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What the Dutch right-wing election surge tells us as Europe heads to the polls

Sweeping gains for Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders' anti-immigration party on Thursday are expected to foretell a wider shift to the right in this week's European elections.

The Netherlands was the first country to vote for the next European Parliament, with EU-wide results due late Sunday.

The latest Dutch exit polls give the left-wing Labour and Green parties a slight lead, with a combined total of eight out of 31 available seats in the European Parliament. Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) was close behind with seven seats — a stark turnaround from zero seats in 2019's result.

The result is subject to final confirmation, and the exit poll has an error margin of roughly one seat.

The PVV's surge points to shifting political sentiment in the Netherlands, and across the European Union more broadly, with issues such as immigration, agricultural rights and financial contributions to the bloc of increasing concern.

Han ten Broeke, director of political affairs at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said there was no doubt who had won Thursday's vote, "It must be Geert Wilders, by far."

"At the end of the day, it is also a continuation of what we saw back in 2023 in the national election, where Geert Wilders came out on top," he told CNBC's Silvia Amaro on Friday.

Dorien Rookmaker, a Dutch member of the European Parliament's right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists Group, agreed, noting that the far right had established a stronghold in the increasingly polarized country.

"The far right is the ultimate winner and this is quite clear," she said.

Around 400 million people across the EU's 27 member states are eligible to vote for the next 720 members of European Parliament (MEPs) — one of three institutions at the heart of