How Governments Fared in European Parliament Vote

National Post (Toronto), June 7, 2009

Centre-right parties retained control of the European Parliament in an election that ended on Sunday with a record low turnout but which spared most big national governments from embarrassing defeats.

The following is how Europe’s leaders fared, country-by-country.

BRITAIN

First results suggest Britain’s ruling Labour Party suffered a big defeat, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Labour was beaten by centre-right Conservatives in Wales, a traditional stronghold. It also lost a seat in the northern English region of Yorkshire and Humber to the far-right British National Party, offering new ammunition to Brown’s critics.

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FRANCE

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party emerged well on top on Sunday, with partial results showing it won 28% of the vote while Socialists slumped to 16.8%. It is rare in France for a ruling party to do well at mid-term and Sarkozy will hope to use the ballot to show the French support his reforms, despite a downturn that has hit his popularity.

The biggest surprise was provided by a coalition of Green politicians, led by 1968 student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who took some 16% of the vote, likely ensuring that environmental issues will jump up the political agenda.

GERMANY

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives remained Germany’s strongest party despite some losses in the poll, boosting her bid to retain power in September’s federal election.

Mr. Merkel’s favoured coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrat party, was the biggest winner, pointing to a possible alliance between the two after the autumn election.

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IRELAND

Prime Minister Brian Cowen’s left-of-centre Fianna Fail could end up losing a seat to Eurosceptic opponents in what would be the party’s latest poll slap over its handling of the worst-performing economy in western Europe.

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ITALY

Despite a string of scandals such as alleged bribes to a lawyer, a relationship with an 18-year-old woman and the use of state planes, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right People of Freedom party appeared headed to a modest victory, with a Sky Italia poll giving it 39.0% of the vote.

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SPAIN

Spain’s governing Socialists lost as widely expected, but the opposition conservative Popular Party did not secure the landslide margin some had predicted during the economic crisis. A preliminary count put them just under 4 percentage points ahead of the Socialists. Given the dire state of the economy, with unemployment at about 18%, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero will likely breathe a sigh of relief.

GREECE

Ruling conservatives struggling with the economic crisis, social unrest and numerous scandals look to have lost to the main opposition socialist party, who will now press their calls for early national elections. The government’s term ends in 2011 but a vote for president in March is widely seen as the limit. With just under half the vote counted, the socialist PASOK was ahead with 36% and the ruling New Democracy 33%.

CZECH REPUBLIC

The former ruling right-wing Civic Democrats as expected came out ahead with 30.81%, according to partial results, with the Social Democratic Party on 22.9%. The country is being run by an interim government ahead of an early election in October. {snip}

HUNGARY

Hungary’s Socialists, who rule in a minority government led by Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, suffered as expected a crushing defeat to the main opposition party Fidesz, an outcome that could destabilise its reforms. Analysts said a big victory for the opposition would also make an early parliamentary election more likely. The far-right Jobbik (“For a Better Hungary”) party capitalised on discontent over the country’s economic crisis and resentment of its Roma minority to win three seats.

DENMARK

The opposition Social Democrats led with 21.2% of the votes in the provisional count, just ahead of the Liberal party. The Conservative People’s Party, the Liberals’ partner in the minority coalition government, was in fifth place. {snip}

FINLAND

The centre-right National Coalition Party had the biggest share of votes, 22.5%, and its coalition partner, the Centre Party, was in second place with 20% They kept the opposition Social Democrats to third place, despite a slide in popularity for Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen.

AUSTRIA

The two mainstream governing parties, the Social Democrats (29.7%) and the conservative People’s Party (23.8%), lost support compared to the last election in 2004 but were still the main parties.

Maverick Hans-Peter Martin made gains to secure nearly 18% of the votes, almost 4 percentage points more than in 2004. He had been expected to win over some voters who would otherwise have opted for the far-right. The Freedom Party secured just over 13%.

PORTUGAL

The opposition Social Democrats defied opinion polls by finishing first on nearly 31.7% of the vote, knocking the ruling Socialists into second place on about 26.6%.

