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Conservatives tighten grip in EU election

Conservatives scored victories in some of Europe’s largest countries, after beating the Socialists in the EU parliamentary elections.

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As Europe’s left failed to make leverage on widespread concerns over the global financial crisis, far right anti immigrant and eurosceptic parties capitalised on the low voter turnout to gain support.

Projected results did not augur well for embattled British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, showing his Labour Party embarrassingly beaten into third place by the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip), which wants Britain out of the European Union.

The extreme right-wing British National Party won its first ever European Parliament seat, while Dutch anti-Islamic lawmaker Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom came second with 17 percent of the vote.

Finland’s nationalist and eurosceptic True Finns party also saw a strong rise in support, with 10 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.

Socialist parties in power in Britain, Spain and Portugal were punished by their electorates while other left-wing parties in opposition in Germany and France suffered painful losses.

The European People’s Party secured 267 seats, making it the largest group in the 736 member assembly, ahead of the Socialists on 159 seats.

The result gives the EPP nearly as many lawmakers as they had in the last parliament, which was larger with 785 seats. The strong showing also comes despite the British and Czech conservatives deserting the group.

The Liberals came in third with 81 seats followed by the Greens with 54 seats in the parliament, the European Union’s only directly elected institution.

Some 388 million people were eligible to vote in the world’s biggest trans-national elections which were spread over four days.

Turnout slumped to 43.6 percent, down from 45.5 percent in 2004 and the lowest rate ever.

“The turnout compared to 2004 shows that this is not the time for complacency,” European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said, urging national governments to play a more visible EU role.

“It’s a sad evening for social democracy in Europe. We are particularly disappointed, (it is) a bitter evening for us,” said the head of the Socialist bloc, German lawmaker Martin Schulz.

In Britain, Brown’s ruling Labour Party was braced for a drubbing which will add to pressure on his leadership after a week of political turmoil.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives came out on top, trouncing her centre-left rivals in what was seen as a dry run for September’s general election.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party romped home with 28 percent of the vote, leaving the opposition Socialists trailing with only 16.8 percent, barely ahead of the Greens.

Italy’s scandal-plagued centre-right Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rode the wave, holding his lead with 35 percent of the vote.

Spain’s opposition conservatives beat the ruling Socialists, with the opposition Popular Party getting 42 percent against 38 percent for Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s party.