Conservatives defeat socialists in European vote (Lead)

June 8th, 2009 - 8:08 am ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown Brussels, June 8 (DPA) Conservative forces won the European Parliament elections Sunday as socialist parties in Germany, France, Italy and Spain all failed to capitalize on the global financial crisis.
Preliminary results from TNS opinion, a pollster, credited the European People’s Party (EPP) with around 36 percent of the European Union vote.

The result was set to give them between 267 and 271 seats in the new and smaller 736-strong assembly and consolidate their status as the parliament’s biggest group since 1999.

“We are very happy. The EPP has gained an obvious victory,” said EPP leader Joseph Daul.

The second-largest group in parliament, the European Socialists (PSE), was projected to have won between 21 and 22 percent of the vote, down from 27.6 percent five years ago. This would give them between 157 and 161 seats.

PSE leader Martin Schulz called it “a bitter evening.”

“We had hoped for a better result,” said Schulz, who blamed the outcome on the poor performance of social-democratic parties in many EU countries, including his native Germany.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe was confirmed as the European Parliament’s third-largest group, with around 11 percent of the overall votes and between 80 and 82 seats.

And while many far-left parties failed to make headway, Europe’s Greens scored an impressive 7 percent of the overall vote, up from 5.5 percent five years ago.

The elections was marred by an all-time low in turnout rate, at just 43 percent.

But the result 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.

In a statement, Barroso described the results as “an undeniable victory for those parties and candidates that support the European project and want to see the European Union delivering policy responses to their everyday concerns”.

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 percent of the vote, down from 28.9 perent 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 also ducked an EU-wide trend of anti-government voting sparked by the EU’s worst recession since the World War II.

Projections suggested that Berlusconi’s conservative People of Freedom party would gain 35 per cent of the vote, despite a scandal involving his ambiguous friendship with an 18-year-old woman.

By contrast, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown 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 hammered the ruling Socialists of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, gaining 42 per cent 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. In Britain, the xenophobic British National Party (BNP) won its first seat to the European Parliament.

But arguably 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.

Outgoing European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering blamed voters’ apathy on the media, which he accused of ignoring the works of the EU’s only directly-elected body at a time in which it is gaining more and more powers.

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