Dutch left-wing holds off surging Wilders in tight EU election, exit poll shows

By Bart H. Meijer

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Left-wing parties in the Netherlands on Thursday were projected to have narrowly won the most votes in the election for European Parliament, although nationalist Geert Wilders' anti-immigration party made the largest gains.

The Labour/GreenLeft combination was projected to have won eight seats, slightly ahead of Wilders' PVV at seven seats, a nationwide exit poll published by broadcaster NOS showed.

The exit poll has an error margin of roughly one seat.

The result meant a huge gain for Wilders following his large win at last year's national election, as his party had failed to secure a seat at the previous EU election and only was handed one after a reshuffle due to Brexit.

"This is a very positive sign and also a sign to the elites in Brussels that things will change," Wilders told reporters in The Hague.

"A signal that at least many of the Dutch voters gave today that they want a different European Union and they want a stronger nation state. Not more transferring of powers to Europe, but exactly the opposite."

Labour leader Frans Timmermans said the results showed left-wing parties should not be written off for this election, despite the rise of nationalist parties throughout Europe.

"As pro-European parties we have shown the rest of Europe it's not a done deal that the radical right wins this election," the EU's former climate chief said.

Voting in the Netherlands kicked off four days of elections for the EU parliament across the 27 EU member states.

It encapsulated the main internal political challenge facing the union: the rising popularity of nationalist and populist parties that want to dismantle the EU from within.

Wilders, known for his outspoken views on immigration and Islam, said on Thursday a good result for the nationalist parties should encourage them to unite in their bid to change EU regulations and repatriate more powers to national legislatures.

The Labour/Green Left combination dropped one seat from their 2019 result, but seemed to have remained the largest overall after a campaign in which they constantly warned about the rise of nationalist parties.

The two left-wing parties ran on a joint ticket, but will have separate factions in parliament after the vote.

The actual result of the Dutch election will be announced after voting has closed in all 27 member states, on Sunday at 2100 GMT.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis)