Conservatives defeat socialists in European Parliament vote

June 8th, 2009 - 4:39 am ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown Brussels, June 8 (DPA) Conservative forces won the European Parliament elections Sunday as socialist parties in Germany, France and Italy all failed to capitalise on the global financial crisis, according to preliminary results.
A TNS opinion survey credited the European People’s Party (EPP) with between 263 and 273 seats in the 736-strong assembly, a result that allowed them to consolidate their status as the parliament’s biggest group since 1999.

The second-largest group in parliament, the European Socialists (PSE), was projected to have won between 155 and 165 seats.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe came third with between 78 and 84 seats.

The outcome of the elections, marred by an all-time turnout rate of just 43 percent, was seen as a boost for Jose Manuel Barroso, a Portuguese conservative who is vying for a second mandate as president of the European Commission. His current mandate expires in the Autumn.

The EPP’s victory came on the back of poor performances by mainstream leftwing parties in the EU’s biggest member states.

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) - junior partners in the country’s left-right coalition government - were predicted to have gained a less-than-expected 21 percent.

By contrast, the ruling conservative alliance of Christian Democrats and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, matched expectations with around 38 percent of the vote.

“It is a disappointing result, there is no other way of putting it,” said German Vice-Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the SPD.

In France, voters handed the opposition Socialists a bitter setback, with exit polls showing the party had received only 17.5 percent of the vote, down from 28.9 percent five years ago, and less than the 20 percent they had been aiming for.

President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be the clear winner of the French vote, with his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) gaining around 28 percent of the vote.

Like Sarkozy, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was also set to have ducked an EU-wide trend of anti-government voting sparked by the EU’s worst recession since the World War II, boosting his popularity at the expense of the opposition Democratic Party.

Such a fate did not escape British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was battling for survival after his governing Labour Party received a drubbing from David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

Governing parties also suffered reversals in, among others, Ireland, Greece and Finland.

In Spain, one of the European countries most affected by the global downturn, the conservative opposition People’s Party (PP) hammered the ruling Socialists of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, gaining 42 percent of the vote against the ruling party’s 38.6 percent, according to exit polls.

The election for the European Parliament also registered significant gains for far-right and eurosceptic movements in a number of member states - including Austria, Denmark, Hungary and the Netherlands.

A one-issue party from Sweden that campaigned for free internet downloads and file-sharing - the Pirate Party - was also on track to win a seat in the European Parliament.

But perhaps the biggest winner of the European election was voters’ apathy, with turnout dropping from its peak of 62 percent in 1979 - the first year in which Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were directly elected - to around 43 percent this year. Turnout was 45.5 percent in 2004.

A direct comparison of the distribution of seats is not possible, since the outgoing assembly had 785 seats.

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