THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) â¿¿ Dutch voters on Wednesday were picking a new parliament in a test of support for stringent austerity measures which are set to influence the way the European Union tackles the debt crisis.
The export-dependent Netherlands is a founding member of the EU and has long been a staunch supporter of the bloc's open market. But many Dutch voters have begun questioning their role in the now 27-nation EU since the debt crisis erupted in 2009, feeling that their wealthy nation is paying too high a price to help bail out countries like Greece and Portugal.
Even so, the two parties now leading the polls remain committed to Europe, though they differ on how to tackle its crisis.
"We are all in the same boat. There is no way we can turn our back on the EU," said Lodewijk van Groeningen at a polling station close to parliament, before the 26-year-old sped off on his bike.
As the Dutch voted, European Commission President Manuel Barroso was appealing for greater EU unity.
"We cannot continue trying to solve European problems just with national solutions," he said in his annual State of the Union address to Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
"A deep and genuine economic and monetary union ... means ultimately that the present European Union must evolve," he added. "And let's not be afraid of the words. We will need to move toward a federation of nation states."
Meanwhile, domestic spending cuts are increasingly unpopular as the Dutch economy has barely recovered from a recession last year.
Wednesday's election has boiled down to a tight race between the free-market VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the center-left Labor Party led by Diederik Samsom, with smaller parties trailing.
The Dutch proportional representation system guarantees a coalition government and whichever party wins the most in the 150-seat House of Representatives will take the lead in choosing the parties that make up the next ruling coalition.