Despite the recent expansion of the European Union, citizens across the Union appeared to take only lukewarm interest in the first election to take place after Europe's "big boom" enlargement.
Preliminary election results on Sunday showed a slight drop in turnout for elections for the European Parliament in Strasbourg. On average, only 44.6 percent of eligible European voters turned up at their local polling stations to vote for the members of parliament who will represent their countries.
Though no single trend marked the election, in a number of countries voters punished incumbent governments for everything from social system reforms to Iraq war policies. Other elections were clouded by low voter turnout.
Despite their newfound membership in the EU, many Eastern Europeans shied away from the pools. While 47.7 percent of registered voters in the original EU member states cast ballots Sunday, a meager 28.7 percent of voters in the new member states participated in the election.
Division of parliamentary seats
Early results in Germany showed the conservative Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, leading with about 45 percent. Though the parties registered slight losses over 1999, they still managed to gain almost half of Germany's seats in parliament -- more than double that of the Social Democrats. Leading opposition politicians declared Sunday that new federal parliamentary elections for the Bundestag should be held in the wake of the decisive European vote.
Voters on Sunday dealt the governing Social Democratic Party a serious blow, reducing its mandate in parliament by 9.3 percent drop to 21 percent. The Greens, the junior government coalition partner, racked up a gain of 5.4 percent, with 11.8 percent of the voters, and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party gained 3 percent, attracting 6 percent of the votes. The Party of Social Democracy, the successor to East Germany's Communist Party, also gained 0.4 percent, or 6.2 percent of the vote.
Election gains and lasses
The success of Germany's conservative Christian Democrats was mirrored across Europe, with its Strasbourg counterpart, the European People's Party (EPP) gaining the largest number of seats in parliament. A Gallup poll showed EPP winning between 247 and 277 of parliaments total 732 seats. But the Social Democrats, were only expected to win 189 to 209 seats. The Liberals are expected to win third place, with the Greens and Socialists following. In the last European election in 1999, the EPP also gained the biggest number of seats.
Head-to-head race in Austria
Elsewhere in Europe, early results also trickled out Sunday evening.
In France, the opposition Socialists won a decisive victory over the political camp of French President Jacques Chirac. Election night exit polls showed the Socialists gaining 8 points, with a total of 30 percent of the votes. Chirac's conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) scored 16.5 percent of the votes and the center-right Union for French Democracy attracted about 12 percent of voters -- a marked turnaround from the parties' domestic electoral triumph in 2002.
In Great Britain, euroskeptics scored a triumphant victory. The once marginal UK Independence Party, which has called on Britain to leave the EU, won 18 percent of the vote, drawing many voters from the conservative Tories. The British voted on Thursday night, with the governing Labor Party chalking up major losses. Tony Blair's Labor lost a total of 6 points, gaining just 22 percent of the votes. But the Tories fared even worse, falling 14 percentage points to 22 percent.
Opposition gains in Czech Republic
Exit polls in the Czech Republic released on Saturday night showed a dismal 10.5 percent result for the governing Social Democrats, whereas the euroskeptic ODS party of President Vaclav Havel was set to gain 31 percent of voters. The dramatically anti-European KSCM party, meanwhile, was expected to score 17 percent of the votes.