LONDON (Reuters) - Voters go to the polls to elect members of the European Parliament in the first week in June, elections watched not so much for immediate impact but for broader lessons on trends on the continent.
Below are four key areas to watch.
CLUE TO GENERAL ELECTIONS
The economic crisis has slashed support for governments across Europe, with many unable to win a general election if it were held tomorrow.
The European elections will act as a guide to what might happen the next time electorates vote in national polls.
From Latvia to Britain, analysts, and often markets, will be closely watching the results and in some cases a particularly poor showing might help bring a general election closer or prompt an internal coup at the top of the ruling party or coalition.
Whether that would actually prompt a significant policy change is another matter.
Cash-strapped Western countries may have little room for significant shifts regardless of who is in control, and emerging economies dependent on IMF or EU rescue deals cannot up spending without risking losing financial support.
European parliamentary election turnout has fallen steadily from 66 percent in 1979 to 48 percent in 2004, and in most members is amongst the lowest for any form of poll.
General disillusion with politicians partly linked to the global financial crisis is seen likely reducing turnout even further this year -- coupled in at least some countries with scepticism over the impact of the European Parliament.
The key question is whether that apathy towards elections could, in time, turn to social unrest or whether it implies people will sit at home rather than take to the streets.
The lower the turnout, the easier it will be for more radical parties to do well. As with the 1930s, rising extremism is seen as a key potential risk from the financial crisis and resulting rise in unemployment and hardship.
That could potentially see a rise both for far left parties and right wingers including those angry at rising immigration.
Anti-foreigner rhetoric and in some cases violence has increased in several countries in recent months. Analysts are watching the potential rise of the far right in Hungary and nationalist British National Party (BNP), amongst others.
FRUSTRATION WITH EUROPEAN UNION?
Immigration is just one of the issues that anti-European Union parties hope to take advantage of in elections and again, low voter turnout should translate into a greater share of the vote for them.
In Britain, polls show the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) getting 17 percent of the vote, the same as Labour.
Irish voters put a spoke in the wheels of EU integration by blocking the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum last year and any further rise in anti-EU parties would make further progression even more difficult.
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