|The party of Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, saw gains from the elections.|
Conservatives see gains in EU elections
BRUSSELS - Conservatives raced toward victory in some of Europe's largest economies yesterday as initial results and exit polls showed voters punishing left-leaning parties in European parliament elections in France, Germany, and elsewhere.
Some right-leaning parties said the results vindicated their reluctance to spend more on company bailouts and fiscal stimulus amid the global economic crisis.
First projections by the European Union showed center-right parties would have the most seats, between 263 and 273, in the 736-member parliament. Center-left parties were expected to get between 155 to 165 seats.
Right-leaning governments were ahead of the opposition in Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium, while conservative opposition parties were leading in Britain and Spain.
Greece was a notable exception, where the governing conservatives were headed for defeat in the aftermath of corruption scandals and economic woes.
Germany's Social Democrats headed to their worst showing in a nationwide election since World War II. Four months before Germany holds its own national election, the outcome boosted conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel's hopes of ending the tense left-right "grand coalition" that has led the European Union's most populous nation since 2005.
"We are the force that is acting level-headedly and correctly in this financial and economic crisis," said Volker Kauder, the leader of Merkel's party in the German parliament.
France's Interior Ministry said partial results showed the governing conservatives in the lead, with the Socialists in a distant second and the Europe Ecologie environmentalist party a close third.
French Socialists said their defeat signaled a need to rethink left-wing policies if they are to have any hope of unseating President Nicolas Sarkozy.
An EU estimate showed that only 43 percent of 375 million eligible voters cast ballots in European parliament elections, a record low turnout amid widespread disenchantment with the continentwide legislature.
The EU parliament has evolved over five decades from a consultative legislature to one with the power to vote on or amend two-thirds of all EU laws. Lawmakers get five-year terms and residents vote for lawmakers from their own countries.