m.

Spain's Interior Ministry says turnout for the European elections at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) is up to 49.3% from nearly 34.1% in 2014.

Spain is also holding local and some regional elections Sunday, including the highly watched races for the mayor of Madrid and Barcelona. The 2014 European elections were held alone.

Still, turnout was down from Spain's April 28 national election, when it was nearly 60.8% at 1600 GMT.

In Barcelona, a Catalan separatist candidate is trying to oust its incumbent far-left mayor, who says she does not support secession but believes that Catalans should vote on the question.

___

6:15 p.m.

In Greece, the conservative opposition New Democracy party is projected to win the European election, according to an exit poll jointly conducted by five Greek polling firms.

New Democracy is projected to win 32% to 36% of the vote, compared to 25% to 29% for the ruling left-wing Syriza.

The socialist Movement for Change is projected to win 7% to 9%, while the extreme right Golden Dawn and the Communist party are expected to get between 5% and 7% each.

Two more parties, far-right nationalist Greek Solution and Diem25, the Greek section of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis' European movement, have a chance to exceed the 3% threshold required for sending a representative to the European Parliament.

The poll, with 7,000 respondents, was conducted until 5 p.m. (1400 GMT), two hours before voting ended, and will be updated.

___

6:05 p.m.

An exit poll shows Germany's governing parties losing significant ground in the European Parliament election, with big gains for the Greens party and a much smaller increase for the far-right.

The ARD television exit poll put support for Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Union bloc at 28% and showed their coalition partners in Berlin, the center-left Social Democrats, dropping to a dismal 15.5%. Five years ago, those parties took 35.4% and 27.3% respectively of the vote.

It showed the Greens easily taking second place with 22% — double their result five years ago. The far-right Alternative for Germany was seen with 10.5% support, better than its showing in 2014 but less than it scored in Germany's last national election in 2017.

___

5:50 p.m.

France's Interior Ministry says turnout for the European Parliament election was up in the country compared to previous vote.

In France, turnout was over 43% at 5 p.m. (1500GMT), compared with 35% at the same time in 2014. Polls remain open until 8 p.m. in the country's big cities.

Several French poll institutes estimate that the final turnout may be over 50% at the end of the day, which would be a first in the country since 1994.

A similar rise in turnout has been observed in neighboring Spain and Germany.

In the whole European Union, turnout for this pan-European vote has trended downward since the first election in 1979. Turnout stood at less than 43% in the 2014 vote.

___

5:35 p.m.

A projection for Austrian public television and the country's national news agency points to a big win for Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's center-right party in the European Parliament election, with the far-right Freedom Party finishing far behind in third place.

The projection was released after polls closed Sunday in Austria. It put support for Kurz's center-right People's Party at 34.5%, with the center-left Social Democrats at 23.5%, the Freedom Party at 17.5% and the Greens at 13.5% support.

It was based on 5,200 interviews conducted from Tuesday to Sunday.

The vote for the joint European Parliament is a the first test in Austria ahead of a national election in September that Kurz called a week ago after a scandal erupted surrounding the Freedom Party's leader. Heinz-Christian Strache quit as party leader and vice chancellor, and the governing coalition between the People's Party and the Freedom Party then collapsed.

___

5:20 p.m.

Italy's anti-migrant hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says he feels a "change in the air" and that a win by his right-wing League party would "change everything in Europe."

Salvini's League is seeking to form an alliance of nationalist, populist parties to exert more power in the European Parliament over the affairs of the European Union. He's campaigned relentlessly throughout Italy and has become the face of Europe's far-right by speaking out against migrants and the influence of Muslims in Europe.

The League party, once just a regional power in northern Italy, is gaining strength throughout the country. It's the junior partner in a coalition government with the populist 5-Star Movement, but the coalition is on rocky ground. Salvini may be tempted to end the partnership to seek a new election in Italy if his electoral gains on the European front are significant.

But on Sunday, he voted in the European election and dismissed speculation about seeking new elections.

He told reporters "I'm interested in winning in Italy to change Europe," according to the Italian news agency ANSA.

___

4 p.m.

Turnout appears to be up in several of the European Union's largest countries for the continentwide battle for influence at the European Parliament.

Turnout was up slightly in Spain, France and Germany by mid-afternoon.

In Spain, turnout was up to 35% compared to 24% at the same time in the last European elections in 2014. Spain is also holding municipal and some regional elections —including for mayor of Madrid and Barcelona— while in 2014 the European elections were separate.

