Prague — Eurosceptic parties are aiming to grab a chunk of the power they so despise in the EU parliament elections this week.
From the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants to pull Britain out of the 27-nation club altogether, to Dutch firebrand Geert Wilders who wants the EU to collapse and the new Libertas party which simply says it wants greater EU democracy, the sceptics are seizing on the economic crisis and anger at national governments to press home their case.
About 375 million voters across the EU are eligible to elect the 736 deputies for a five-year term at the EU’s only directly-elected EU institution. Many voters are expected to stay away from the vote however, increasing the chances of smaller extremist parties.
The UK Independence Party which wants Britain out of Europe and an end to mass immigration already has nine MEPs. Now it is profiting from the scandal over the MPs expenses in the British parliament.
UKIP’s support has trebled from six percent to 19 percent since the revelations first started appearing, which would be enough for it to finish second.
According to a poll for the Economist weekly, British voters are increasingly opposed to the European Union.
The poll carried out by YouGov shows that over the past 25 years, the proportion of people who think that Britain’s membership of the EU is a good thing has fallen from 43 percent to 31 percent.
The share of respondents who think the EU is a "bad thing" has risen from 30 percent to 37 percent.
In the Netherlands, far-right leader Geert Wilders, who has gained international notoriety with his attacks on Islam, says he wants to bring down the European parliament — from the inside.
The 45-year-old, with his platinum dyed hair and 24 hour protection after multiple death threats, has made sure his Party for Freedom (PVV) has been at the centre of the Dutch campaign.
Wilders faces a trial at home for his anti-Islam utterings and was recently barred from entering Britain because of his controversial comments. But he is at the height of its popularity at home and the PVV hopes to take up to four of the 25 Dutch seats in the assembly, despite advocating its demise.
The Czech Republic is just coming to the end of its six months in charge of the EU presidency.
But its head of state, President Vaclav Klaus, is another outspoken euro basher. He said Tuesday that the EU elections are "not necessary" and has inspired three parties to enter the campaign in the Czech Republic to decry the EU’s proposed Lisbon reform treaty and its growing powers.
The Czech branch of Libertas, founded by European lawmaker Vladimir Zelezny, the Free Citizens’ Party (SSO) of Klaus’s former aide Petr Mach and Sovereignty of another European MP, Jana Bobosikova, were all set up for the EU election.
Bobosikova, a 44-year-old former TV presenter, travels the country energetically promoting her slogan of "Yes to Europe, No to the Lisbon Treaty."
The founder of the Czech Libertas party, Zelezny, 64, who was head of the first Czech commercial TV station in the 1990s, has also played the nationalist card.
He has said the EU will seek to force the restitution of property seized from Sudeten Germans after 1945 once the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.
"We will not let a Maltese, a Finn or a Portuguese decide whether we discriminated against Sudeten Germans or not," he declared. Libertas says it has more than 600 candidates in all 27 countries.
A recent poll by the STEM institute indicated that the three will struggle to take one of the Czech seats from the mainstream Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Social Democrats (CSSD).
But Bobosikova was the surprise winner of a STEM popularity poll with support as high as 49 percent.
Similarly in Finland, polls have indicated that Timo Soini, head of the True Finns party, is the country’s best-known candidate in the election.
A TNS Gallup survey for the Maaseudun Tulevaisuus newspaper showed the eurosceptic anti-immigration True Finns party and the Christian Democrats, which have formed an alliance for the European elections, could win 12 percent of the vote.