Gibraltar goes to the polls today to vote in elections to the European Parliament against the backdrop of the tortuous Brexit process.
Nearly three years since the UK voted by a narrow margin in a referendum to the leave the EU, Brexit has yet to happen, and may not.
With no clear end to the Brexit saga, the EU granted an extension to the end of October but required the UK – and Gibraltar – to participate in today’s vote.
Britain’s MEPs will leave the parliament if and when Brexit happens.
Between now and Sunday, European citizens across the EU will choose who will represent them in the European Parliament.
This is the fourth time that Gibraltar participates in elections to the European Parliament.
There are 23,726 registered voters in Gibraltar eligible to participate in today’s election.
There are 14 polling stations around the Rock and polls will remain open until 10pm, after which votes will be verified and sealed in evidence bags which will be stored in the Supreme Court until Sunday.
After polls close across the EU on Sunday night, the counting will take place and the results will be announced.
Gibraltar first participated in EU elections in 2004, after securing a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights which enabled Gibraltarians to cast the ballot to elect MEPs.
For EU elections, Gibraltar is part of the south west region of the UK and voters will be electing six MEPs out of the UK’s total of 73.
Turnout in Gibraltar in the 2004 EU election was nearly 58% but has plummeted in the two elections since, with just under 33% of eligible voters participating in 2014.
Overall UK turnout in 2014 was 35.6%, according to the UK’s Electoral Commission.
WIDER EU BACKGROUND
The elections to the EU parliament will influence not just Brussels policy for the next five years but, to some extent, the very future of the Union project itself.
In 2014, nationalists hostile to the EU doubled their presence in the assembly. Five years on, polls show eurosceptics gaining again.
Brussels’ enemies will still struggle to top 20%; and the far-right goes into the weekend hit by scandal over its Austrian flagbearer’s videotaped collusion with a supposed Russian oligarch’s niece eager to buy favour.
Others who want to halt or reverse federalist trends if not scrap the European Union altogether, also face headwinds. Some who are tasting national power must also face disillusioned supporters – notably Italy’s co-rulers the League and 5-Star.
The European project is facing a list of challenges, including unprecedented transatlantic slights from a U.S. president who fetes Europe’s populists, border rows over migrants and an economy hobbled by public debt and challenged by the rise of China.
But parties seeking collective continental action on shared issues such as trade, security, migration or climate change should still dominate the chamber, albeit with a smaller overall majority.
Europeans are preparing to remember events that shaped the Union – 75 years since Americans landed in France to defeat Nazi Germany and since Russian forces let the Germans crush a Polish bid for freedom; 30 since Germans smashed the Berlin Wall to reunite east and west Europe.
But memories of wars, hot and cold, have not sufficed to build faith in a united future. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxemburger who will be replaced as EU executive head after the election, warns of a rising tide of nationalism, not just on the fringes.
Mainstream parties pushing closer integration of the euro currency economy are struggling to capture the imagination of a public jaded with political elites.
Describing it as “undoubtedly the most important” since the first such election in 1979, centrist French President Emmanuel again Macron flourished the standard he has raised for Europe, calling on Thursday for cooperation from conservatives, socialists and Greens to face down a caucus of anti-EU forces.
“In today’s world we need a stronger, more united Europe,” Mr Macron told Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper. Asked if he believe his opponents destroy the EU, he replied: “Of course.”
He need look no further than home turf to see the threat. Marine Le Pen’s National Rally hopes to top the French EU poll, again. And she is delightedly telling voters that she will find many more allies to block what she calls a “rush to federalism”.
Matteo Salvini’s League may pip the Christian Democrats of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the bloc’s power broker beset by nationalists to her right, to become the biggest single party in the 751-seat chamber.
Right-wing ruling parties in Poland and Hungary, defying Brussels over curbs to judicial and media independence, will also return eurosceptic lawmakers on Sunday.
Nigel Farage’s anti-EU Brexit Party could also finish in first place in Britain – though the circumstances surrounding the election there are verging on the absurd.
Britons, including voters in Gibraltar, will kick off the voting today two months after they were supposed to have left the EU. They will be choosing 73 MEPs who cannot be sure of even taking their seats in July.
Mr Farage’s Brexit Party has maintained a big lead over both the Conservatives and Labour in polls on voting intentions.
On the Remain side however, the vote will be splintered between several strongly pro-EU parties: the Liberal Democrats, Change UK and the Green Party.
The results should be clear by late on Sunday, ushering in weeks of bargaining, among parties to form a stable majority in the Parliament, and among national leaders to choose successors to Juncker and other top EU officials.
While many Europeans may remain indifferent to the doings in Brussels, governments in Moscow, Washington, Beijing and elsewhere will be watching closely for signs of political weakness, or strength, in the world’s biggest economic bloc.
MAIN PHOTO: READY FOR VOTERS: Paul Martinez, the Clerk of the Gibraltar Parliament and the local returning officer for the EU election, is pictured above [second from right] earlier this week with his team preparing the ballot boxes and voting slips for today’s vote.