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SLOVAKIA

The social democratic Smer party of Prime Minister Robert Fico won a convincing victory with 32% of the votes in an election in which fewer than 20% of the electorate voted.

The main opposition centre-right faction SDKU was next with almost 17 percent.

ROMANIA

The two governing coalition parties, the centrist Democrat Liberals and the ex-communist Social Democrats, both finished on just over 30% of the vote, roughly the same as during the November parliamentary election. The result is likely to help preserve the uneasy coalition between the two parties.

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The far-right Greater Romania Party won 7.2% of votes.

CYPRUS

In Cyprus, the opposition right-wing Democratic Rally party held a slim lead of less than 1 percentage point over the island’s Communist party, the senior partner in Cyprus’s leftist government. Both parties gained compared to previous elections, with the centrist Democratic Party losing ground.

Though voting is compulsory in Cyprus, abstention levels in the European election reached a record of nearly 41%. Cyprus has six seats in the European Parliament.

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LUXEMBOURG

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s Christian Social People’s Party came out comfortably on top with 31.39% of the vote against 19.27% for the nearest rival. Juncker’s party was also expected to remain the largest party in parliamentary polls on Sunday. {snip}

MALTA

The centre-right Nationalist Party of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi lost out to the rival Labour Party Malta, early results showed, as it scored 41% against Labour’s 55%.

BULGARIA

Public anger over government failure to tame chronic corruption and organized crime as well as act to protect the economy from the global economic crisis saw Bulgaria’s ruling Socialists suffering defeat in the European elections.

Projected results show right-wing opposition GERB, led by Sofia’s straight-talking Mayor Boiko Borisov, winning 26.15% or five seats from a total of 17 compared with 18.87% or four seats for the Socialists.

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POLAND

Poland’s ruling centre-right Civic Platform maintained its lead, winning 45.2%of the projected vote count or 24 seats out of the possible 50 in the European Parliament, remaining more popular than its rivals despite a sharply slowing economy. The main opposition, Eurosceptic Law and Justice party won 29.5% or 16 seats while the leftist SLD took 12% or six seats.

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LATVIA

The right-wing Civic Union Party won the European Parliament vote in crisis-hit Latvia with 24.32%, taking two of the country’s eight seats according to projections. The Harmony Centre party, which draws its support from Latvia’s large Russian-speaking population, came second with 19.53%, also winning two seats.

ESTONIA

Estonia’s main opposition Centre Party won 26.4% of the vote, taking three seats in the Baltic state of 1.3 million people. The Reform Party of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip came second with 15.3% of the vote, winning just one seat of a possible six allocated to Estonia.

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LITHUANIA

Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius’ conservative Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats won 25.69% of the vote, gaining four of a possible 12 seats while the opposition Social Democrats came second with 19.6%, picking up three seats.

The Order and Justice party, led by impeached former president Rolandas Paksas, trailed in third with 12.55% and two seats.

SLOVENIA

The main opposition centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party won most votes, 26.92%, taking two seats. The governing centre-left Social Democrats came second with 18.45%, also taking two of seven Slovenian seats in the European Parliament.

THE NETHERLANDS

Dutch voters, after rejecting a draft constitution for Europe four years ago, delivered a solid bloc for anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders to take to Europe’s parliament.

Underscoring scepticism over further European integration, Wilders’ right-wing Freedom Party won four of 25 contested seats in elections for the European Parliament.

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BELGIUM

Home to many EU institutions, Belgium also held regional elections, which attracted much more media coverage and opinion polls than the EU vote.

The centre-right Flemish Christian Democrats won 15.15% of the vote for the European Parliament, picking up three seats. The OpenVLD, a Flemish liberal party, and the Parti Socialiste took 13.2% and 10.19% of the votes, also winning three seats each.

SWEDEN

Sweden’s Pirate Party, striking a chord with voters who want more free content on the Internet, won a seat in the European Parliament. The Pirate Party captured 7.1% of votes in Sweden in the Europe-wide ballot, enough to give it a single seat. The party wants to deregulate copyright, abolish the patent system and reduce surveillance on the Internet.

{snip} Sweden takes over the EU presidency for six months from July.

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