Pragmatic measures to fight the recession, and an appeal to nationalist sentiment with plenty of rhetoric on immigrants, were the ingredients of the success of centre-right parties. Armed with a clear message and blessed with an opposition in disarray, the mainstream Right appealed to voters with a sense of grievance at the financial system. But its campaign — leavened with anti-immigrant slogans and calls to reject Turkish membership of the EU — came with a heavy dose of traditionally left-wing attitudes to job protection.

“Right-wing parties are talking about how to regulate markets and how to intervene to save jobs, as well as reform social welfare systems,” said Sara Hagemann, policy analyst with the European Policy Centre in Brussels. “The Centre Right has said this more forcefully and more visibly.”

The big winners — the ruling parties in France, Germany and Poland — were among the most reluctant to follow Gordon Brown’s call for huge fiscal stimulus payouts that would land taxpayers with years of high public deficits. The centre-right European People’s Party will have about 263 of the 736 seats, despite the departure of David Cameron’s Conservatives to form a new anti-federalist group.

The tactic was exemplified by President Sarkozy, who marginalised the already divided Socialists by inviting senior centre-left politicians into his Government and pushing state intervention and protection for vulnerable French industries — while refusing to countenance Turkish membership of the Union.

His UMP party got 27.9 per cent of the vote, thumping the Socialists who had just 16.5 per cent In Germany, Angela Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, won 37.9 per cent of the vote while their rival Social Democrats plunged to a record low of 20.8 per cent.

In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi’s party was on course for 35.2 per cent, comfortably beating the opposition but falling far short of its own predictions. The Prime Minister’s party chose to blame bad publicity surrounding the nature of its leader’s relationship with an 18-year-old model for the result. [See below]

The Centre Left

“This is disappointing,” said Franz Müntefering, the head of the German socialist SPD party. “The result is significantly worse than we expected.” It was an understatement: the European Left was at a loss to explain its electoral meltdown.

For the opposition in France, Germany, Italy and Poland, as for ruling parties in Britain, Bulgaria and Portugal, it was a drubbing. Whether it was voters deserting them for extremists or fringe parties or simply staying at home in the lowest-ever turnout for a European election of just 43 per cent, or having their clothes stolen by the Right promising to protect people’s jobs, left-wing parties across the continent were staring at the maths: the Party of European Socialists was heading for 163 MEPs, a big disappointment after aiming for 200.

“It was a sad evening for social democracy in Europe. We are particularly disappointed,” said Martin Schulz, the German MEP who leads the group in the Parliament.

Core voters, including students and less educated workers, appeared to have stayed away from the polls, but that was not the only explanation. In Spain, where José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s ruling Socialists were defeated for the first time by Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party, the daily newspaper Mundo summed up the European mood. “The traditional parties of the Left should ask themselves why, in the midst of crisis, just when free market theories appear to be most challenged, people continue to prefer liberal recipes,” it said.

The Far Right

When the new MEPs of the BNP head for Brussels they will find they have a wide range of neo-fascist bedfellows. There are some familiar faces, such as the French National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, at 80 now the oldest MEP, but some new ones too — such as the three MEPs for Jobbik, a nationalist Hungarian party with its own uniformed paramilitary wing.

However, neo-fascist Europeans do not have a history of co-operation. In 2007 a group of far-right MEPs formed the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty bloc; it broke up after 11 months when the Greater Romanian MEPs quit over remarks by Alessandro Mussolini, the granddaughter of Il Duce, who said that all Romanians were criminals.

Now that she has left there may be grounds for a rapprochement. But the Greater Romania Party won just two seats, down from the five observer MEPs at the time Romania joined the EU. The party also may have difficulty lifting a travel ban on Gigi Becali, imposed as a condition of his bail on charges of kidnapping three men who allegedly stole his sports car.

One party likely to spurn a group that includes the BNP is the Freedom Party of the maverick Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who was banned from entering Britain in February for his strident anti-Islamic views. It won four seats to become the Netherlands’ second-largest party, but has kept a distance from other fringe parties.

SOURCE

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