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On posters, hustings and social media, a battle for Europe is being fought, as contenders seek votes for an EU parliamentary election in late May – but the real battle for power will come only once the count is in. More than 400 million voters will deal the hands that leaders, of parties, nations and rival EU institutions, must play; but it will be after the May 23-26 ballot that the high-stakes poker will begin that will shape the European Union for years to come.

Then comes the real suspense: how pro-Union groups may build a majority coalition to work with the EU executive and member states to make law; how a growing eurosceptic bloc may disrupt it; how lawmakers will clash with national leaders over who runs Brussels; and whether British members might end up staying.

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“The campaign determines the strength of people’s bargaining positions,” a senior official in the European Parliament said. “But the real game will start after the count.”The sheer scale of elections for the 751 lawmakers who will convene in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on July 2 limits scope for surprises of the kind voters have delivered in national ballots as they lose confidence in established elites.

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