In Germany, the federal election authority said that 29% of registered voters had cast ballots by 2 p.m., four hours before polls closed. That's up from 26% at the same time in 2014. The figure doesn't include postal votes.

And in France, turnout was at 19% at noon, compared with 16% at the same time in 2014.

___

3:10 p.m.

The leader of Spain's upstart far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, asked Spaniards to make "their voice heard" after he cast his ballot in Madrid.

"We come to these elections calling for participation from all Spaniards in accordance to their convictions and principles," Abascal said. "We want to tell them that it is important that each Spaniard has their voice in the municipal and regional institutions, also in the European institutions as, often, this is not seen with much interest by citizens."

Vox erupted into the Spanish political scene in December when it won its first seats in the regional legislature for the Andalusia region. It then won 10% of the vote in national elections on April 28 to enter the Spanish Parliament.

Founded in 2013, Vox failed to win a seat in 2014 European elections, its first electoral test.

Unlike other European far-right parties, Vox is not anti-European Union despite its ultranationalist ideology.

___

2:55 p.m.

Anti-EU and pro-EU parties are both hoping to make gains in a Brexit-dominated election for British seats in the European Parliament, while the governing Conservative Party is bracing for one of its worst-ever performances.

Daniel Hannan, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament, said he feared the party was facing "total wipeout" and would fail to gain any of Britain's 73 seats.

The Conservatives look likely to be punished for failing to take the country out of the EU as promised. Opinion polls suggest the newly founded Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage is set to take the biggest share of votes. There could also be a surge for the centrist Liberal Democrats, who want to stop Brexit.

In the last EU election in 2014, Farage's former UKIP party won 27% of the vote, helping to build momentum in the push to get Britain out of the EU.

___

2:35 p.m.

Spaniards in the restive northeastern region of Catalonia are voting in European elections that include two high-profile separatist leaders who are running from jail and self-imposed exile.

Former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont and his ex-No. 2 Oriol Junqueras are both running on competing tickets of separatist parties for the European Parliament.

Junqueras is in jail in Madrid while on trial on charges that include rebellion for his part in Catalonia's attempt to secede from the rest of Spain in 2017. Puigdemont is wanted in Spain and fled to Belgium.

Both have been allowed to run as candidates, but would face legal hurdles to actually become European Parliament members if elected.

Polls and recent election results show that the 7.5 million residents of the wealthy Catalonia region are roughly split by the secession issue. It is highly unpopular in the rest of Spain.

"I think a lot is at stake for Catalonia in the European elections," Manuel Guajardo, a 57-year-old businessman, said after voting in Barcelona. "It will be the definition of a people, to take a path or another path, and these elections will mark this."

Barcelona is also holding municipal elections, where a separatist candidate is trying to oust its incumbent far-left mayor, who says she does not support secession but believes that Catalans should vote on the question.

___

12:50 p.m.

In Castelbuono, a Medieval mountain town in Sicily's province of Palermo, a steady but sluggish stream of voters is showing up to cast ballots.

Many of the town's residents are backing the 5-Star Movement, a populist party now in a coalition government with the anti-migrant League party.

One of these is Vincenzo Messineo, a 32-year-old laborer who's concerned about youth unemployment and the influx of migrants.

"We don't want them all here," he said. "Europe is united so why can't they be divided among other countries too?"

For Anna Maria Ippolito, a 62-year-old 5-Star Movement supporter, financial inequality is a top concern.

"Six percent of the Italian population has all the wealth," she said. "It's not at all right. Paying the taxes that we do now just lets the rich get richer and the poor poorer."

On Europe, she thinks it's time to rein in the big guns. "Up to now, it's all been about Germany and France," she said. "They're the ones dragging us into this European disaster."

Migrants are on the mind of Silvia Bonomo, too, but she feels Europe needs to "open itself up" and do more to welcome people fleeing war and hardships. The 62-year-old middle-school teacher voted for the center-left Democratic Party.

"They wouldn't be coming if they didn't have a reason to," she said. "Migrants are seen as stealing jobs, which they are not. They're seen as criminals, which they are not. They are just like us."

___

12:30 p.m.

People's Party Our Slovakia, a far right party that has 14 seats in Slovakia's parliament is expected to win seats in the European legislature for the first time.

