Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte at a polling station in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, May 23, 2019, as polls opened in elections for the European Parliament. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)

The Latest: Dutch PM bikes it to EU election polling booth

May 23, 2019 - 3:44 am

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Latest on the European Parliament elections (all times local):

12:45 p.m.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has cycled to a polling station to cast his vote in European Parliament elections.

The premier took a selfie Thursday morning with staff at the polling station — located in his former elementary school — and shook hands with students before cycling away.

Rutte acknowledged that the 28-nation European Union needs reforms, but reeled off a list of reasons why the Netherlands is dependent on the EU.

He says, "for our safety, for our jobs, for our prosperity, our stability, we need to stay a part of European Union."

Rutte's center-right VVD party is in a neck and neck race to become the largest Dutch party at the elections with the populist Forum for Democracy, which advocates a referendum on the Netherlands leaving the EU.

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12 noon

French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to prove that he's really a green-friendly guy.

His centrist movement is struggling to charm voters ahead of France's vote Sunday in European Parliament elections. So Macron hosted a meeting Thursday of a new body called the "environmental defense council," modeled on how he handles national security.

He said: "It's no longer time for words ... We must make decisions." He ordered his government to assess environment-related policies are and come up with new ideas by July — providing them with green-colored folders full of guidance.

Macron has stood up to U.S. President Donald Trump on the need to fight climate change, but is under fire from activists and voters who say he isn't actually doing enough to protect the environment. Critics dismissed Thursday's meeting as "greenwashing," or repackaging policies with environmentally friendly language.

Meanwhile others say Macron's climate policies are going too far, including many protesters behind France's yellow vest movement.

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7:30 a.m.

Dutch polls have opened in elections for the European Parliament, starting four days of voting across the 28-nation bloc that pits supporters of deeper integration against populist Euroskeptics who want more power for their national governments.

A half hour after voting started in the Netherlands, polls open across the United Kingdom, the only other country voting Thursday, and a nation still wrestling with its plans to leave the European Union altogether and the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.

The elections, which end Sunday night, come as support is surging for populists and nationalists who want to rein in the EU's powers, while traditional powerhouses like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.

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For more news from The Associated Press on the European Parliament elections go to https://www.apnews.com/EuropeanParliament