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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 June, 2004, 22:11 GMT 23:11 UK
Dutch defy EU on election results
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende casts his vote
The Dutch say they are acting in the interests of greater transparency
The Dutch government has released preliminary results from its European parliament elections in defiance of a European Commission order.

The Netherlands and the UK went to the polls on Thursday; the 23 other EU countries are due to do so by Sunday.

The Commission, which is threatening the Dutch with legal action, says one country releasing some results early could influence voters in another.

But the Dutch said they were acting in the interests of greater transparency.

Apathy feared

The Commission says the early release violates an EU imposed embargo to prevent the results in one country influencing voters in another.

But the Dutch government has argued the new law does allow early publication of results if they are not the final tally.

Thursday: The Netherlands, UK
Friday: Ireland
Friday & Saturday: Czech Rep
Saturday: Latvia and Malta
Saturday & Sunday: Italy
Sunday: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden

Correspondents say that the controversial Dutch provisional results released this Thursday, indicate with a certainty of 98% to 99% who will fill the 27 Dutch seats in the European parliament in Brussels.

The EU extended its frontiers to include 10 new members on 1 May this year and the elections across the 25 members make it the world's biggest trans-national poll.

But there are fears that up to half the 350 million-odd people eligible to vote will ignore the exercise.

In the UK, the elections are likely to be the last test of public opinion before general elections next year.

Postal ballot

Elections also took place in 166 local English and Welsh councils, as well as for London's mayor and assembly.

Millions of people across Northern England and the East Midlands cast their vote before Thursday in the biggest all-postal ballot attempted in the UK.

As a result, European election turnout is already higher in many areas than at the last elections in 1999.

But the final days of campaigning were marred in some areas by accusations of fraud and voter intimidation, which are being investigated by the police and the Electoral Commission.

Democratic counterweight

Ireland will vote on Friday, Latvia and Malta vote on Saturday, and the other countries vote on Sunday.

The Czech Republic has two days of voting on the Friday and the Saturday, and Italy votes on Saturday and Sunday.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt, in France, says apathy on Europe is rife.

She says France's governing centre-right fears that voters could use this as a chance to vote against the government on domestic rather than on European issues.

Analysts are suggesting recent world events are also going to have an impact on the elections.

It is hoped that the show of unity over an Iraq resolution at the United Nations on Tuesday will encourage voters.

The European Parliament was designed as a democratic counterweight to the European Commission, whose members are appointed, not elected.

It exercises a measure of control over budget, trade, environment and consumer affairs in the EU.

EPP-ED: European People's Party-European Democrats (Centre-Right)
PES: Party of European Socialists (Socialists)
ELDR: European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party (Liberals)
EUL/NGL: European United Left / Nordic Green Left (Far Left)
Greens/EFA: Greens / European Free Alliance (Greens and regionalists / nationalists)
IND: Independents, not attached to any group
UEN: Union for Europe of the Nations (Right wing / Gaullists)
EDD: Europe of Democracies and Diversities (Eurosceptics)

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