Merkel conservatives win European elections in Germany
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives claimed victory in European Parliament elections Sunday, despite strong gains for the centre-left Social Democrats and a new anti-euro party, exit polls showed.
Germany, the EU's most populous country, sends 96 members to the 751-seat European legislature, which has demanded a bigger say in who takes over from outgoing European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.
Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the CSU -- a team that last September celebrated a landslide win at the national level -- between them scored 35.6 percent, public broadcasters estimated.
The result -- though less triumphant than last year's 41.5 percent German election win, mainly because of CSU losses -- was seen as another endorsement for Merkel, the only leader of a major EU member country to have weathered the fallout from the eurozone crisis.
At the European level, where Berlin's influence has been strong, "the results reflect a voter dissatisfaction with the current policy, especially when you look at the results in France, Britain and Greece," said Julian Rappold of the German Council on Foreign Relations.
He added however that "Merkel can be satisfied with the German result", even while "she will have mixed feelings tonight" given the rise of populist protest parties in Europe.
Political scientist Jens Walther of Duesseldorf University agreed that, in economically strong Germany, the result pointed at voters' "extreme satisfaction with the federal government" and said "compared to other countries, she (Merkel) had a very good result."
The CDU's top candidate David McAllister said: "We had a goal and we achieved that goal, we are the strongest force in this election, we clearly won. And Germany clearly voted in a pro-European way. This confirms our good policy for Europe."
- Strong gain for centre-left SPD -
But the vote was also celebrated by Merkel's new partners in a left-right 'grand coalition' government, the Social Democrats (SPD), who looked set to score 27.2 percent, up from 20.8 percent at the last such EU vote in 2009.
Since teaming up with Merkel's party, the SPD has pushed social reforms including a national minimum wage in Germany. It also boasts among its ranks the European candidate for European Commission president, Martin Schulz.
Walther, the political analyst, called the SPD's result "an extraordinary success ... their biggest gain in post-war history", although he stressed that the leap was up from a historic low.
Germany's SPD leader, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, greeted the outcome at a joint appearance with Schulz, telling him: "We are super-proud that you are one of us."
Gabriel praised Germany's voter turnout of 48 percent, high for a European election, and said: "The people knew what this was about, and that's why they went out to vote: they wanted to decide for themselves who will be the next president of the European Commission."
Schulz, until now president of the European Parliament, praised the electorate's "strong tailwind" for the SPD, saying the party "remains a flagship for democracy, tolerance, respect, equality".
The election also saw the debut of a new anti-euro party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which looked set to make its entry into the European Parliament with 6.8 percent of the vote.
The AfD celebrated the result as a popular endorsement of its demands, including Germany's return to the Deutschmark, the orderly dissolution of the euro common currency system, and the repatriation of many powers from Brussels to Berlin.
"The AfD in this election blossomed into a new people's party in Germany, as a liberal party, as a social party and as a value-oriented party," said its leader Bernd Lucke, an economics professor.
According to the exit polls, the Greens party took third place with about 11 percent, followed by the far-left Die Linke with eight percent. The pro-business Free Democrats, once Merkel's governing allies, remained in the doldrums at three percent.
Several fringe parties also looked set to gain one seat each for the first time, after a recent German court ruling removing a three-percent threshold -- among them the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), which scored about 1.0 percent of the vote.
Germany's upper house of parliament is working on a case before the constitutional court to ban the NPD, which Merkel's spokesman has labelled an "anti-democratic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-constitutional party".
© 2014 AFP