Green/left group edges out Wilders in Dutch EU vote: exit poll

The vote result would be a boost for Frans Timmermans (ROB ENGELAAR)
The vote result would be a boost for Frans Timmermans (ROB ENGELAAR)

A centre-left alliance led by former European Commissioner Frans Timmermans has edged out far-right leader Geert Wilders in the Dutch European Parliament elections, according to an exit poll published Thursday.

The pro-European Green/Labour group of Timmermans was poised to gain eight seats in Thursday's election, ahead of Wilders and his PVV Freedom Party with seven, the definitive exit poll by national broadcaster NOS projected.

The Netherlands will hold 31 of 720 seats in the new European Parliament and was the first country to vote in marathon elections that wrap up on Sunday.

As for the rest of Europe, the final results for the Netherlands will be available on Sunday evening.

If confirmed, the result would be a boost for Timmermans, the architect of the EU's Green Deal environmental policy, who left the post of European Commission vice-president with his eye on power in the Netherlands.

His centre-left coalition of the Green Links and Labour Party performed disappointingly in the national elections in November despite leading the opinion polls at one point.

"I think it's an important signal that all pro-European parties did well in this election," Timmermans said after the exit poll.

"It shows that a majority of people in the Netherlands want to participate in building a strong Europe," he added.

The European elections have taken a back seat in the Netherlands, which is still coming to terms with the shock victory of Wilders and his PVV in November's national vote.

Six months of difficult negotiations followed to form a coalition between four right-wing parties, with a deal finally struck for a government promising the "toughest immigration policy ever" in the country.

But Wilders's ambitions to be prime minister fell by the wayside, with at least two of the coalition parties refusing to condone the anti-Islam, anti-European politician as leader.

The liberal VVD party of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte secured four seats in the EU vote, the exit poll suggested.

The exit poll projected turnout at 46.8 percent, up from the 41.8 percent of voters who cast ballots in the previous election five years ago.

- 'Nexit' -

Wilders had told reporters as he voted that his party would be victorious whatever the result, as the PVV had won no seats in the previous EU election, before picking up one seat later in the parliament.

"I am very happy... we have never had seven seats in the European parliament before," Wilders told reporters after the exit poll.

After several years of campaigning for the Netherlands to leave the European Union -- a "Nexit" -- Wilders dropped that pledge in the PVV manifesto for this vote.

However, the programme is still fiercely eurosceptic, saying: "No European superstate for us... we will work hard to change the Union from within."

"We want less immigration, we want to toughen up asylum rules and policies," Wilders said earlier Thursday as he cast his ballot at the town hall in The Hague.

The stakes are high for the 370 million Europeans called to vote, with a war raging in Ukraine and far-right nationalist parties seen making gains across the board.

Far-right politicians are leading opinion polls in France and Italy, raising the likelihood of a more eurosceptic feel to the new European Parliament.