RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The European Union is a collection of countries that send representatives to a European parliament, even as each nation also governs itself. Elections to that EU parliament are going on now. Usually they don't get anywhere near the attention of each nation's own elections. But this year things are different, thanks to small right wing parties and a number of countries that are doing surprisingly well.
NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on one such party in Great Britain.
(SOUNDBITE OF A ROADWAY)
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Britain's big political parties almost never spend real money advertising for the European elections. They just don't think it's worth it. But a small political party called UKIP, the UK Independence Party, has been pouring money into billboards and newspaper ads.
I'm standing under one of those billboards right now. It says Nigel Farage will give Britain its voice back. Nigel Farage is the charismatic leader of UKIP. And on this billboard next to Farage's smiling face, it shows the leaders of the biggest British political parties muzzled by European flags.
NIGEL FARAGE: We've been in the lead. I mean we've never been in that position before.
SHAPIRO: This is Farage speaking to the BBC earlier this week.
FARAGE: When you're out in front, and everybody's firing every missile they've got at you, you know, sometimes a few cracks begin to show.
SHAPIRO: Indeed, the cracks are showing. Last week a former leader of UKIP's youth wing left the party, saying UKIP is racist. This week, the party staged a mini-carnival to show that it's not racist. A local UKIP leader, who is black, danced to a steel drum band.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is what it's all about, man - music and the people. Listen, this is what it's all about - happiness, mixing.
SHAPIRO: Then the steel drum players learned that the event was for UKIP. They stopped playing and left.
Despite all that, UKIP is clearly having a moment in the sun. On Election Day yesterday, a voter named Ali Isandrabi said he's not planning on voting for the party, but he understands the appeal.
ALI ISANDRABI: I personally believe people feel let down by the major mainstream politicians.
SHAPIRO: He says European elections can be a good time for voters to express their frustration.
ISANDRABI: I think parties like UKIP and other right or far-right parties, they can never form a major government. You're always going to have that small sentiment for these kinds of extreme ideas, but you're never going to have a vast majority voting for that.
SHAPIRO: There are lots of countries where far-right parties are expected to do well in these European elections: France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Hungary, and more. There are differences, but the parties all share an anti-immigration platform and a skepticism of the Europe Union,
Sara Hobolt is a political scientist at the London School of Economics.
SARA HOBOLT: Especially for people who feel that their jobs are threatened and unemployment across Europe is really high. We're talking sort of 50 percent of youth unemployment. So it's not a surprise that people feel - have real concerns. And immigration is one of those concerns.
SHAPIRO: These may be fringe parties but they are having an impact on the mainstream. Under pressure from UKIP, Prime Minister David Cameron's conservative party has promised a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.
HOBOLT: Sometimes you will find mainstream politicians sort of panicking a bit and I think we have to co-opt all the policies of the far right.
SHAPIRO: Right-wing parties also tend to do well in European elections because there is a much lower turnout than in general elections.
Tom Melson is a 29-year-old architecture student whose views could counterbalance the expected UKIP wave.
TOM MELSON: In regards to immigration, I mean it's fundamentally necessary for the country. Especially in a city like London, I mean we rely upon immigrants.
SHAPIRO: Do you think being in Europe is a good thing?
MELSON: Yeah. Yeah, I mean it's a massive part of our economy.
SHAPIRO: But Melson said he wasn't planning to vote.
In Britain, all the votes have now been cast. Other European countries are not voting until this weekend. And we won't know the results of these elections until the counting begins on Monday.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.