- The Washington Times - Monday, June 8, 2009

The European People’s Party (EPP), a coalition of center-right groups, was set to become the largest bloc in the European Parliament, increasing its advantage over Social Democrats, who suffered crushing losses in the keyEU states of Germany, Britain and France, according to exit polls.

Initial EU projections showed that the EPP had taken between 263 and 273 seats in the 736-member Parliament, well above the predicted 155 to 165 seats won by the center-left grouping.

“EU elections have always been dress rehearsals for national elections,” said Oana Lungescu, an analyst for the BBC. “We expected a protest vote, and we got a protest vote.”

Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Party and its sister party, the Christian Social Union, were expected to capture 38 percent of the vote a win seen as a precursor to success for Angela Merkel when Germany holds national elections in September.

The German chancellor is looking to sever her party’s fractious right-left alliance with the Social Democratic Party, which has ruled Germany for four years, and join forces with the pro-business Free Democrats.

The Social Democrats only managed to secure about 21.5 percent of the vote, which was “significantly worse than expected,” said party Chairman Franz Muentefering.

In France, the embattled Socialist Party watched about half of its seats in the European Parliament disappear as President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement led the polls with a projected 28 percent of the vote.

The French government attributed the comfortable victory in part to Mr. Sarkozy’s solid spell as EU president last year.

Results were slow to trickle through in Britain but were widely expected to reject the ruling Labor Party, with the opposition Conservative Party and the anti-European Union UK Independence Party leading the way.

Such an outcome could deal the fatal blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown prime ministry in the wake of a disastrous week, in which he clung to power despite a slew of abrupt resignations from senior ministers after the Labor Party’s worst-ever local election performance.

Turnout slipped to an all-time low of 43 percent among 375 million eligible voters, according to an EU estimate, which analysts said was a huge factor behind advances by far-right parties.

In the Netherlands, the anti-immigration and anti-Islamist Party for Freedom won four seats in its first attempt, finishing second only to the ruling Christian Democratic Alliance with 17 percent of the vote. The party is led by Geert Wilders, who is banned from [Note] entering [/NOTE] Britain for purportedly inciting hatred. He has called for closure of mosques and has compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

The British National Party, which campaigns fervently against immigration and forbids nonwhite members, won its first-ever seat in the European Parliament.

Ultra-right parties also made significant gains in Austria, Denmark and Hungary. A mere 19.4 percent turnout in Slovakia ensured at least one seat went to the extreme right.

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