By Tom Gill
EUROPE’S voters have delivered a damning verdict on the European Union and punished governments that had backed the Iraq war and were pursuing antiwelfare, deflationary policies. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac joined Tony Blair in suffering heavily at the polls. The rebellious mood was also reflected in growing disquiet about the EU, with a record number of Eurosceptic candidates returned to the 732-seat European Parliament.
The European elections gave 350 million voters in 25 countries the chance to vote, but the mood of discontent was also reflected in a record low turnout of about 45 per cent — down from 49 per cent in 1999.
Centre-Right parties have the largest number of seats in the new Parliament, with socialists second.
The most immediate impact will be felt in domestic politics as national leaders try to contain the damage.
Mr Schroeder’s ruling Social Democrats suffered their worst result in 50 years with just 23 per cent of the vote, compared with 46 per cent for the conservative CDU and its CSU Bavarian sister party.
French voters, like their German counterparts, used the Euro poll to record their concern on feeble economic growth and cuts to welfare programmes.
President Chirac’s Conservative UMP won 16 per cent of votes, compared with 29 per cent for the Socialists.
Romano Prodi’s reinvigorated Olive Tree coalition fared well against Silvio Berlusconi’s Centre-Right governing coalition, providing the outgoing European Commission President with a platform to return to national politics.
In Spain, Jose Luis Rodrguez Zapatero’s newlyelected Socialist Party was one of the few administrations to buck the anti-establishment trend.
It benefited from an anti-war stance, as did the opposition Socialists in Portugal and Social Democrats in Denmark.
Big gains were made by parties fighting on anti-EU platforms, with the surge in support of the UK Independence Party matched in Poland by the Self-Defence Party.
Other Right-wing parties that also campaigned on a nationalist, anti-EU platform gained seats, notably the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, which won three seats.
Eurosceptic parties benefited from low turnout in many countries. In Sweden, the June List, building on the country’s “No” vote to the euro last year, won almost 15 per cent of the vote, giving it 3 seats.
Of the 732 seats in the new Parliament, about 77 are expected to be filled by non-aligned MEPs, many of them broadly Eurosceptic or nationalists.