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EU candidates face off in live debate a week before polls

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, is greeted by European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan prior to a meeting of the College of Commissioners at EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Leading candidates in the European Parliament elections face off Wednesday evening in a final televised debate before millions of people take part in the world’s biggest transnational polls on May 23-26.

The six candidates hail from mainstream parties and are vying for Jean-Claude Juncker’s job as president of the European Commission, the powerful executive body that proposes EU laws and makes sure they are respected.

Although no populist or far-right politicians are taking part in the debate, those parties are expected to make gains — particularly in Britain, France and Italy.

The 90-minute event will be broadcast by pan-European broadcasters. Debate will focus on hot-button topics like migration, unemployment, security and climate change, as well as Europe’s role in the world. It will be presented by journalists from Finnish, French and German national broadcasters.

Some 400 million people are eligible to cast their ballots to choose members of the European Parliament, the EU’s only democratically elected institution, but turnout is usually low. People routinely vote in protest against the policies of national governments.

Surveys suggest that mainstream parties will hold control over the assembly but lose seats.

The candidates include Manfred Weber from the center-right European People’s Party group — the biggest bloc in the assembly and which counts Juncker as a member — and two senior members of Juncker’s team: Frans Timmermans from the center-left Party of European Socialists, and Margrethe Vestager from the ALDE liberal bloc.

Ska Keller from the European Green Party, Nico Cue from the European Left and Jan Zahradil from the right-leaning Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe are the others taking part.

Britain is taking part in the election due to the political deadlock over its plans to leave the EU.

The Brexit Party under Eurosceptic firebrand Nigel Farage is forecast to do well. Farage will not take part in the debate.

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