The party openly admires the Nazi puppet state that the country was during World War II. Party members use Nazi salutes, blame Roma for crime, consider NATO a terror group and want the country out of the alliance and of the European Union.

The party received a boost in April after Slovakia's Supreme Court dismissed a request by the country's prosecutor general to ban it as an extremist group whose activities violate the Constitution.

Turnout in Slovakia at the previous vote in 2014 was 13%, the lowest in all EU countries.

The polls favor the leftist Smer-Social Democracy party, the senior member of the current coalition government, to top the voting with about 20%. Slovakia has 14 seats in the European Parliament.

___

11:40 a.m.

The center-right German candidate to head the European Commission says he hopes voters will back a "Europe of stability" and a united and ambitious continent.

Manfred Weber, whose European People's Party group hopes to retain its status as the biggest in the European Parliament, said after voting in his native Bavaria Sunday: "I don't want to see a right-populist Europe (that) wants to destroy the idea of togetherness ... and I'm also against a Europe which is in the hands of the left."

Ska Keller, a German Green who heads her group's European election slate, said in Berlin that "the European Union should lead the way in climate protection. We need social cohesion, we need to strengthen democracy in Europe and I hope that this will meet with much support."

___

11:25 a.m.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says he hopes the European Parliament elections will strengthen the center rather than parties on the far right and left.

Kurz told reporters in Vienna Sunday that he hopes his center-right People's Party will keep first place in the race for seats in the EU legislature.

The vote has turned into a first test of support ahead of a national election in September following the collapse of Kurz's governing coalition a week ago in a scandal surrounding the now-departed leader of the far-right Freedom Party, which was his junior coalition partner.

Regardless of the result, Kurz faces a no-confidence vote brought by the opposition in parliament Monday. He said he expects the Freedom Party and the Social Democrats to back it, which would bring him down.

___

10:55 a.m.

Spanish caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says that he hopes the outcome of Sunday's European and local elections will lead to more "political stability" for Spain as he starts his attempt to form a government.

Sánchez called on "all the political forces to open a horizon of political stability" after he voted early Sunday morning with his wife in Madrid.

He added that the elections are "to decide the future of progress and wellbeing for the entirety of our country and Europe."

Voter opinion polls point to a victory for Sánchez's Socialist Party in the European elections. Elections are also taking place for administrations in all Spain's cities, including deciding on a second term for the female mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, and 14 of its 19 regions.

Sánchez's Socialists won April 28 national elections in Spain, but fell short of winning an outright majority and will need to earn the support from rivals in Parliament to stay in power.

___

10:40 a.m.

Hungary's prime minister says he hopes the European Parliament election will bring a shift toward political parties that want to stop migration.

Viktor Orban said Sunday after casting his vote at a school near his Budapest home that the issue of migration, which he believes is stoppable, "will reorganize the political spectrum in the European Union."

Orban, whose Fidesz party had its membership suspended in the center-right European People's Party, the largest political bloc in the EU parliament, because of concerns about Hungary's democracy, said Fidesz would want to stay in the EPP only if it can influence the group's future strategy.

Orban met recently with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, but has not committed to joining the more radically nationalist alliance that Salvini has been forming.

Fidesz is expected to win up to 14 of Hungary's 21 seats in the EU parliament.

___

8:05 a.m.

Belgians are heading to the polls in European Union, national and regional elections Sunday.

Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0700GMT) and the first estimates and exit polls were expected by 6 p.m. (1700GMT). In the national elections Belgians are looking to end months of political limbo after the biggest party in the governing coalition quit over Prime Minister Charles Michel's support for the U.N. migration pact.

Michel has steered a caretaker government doing only day-to-day business since December, but with the country's 8 million voters choosing from more than a dozen parties, chances are that it will prove difficult to quickly form a stable coalition.

___

6 a.m.

Bulgarians are voting in the European Parliament elections after a series of scandals overshadowed the debate on key issues of the EU's future.

Voters on Sunday are casting ballots for their country's 17 seats in the 751-member European Parliament. The vote is seen as a test for the center-right party of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, which suffered a setback after senior officials were involved in corruption scandals.

Latest surveys show only three parties, belonging to mainstream European political groups, passing the election threshold — the ruling GERB party, the Socialist party, and the liberal MRF.

Projections suggest the nationalist and far-right vote will be split between several smaller parties, which could prevent them from capturing seats in the EU legislature.