VOTERS IN the United Kingdom and the Netherlands became the first European Union citizens to go to the polls Thursday to elect a new European Parliament.
The massive election, involving all 27 member states, around 375 million eligible voters and 736 MEP seats, is the biggest exercise in transnational democracy the world has ever seen, with voters from Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, participating for the first time.
Each country in the EU sets its own timetable for voting with most going to the polls on Sunday. In Ireland and the Czech Republic voting takes place on Friday. Counting is due to start on Sunday night.
The powers of the European Parliament -- the EU's main legislative assembly -- have increased significantly since it was established in 1979, with the parliament often shaping legislation which is then passed down to national parliaments for ratification at member state level.
But there have been fears that this year's contest could be hijacked by extremist parties taking advantage of low turnout across member states.
A "Euro barometer" poll conducted last month found that only a third of potential voters intended to use their mandate, suggesting that participation could be even lower than the 45 percent turnout in 2004.
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