European Parliament elections begin in the Netherlands

Voting for the European Parliament elections began in the Netherlands on Thursday. The results of the four-day polls in the 27 European Union member states will shape the direction of policies over the next five years.

The European Parliament passes or amends laws that affect most EU policy areas. It endorses the EU's annual budget, and the appointment of the president of the European Commission -- the EU's executive branch.

Each EU country has a certain number of seats allocated in proportion to its population in the elections for the 720-seat parliament. Major issues include global warming, and an influx of migrants. Right-wing or far-right parties that are skeptical of the EU are aiming to gain seats by capitalizing on voter discontent.

The Netherlands was the first EU nation to vote. Early on Thursday morning, a polling station at an elementary school in the capital Amsterdam was crowded with people casting ballots after taking their children to school, or before going to work.

One voter told NHK that the environment and sustainable economic development are the most important election issues for him.

Another voter said that because the Netherlands is a small country in Europe, the EU means a lot to the nation's people. She said that in these challenging times, the EU should promote greater integration.

Voting will continue across all 27 EU member states until Sunday. Preliminary results are expected on Sunday night.