Conservatives tighten grip in EU election
Europe's left was punished by the people as seen in the EU elections' results.Brussels – Conservative parties decisively beat Socialists in the EU parliamentary elections which ended Sunday, marred by a new record low turnout.
Europe's left failed to capitalise on widespread concerns over the recession, opening the door for far-right anti-immigrant and eurosceptic parties to seize the moment to gain support for their hardline message.
Socialist parties in power in Britain, Spain and Portugal were punished by their electorates while other left-wing parties in opposition in Germany and France suffered painful losses.
The centre-right European People's Party secured 267 seats, making it the biggest group in the 736-member assembly, ahead of the Socialists on 159 seats, down from 215, according to official estimates.
About 20 members of Italy's left-leaning Democrats were expected to join the Socialist group in parliament.
If confirmed, the results would give the EPP 21 fewer lawmakers than they had in the last parliament, which had 785 seats. The strong showing also comes despite the desertion of the British and Czech conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats came in third with 81 seats followed by the Greens with 51 seats, up from 43, in the parliament -- the European Union's only directly elected institution.
Some 388 million people were eligible to vote in the world's biggest transnational elections which were spread over four days.
Turnout slumped to 43.55 percent, down from 45.4 percent in 2004. The extreme right wing British National Party won its two first ever European Parliament seats, while Dutch anti-Islamic lawmaker Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom came second on Thursday with 17 percent of the vote.
"The turnout compared to 2004 shows that this is not the time for complacency," European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said, urging national governments to play a more visible EU role.
"It's a sad evening for social democracy in Europe. We are particularly disappointed, (it is) a bitter evening for us," said the head of the Socialist bloc, German lawmaker Martin Schulz.
As results trickled in from Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's ruling Labour party was braced for a drubbing which will add to pressure on his leadership after a week of political turmoil.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives came out on top, trouncing her centre-left rivals in what was seen as a dry run for September's general election.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP party romped home with close to 28 percent of the vote, leaving the opposition Socialists trailing with about 16 percent, about the same as the Greens.
Italy's scandal-plagued centre-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi held his lead with 35.6 percent of the vote -- well below his target of 40 percent.
Spain's opposition conservatives beat the ruling Socialists, with the opposition Popular Party getting 42.23 percent against 38.51 percent for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's party.
The Socialist party of Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates also suffered a surprise defeat by the right-wing Social Democrats.
In Austria, the list of eurosceptic campaigner Hans-Peter Martin made major gains, while the ruling Social Democrats had their worst election debacle ever, official results showed.
Finland's nationalist and eurosceptic True Finns party also saw a strong rise in support, with about 10 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.
In Ireland, which voted on Friday, the centrist Fianna Fail party led by Prime Minister Brian Cowen suffered a voter backlash, losing out to the opposition Fine Gael.
In contrast to its centre-right European peers, Greece's ruling conservatives trailed the opposition Socialists for their first defeat in five years amid a record-low turnout.
In Bulgaria, accusations of vote-buying including three arrests marred the elections, despite an unprecedented clampdown.
The centre-right victory boosts Barroso's chances of securing a second term at the helm of the EU executive arm when his mandate expires in November.
How the other EU member states voted:
Right-wing parties pushing for greater autonomy in Flanders saw a sharp spike in support in Belgian regional elections which overshadowed the parallel EU vote, with negotiations over state reform topping the local agenda.
Cyprus' opposition conservative party secured more votes than President Demetris Christofias's Communists, but lost one of its three seats.
Turnout in the Czech Republic -- EU presidency holder until the end of the month -- fell to about 28 percent, preliminary data showed. Despite the stayaway voters, Czech eurosceptics, backed by outspoken President Vaclav Klaus, failed to win a seat.
Danish turnout neared 60 percent boosted by a royal succession referendum that introduced gender equality. Counting continues in Greenland and the Faeroe Isles, but the opposition Social Democrats came out on top despite fewer votes.
The largest opposition party, the Centre Party, led the popular vote and won two seats, with Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's Reform Party on one.
The centre-right opposition Fidesz party carried 56.37 percent of the vote, but the far-right Jobbik party left its mark in this. The ruling Socialists saw their vote halved and five seats lost.
The 14-month-old right-wing Civic Union party took 24.32 percent, with the Harmony Centre party, which draws its support from Latvia's large Russian-speaking population, second on 19.53 percent.
The conservative party of Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius took 26.53 percent, based on near-total results -- but on a turnout of just 20.57 percent.
Exit polls showed Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker's Social-Christian CSV party easily won legislative elections that saw his Socialist partners in the ruling coalition lose votes. Luxembourg’s EU vote was held simultaneously.
The Labour Party (PES) scored a resounding success, according to predictions by both major parties. Labour said it won 55 percent of the vote against 40 percent for the Nationalist Party, which gave Labour 57 percent.
The ruling liberal Civic Platform scored 40.25 percent, according to partial results. The opposition right-wing Law and Justice party run by ex-premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski, President Lech Kaczynski's twin brother, took 28.6 percent.
Prime Minister Jose Socrates's Socialists took a battering as voters deserted to the far-left and the greens, near-complete results from the interior ministry showed.
Exit polls said the far-right would return to the chamber with the left-wing social democrats and right-wing liberal democrats that form Romania's governing coalition neck-and-neck.
The ruling left-wing Smer party took 32.01 percent of the vote, but an ultra-nationalist party picked up a seat amid one of the lowest turnouts in Europe of just 19.64 percent.
The opposition centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party defeated the ruling centre-left Social Democrats.
The Pirate Party that wants to legalise Internet file-sharing and beef up privacy on the web won a seat in the European Parliament for the first time.
AFP / Expatica