Europe Immigration and EU: buzzwords in three key elections

Dutch elections on Wednesday set the stage for others in France and Germany that come against a background of eurosceptic or anti-immigrant sentiments boosted by Brexit.

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Dutch elections have boiled down to a tight race between MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) and Prime Minister Mark Rutte (pictured) and his Liberals (VVD) play

Dutch elections have boiled down to a tight race between MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) and Prime Minister Mark Rutte (pictured) and his Liberals (VVD)

(ANP/AFP)
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Dutch elections on Wednesday set the stage for others in France and Germany that come against a background of eurosceptic or anti-immigrant sentiments boosted by Brexit.

The Netherlands: PVV eyes record score

On Wednesday, 12.9 million Dutch voters will be eligible to cast ballots in general elections contested by 28 parties and 1,114 candidates.

The vote has boiled down to a tight race between MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) and Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Liberals (VVD).

Polls indicate that the anti-euro, anti-Islam PVV could score its best result since its creation in 2006.

The PVV would not necessarily be part of the next government however, because that will likely be a coalition and most parties have pledged not to govern with the PVV.

A firebrand politician, Wilders has vowed to shut mosques, ban the Koran, close the country's borders and take The Netherlands out of the EU, an institution that it helped found.

Leiden University analyst Geerten Waling believes the vote will produce "a very divided parliament" and warned: "It's going to be much tougher to form a coalition government, much tougher than before."

France: duel ahead with Le Pen

France's presidential race has turned into a rollercoaster, with frontrunning candidates dogged by scandal and the anti-immigrant, anti-euro National Front (FN) seeking to pull off a Donald Trump-style upset.

The first round of voting takes place on April 23. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two go into a runoff on May 7.

Once the frontrunner, conservative Francois Fillon has had to battle to stay in the race because of the revelations that he had paid his wife Penelope hundreds of thousands of euros from public funds, allegedly for fake jobs.

This has proved good news for Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist, who polls show would reach the second round of the election, where his opponent is forecast to be far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Although polls show Le Pen losing in the second round, all eyes are on her nationalist FN, which is seeking to emulate Trump's surprise November victory in the US, which defied pollsters and media alike.

However, Le Pen has her own legal troubles: she faces prosecution for distributing images of Islamic State atrocities over Twitter as well as separate cases over misusing public funds at the European Parliament and campaign financing.

Germany: Merkel under pressure

Immigration is a widely-discussed issue in German elections to be held on September 24, but both leading parties favour strong links within the EU.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative coalition, which comprises her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavarian CSU party, is, according to polls, in a dead heat or even slightly behind the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), which has named popular former European Parliament president Martin Schulz as its candidate.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party appears to have lost some steam after polling at 12-15 percent in the wake of a jihadist attack that killed 12 people in a Berlin Christmas market in December.

Recent surveys have given it 11 percent, boosting its hopes of becoming the first hard right-wing party to enter Germany's parliament since 1945.

The AfD, close to France's FN and the Dutch PVV, rails against Merkel's liberal asylum policy that has drawn more than a million asylum seekers to Germany since 2015.

The AfD started out as an anti-euro party before seizing on public anger over Merkel's decision to open the country's doors to migrants and refugees.

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