Brussels, Belgium Conservatives scored victories in some of Europe’s largest economies Sunday as voters punished left-leaning parties in European Union Parliament elections in France, Germany and other nations.
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.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and a regional sister party won 37.8 percent, down from 44.5 percent five years ago. But 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 level-headedly and correctly in this financial and economic crisis,” said Volker Kauder, the 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.
The Socialists, who dominated the last vote in 2004, suffered a stinging defeat, barely clinging to the No. 2 spot.
“Tonight is a very difficult evening for Socialists in many nations in Europe,” said Martin Schulz, the leader of the Socialists in the European Parliament. “(We will) continue to fight for social democracy in Europe.”
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 continentwide legislature.
Britain elected its first extreme-right politician to the European Parliament, with the British National Party winning a seat in northern England’s Yorkshire and the Humber district.
The far-right party, which does not accept nonwhites as members, was expected to possibly win further seats as more results in Britain were announced.
Lawmakers with Britain’s major political parties said the far right’s advance was a reflection of anger over immigration issues and the recession that is causing unemployment to soar.
Near-final results showed Austria’s main rightist party gaining strongly while the ruling Social Democrats lost substantial ground. But the big winner was the rightist Freedom Party, which more than doubled its strength over the 2004 elections to 13.1 percent of the vote. It campaigned on an anti-Islam platform.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’ anti-Islamic party took 17 percent of the country’s votes, taking four of 25 seats.