Thousands march for the EU ahead of parliamentary vote

Protesters have expressed concern over the rise of the far-right in the upcoming elections

Women with "No Salvini" painted on their cheeks  take part in a demonstration by anti-racism, anti-fascist groups to protest against a meeting of nationalist leaders in downtown Milan on May 18, 2019 The Italian populist deputy prime minister and Interior minister gathers Europe's disparate nationalists in Milan for a unifying rally hoping to see leaders of 12 far-right parties marching towards their conquest of Brussels after European parliamentary elections held from May 23 to 26, 2019. / AFP / Marco BERTORELLO
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With less than week to go before the European parliamentary elections, the stance of far-right populist parties was in the spotlight as tens of thousands took to the streets of European cities in opposition to their nationalist agendas.

In seven major German cities – Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart – protesters voiced their concern that Eurosceptic far-right parties could score major wins in the May 23-26 elections.

"Grandmas against the right", an organisation of older women opposing right-wing extremism, was among the groups taking part in the “Ein Europa für Alle!” (Europe for everyone) rally in Cologne on Sunday.

"We were told by our own grandmas and grandpas about what life was like under the Nazis," a 65-year-old protester named Walli told German English-language newspaper Deutsche Welle. "But [now] there's a gap in knowledge about it."

They were not the only ones to express fears of a return to a dark chapter in European history. Pro-EU protests and events also took place over the weekend in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Bulgaria.

In Milan, a sovereignist rally called by Italy's League leader Matteo Salvini and France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Saturday failed to fill the central Duomo square as expected.

A parade organised by the Italian populist party was matched by a parallel one led by anti-fascist groups and critics of the interior minister. Protesters also hung critical banners from windows as League supporters paraded through the streets of the city centre.

A man dressed as Zorro succeeded in hanging a banner from a hotel window overlooking the Duomo, which was promptly removed by the authorities. It read “Restiamo Umani” – stay human, the rallying call of Italian reporter and peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni, killed in the Gaza Strip in April 2011.

Other banners made reference to public money the League party is accused of having stolen under its previous leader, Umberto Bossi. Playing on Mr Salvini’s calls to repatriate migrants, one banner urged the League’s figurehead to “repatriate 49 million euros”.

In the UK, organisers estimated about a million opponents of Britain’s departure from the European Union joined what they called the “Put it to the people march” in London.

Wielding an array of anti-Brexit signs and EU flags, protesters gathered at Hyde Park before walking to Westminster to call for a new referendum on the UK’s decision to exit the European Union.