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Conservatives hold on

June 8, 2009

Conservative parties have scored victories in most of Europe’s largest economies as socialist parties in Germany, France, Italy and Spain all failed to capitalize on the global financial crisis.

A gangway at the European Parliament building in Brussels,
Center-right hold on to their lead in the EU ParliamentImage: AP

As the numbers started to come in on Sunday night, it soon became clear that conservatives in the European Parliament were not being held accountable for the economic crisis.

It was an historically low turnout as less than 50 percent of those eligible to vote made their way to the polls.

When the final numbers are counted, the European People's Party (EPP), a collection of center-right conservatives will maintain its dominant position in the European Parliament, albeit with less representation with anywhere from 267-271 seats according to early results.

Socialists were expected to have between 157-161 seats, far fewer that in the 2004 elections and the Greens managed to make headway as well, picking up ten new seats with 53 representatives.

A man views ballot papers at a polling station
Millions made their voice heardImage: AP

"I don't expect any major difficulties in decision-making. The composition of this parliament will not be significantly different from the previous one. Decisions on major issues were adopted in most cases by solid majorities," said European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

After four days of elections across the 27 member European Union, voters did punish some national governments, but in the end, the socialists failed to capitalize on the perceived weakness of the conservatives.

Socialists ponder the future

"It's a sad evening for social democracy in Europe,” said Martin Schulz, the leading candidate for the German socialists. “We are particularly disappointed; it is a bitter evening for us,"

Addressing reporters, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso thanked voters for participating in the electoral process.

"Overall, the results are 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,“ said Barroso.”

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement won handily. Meanwhile, Socialists who were badly divided because of a messy dispute between party head Martine Aubry and former presidential candidate Segolene Royal, looked to have their worst day at the polls in recent memory. The Green oriented European Ecologie party did surprisingly well pulling in a bigger share than was expected.

In England, votes were still being counted, but Gordon Brown's Labour Party seemed to be feeling the heat from not only the recession but from the expenses scandal that has led to multiple resignations from his cabinet.

Italians were not punishing Prime Minister Berlusconi or his party for a recent scandal about his alleged relationship with an 18 year old model.

Greens are growing

Green party members celebrate
Everything is coming up greenImage: dpa

Some Green parties across the EU also did well, usually at the expense of Socialist or left leaning parties.

"We made gains where we could articulate that the way out of the financial and economic crisis is through a Green new deal to stimulate the economy. This should strengthen our hand,” said Philippe Lamberts, Co-President of the European Green Party.

Extremism noted

Of particular note in these elections was a slight uptick in the gains of extreme far-right and eurosceptic parties who appealed to voters’ fatigue with immigration policies and to nationalist leanings.

Small gains were made by these parties in Austria, Denmark and Hungary. In the Netherlands, traditionally seen as a nation of tolerance, Geert Wilders' far right anti-Islamic Party for Freedom received enough votes to put it in second place. In the UK, the far right British National Party won their first seat in the EU parliament.

Editor: Andreas Illmer