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What's At Stake In Europe's Crucial European Parliament Election

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week's vote for representatives to European Parliament has taken on new urgency. Right-wing populist parties across the continent have pledged to band together and hollow out the European Union's authority from within, and establishment parties are feeling the pinch. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Germany, which, like most of the continent, will vote on Sunday.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Sergey Lagodinsky is a candidate for the European Parliament who epitomizes the German Green Party - liberal, eco-conscious and very pro-European.

SERGEY LAGODINSKY: I do think that we are running out of time. We're running out of time in terms of our environmental policies, and we are losing time to secure our internal European democracy.

KIM: Lagodinsky and his family came to Germany as refugees from Russia in 1993, so he has a very personal take on the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany.

LAGODINSKY: It is a great feeling to - now to campaign for European Parliament in the cities and towns where I used to live in a refugee shelter. It's kind of mind-blowing. And I want to make it possible for others.

KIM: On this evening, Lagodinsky is in central Berlin for a campaign event.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: About 50 people of all ages have packed a cafe, some nursing beers and red wine.

(APPLAUSE)

LAGODINSKY: (Foreign language spoken).

KIM: Lagodinsky is preaching to the choir, to Green Party members like 26-year-old Liliann Fischer.

LILIANN FISCHER: There is no way that I can imagine my own future or Germany's future without the EU there as a sort of context or framework.

KIM: The pro-EU Greens, once a left-wing fringe party, are now polling in second place in Germany. They're expected to get up to a fifth of the vote, behind Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. Another once-fringe party has appeared on the right, throwing overboard German taboos on nationalism. It's the AFD, or Alternative for Germany Party. I caught up with one of its candidates, Nicolaus Fest, in Berlin.

NICOLAUS FEST: We want to stop becoming Europe United Nations of European countries. We want to have strong nation-states which work closely together. But each country should decide on their own what is best for them, and we don't want to have everything decided in Brussels.

KIM: That kind of sentiment is expected to give the AFD more than 10% of the vote. Fest says it's no contradiction to run for office in the European Parliament because he wants to change the EU from inside and have a Brexit-style referendum in Germany in the next decade. To make sure German support for the EU continues, the European Parliament runs an information center just around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

KIM: Here, college students are participating in a mock session of the European Parliament.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Foreign language spoken).

(LAUGHTER)

KIM: Rike Feindt is one of them.

RIKE FEINDT: It's so important that young people get their voices heard and not just the old people decide everything.

KIM: She says she'll definitely vote on Sunday. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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