- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

LONDON — Voters in European Parliament elections — having punished leaders in Britain and the Netherlands for getting involved in Iraq — yesterday turned their ire on German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, Europe’s leading opponents of the conflict.

The 25-nation vote, which ended with 19 nations voting yesterday, also revealed anxieties about an issue close to home: the newly expanded European Union.

The massive democratic exercise came at a crucial time in the development of the European Union. The bloc just added 10 members, largely from Eastern Europe, and leaders hope to agree on an EU constitution later this month.

Mr. Schroeder’s Social Democrats took a bashing yesterday, with their share of the vote falling to 21.6 percent, compared with 30.7 percent five years ago, Germany’s ARD television exit polls indicated.

The big winners were the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union, who were projected to take 45.3 percent of the vote.

Mr. Schroeder’s popularity has waned under the pressure of unemployment above 10 percent and the trimming of social programs.

“We can’t gloss over the result — we have taken a clear defeat,” said Klaus Uwe Benneter, general secretary of Mr. Schroeder’s party.

Christian Democrat leader Laurenz Meyer said the result showed that “people want policies that ensure work and growth.”

In France, Mr. Chirac’s conservative Union for a Popular Movement, with about 16.5 percent of the vote, finished a poor second behind the Socialist Party, which garnered 30 percent of ballots cast, according to the Sofres polling firm.

Polls indicated that many voters were angry about Mr. Chirac’s reforms of pensions and other social programs.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was humbled Thursday in local government elections held at the same time as the euro poll, in which his governing Labor Party fell into third place. Some party officials said they feared they might lose the next national election, expected next year.

“Our job is to keep our nerve, as Tony says, to get our case across, because the exit polls show us that health and education and jobs and the economy are still the issues that people are concerned with,” Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said yesterday. “When we come to the election, they will dominate.”

Iraq was also a factor in the Netherlands, where the deployment of 1,400 troops with the U.S.-led coalition was a key issue in Thursday’s vote. Preliminary results showed gains for leftist opposition parties at the expense of the ruling coalition government. Nonetheless, the government announced Friday that it was extending the deployment for eight months.

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