With voter turnout the lowest since 1979, right-leaning parties gained in European Parliamentary elections, while the left sagged in most countries
The European Parliament elections mark a victory for center-right and right-wing parties as voters punish the left in a vote marked by a historically low turnout.
The center-right European People's Party (EPP) held on to its position as the largest grouping in the European Parliament, with provisional results giving them 267, or around 36 percent, of the assembly's 736 seats. The center-right's showing was even better than indicated by the EPP's results, as many euroskeptic members of the European Parliament are moving to other parliamentary groups.
The vote's biggest loser is the center-left, with the Party of European Socialists (PES) winning just 159 seats, 56 fewer than in the 2004 election. "Tonight is a very difficult evening for Socialists in many nations in Europe," Martin Schulz, lead candidate for Germany's Social Democrats and the floor leader for the PES in the European Parliament, said on Sunday evening.
The liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) also saw their support decline, winning 81 seats, a drop of 21. The Greens did better, however, gaining 11 seats to up their total to 54. The left-wing Left parliamentary group lost 7 seats to land with 34 members.
The Union for Europe of the Nations (UEN), which includes conservative and right-wing populist parties such as Italy's Northern League, will have 35 members in the new parliament, an increase of 19 seats. The euroskeptic Independence and Democracy (Ind/Dem) group saw its support fall from 24 to 18 seats.
A total of 88 members of the new parliament either do not belong to any parliamentary group or intend to leave their current group. The center-right British Conservatives and the right-wing Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the Czech Republic have announced they will leave the EPP group and found a new euroskeptic group with Poland's right-wing Law and Justice Party (PIS).
The election, which took place from June 4 to June 7 across the EU's 27 member states, was marked by a record low turnout of just 43.4 percent, the lowest since elections to the European Parliament began in 1979. The last election in 2004 saw a turnout of 45.5 percent. Turnout has fallen in every European election since 1979.
Turnout was particularly low in some of Europe's largest countries with just 40.5 percent of voters in France and 42.2 percent in Germany casting their ballots. However new member state Malta was expected to show a turnout of almost 80 percent.
In Germany, the election proved a major defeat for the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), who got just 20.8 percent of the vote—their worst election showing in post-war German history. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union got 30.6 percent of the vote, a decline of 5.9 percent compared to its 2004 result, and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union got 7.2 percent.
The German Greens' support ticked up slightly to 12.1 percent of the vote, while the German party with the biggest gain was the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, which got 11 percent, an increase of almost 5 percent compared to 2004. The far-left Left Party, which was founded since the last European election and which has shaken up the German political system, got 7.5 percent of the vote.
Among the election's biggest losers was the UK's Labour party, which saw its support drop from 19 seats to 12 and won just 15.3 percent of the vote—its worst post-war election result. It finished in third place behind the Conservatives (24 seats) and the euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (14 seats). The vote is seen as a damning verdict on Labour, whose leader Gordon Brown is under increasing pressure to resign as prime minister due to an ongoing expense account scandal in the House of Commons.
Opposition parties in several countries did well. In Spain, the conservative People's Party won 42 percent of the vote, gaining 23 seats, compared to the 21 seats won by the ruling center-left Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). In Austria the ruling Social Democrats (SPÖ) had their worst-ever result in a national election, winning just 23.8 percent of the vote, a drop of more than 9 percent.
However government parties prevailed in several countries including France, Italy and Poland. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP won 28 percent of the vote, while the opposition Socialists got just 17 percent, putting them slightly ahead of the Greens who won 16 percent. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party won 35 percent of the vote, while in Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform party did particularly well, winning around 45 percent of the vote.
Far-right and right-wing populist parties also did well in the election. In the Netherlands, the anti-Islam Freedom Party of the filmmaker Geert Wilders won around 17 percent of the vote, making it the second strongest party. The right-wing populist party True Finns won around 14 percent of the vote in Finland, up from just 0.5 percent in 2004. In Denmark, the right-wing populist DVP increased its share of the vote from 6.8 percent in 2004 to around 15 percent. Italy's right-wing populist Northern League won around 10 percent of the vote, giving it 8 seats, while in the UK the far-right British National Party won four seats.
Despite the low turnout, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso expressed satisfaction with the results. "Overall, the results are an undeniable victory for those parties and candidates that support the European project," he said.