Dutch nationalist Wilders eyes win as Netherlands kicks off EU voting

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders looked set for new electoral gains on Thursday as the Netherlands kicks off four days of voting in the European Parliament election held across the 27 EU member states.

A nationwide opinion poll published on the eve of the vote put Wilders' anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV) in a tie for first place with the Labour/GreenLeft combination, with both projected to get 8 seats.

This would mean a huge gain for Wilders, who failed to secure a seat in the previous EU election in 2019.

Labour and GreenLeft won 6 and 3 seats respectively four years ago. The two left-wing parties run on a joint ticket this year, but will have separate factions in parliament after the vote.

Wilders is riding a wave of support in the Netherlands, where his promises of a crackdown on asylum migration already brought him a large win at the general election in November last year.

Following months of tense talks, the 60-year old political veteran last month secured a deal with three other conservative parties to form a right-wing government, which is expected to be sworn in by the end of the month.

That coalition said it would take a tough stance in Brussels, seeking exemptions on EU asylum and environmental rules and a significant cut in the Dutch contribution to the EU budget.

Wilders for years said the Dutch should leave the union, but changed his tone in the run-up to this election and dropped his aim of holding a referendum on the country's EU membership.

Instead, he said his party would now aim to limit the EU's powers from within parliament, joining a possible coalition with the parties of Italy's and France's far-right leaders Giorgia Meloni and Marine Le Pen.

An exit poll will be published when voting closes in the Netherlands Thursday at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT). Results will be announced when polls have closed in all member states, Sunday at 2100 GMT.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Stephen Coates)