Conservatives Gain in European Parliament Elections

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By Constant Brand and Robert Wielaard
Associated Press
Monday, June 8, 2009

BRUSSELS, June 7 -- Conservatives scored victories in some of Europe's largest economies Sunday as voters punished left-leaning parties in European parliament elections in France, Germany and elsewhere.

Some right-leaning parties said the results vindicated their reluctance to spend more on company bailouts and fiscal stimulus to combat the global economic crisis.

The European Union said center-right parties were expected to take the most seats -- 267 -- in the 736-member parliament. Center-left parties were headed for 159 seats. The remainder were expected to go to smaller groupings.

Right-leaning governments were ahead of the opposition in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium, while conservative opposition parties were leading in Britain and Spain.

Greece was a notable exception, where the governing conservatives were headed for defeat in the wake of corruption scandals and economic woes.

Germans handed a lackluster victory to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and a historic defeat to their center-left rivals in the European Parliament vote months before a national election.

The Social Democrats got an unexpectedly dismal 20.8 percent -- the party's worst showing since World War II in any nationwide election. The outcome was enough to boost Merkel's hopes of ending the tense left-right "grand coalition" that has led the European Union's most populous nation since 2005 and replacing it with a center-right government.

"We are the force that is acting levelheadedly and correctly in this financial and economic crisis," said Volker Kauder, leader of Merkel's party in the German parliament.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives trounced the Socialists, while an ecology-minded party vaulted to a surprisingly strong third place, according to official results.

Far-right groups and other fringe parties gained in record-low turnout, estimated at 43.5 percent of 375 million eligible, reflecting widespread disenchantment with the continent-wide legislature.

The E.U. parliament has evolved over five decades from a consultative legislature to one with the power to vote on or amend two-thirds of all E.U. laws. Legislators get five-year terms and residents vote for candidates from their own countries.


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