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Euro 99 Elections: Socialists face loss of top slot as continent swings to the right.

Christian Democrats claimed victory in the European Parliament elections, predicting that for the first time in 20 years they will replace Socialists as the largest group in the 626-seat European Union assembly.

But the claim was overshadowed by low voter turnout in many of the 15 European Union nations - despite efforts in recent years to give the assembly more say in EU lawmaking to boost its credibility.

Voter apathy was a setback for the assembly whose political leadership had high hopes that its role in ousting the EU executive Commission in mid-March, after revelations of corruption, would encourage Europeans to vote.

Mr Jose Maria Gil-Robles, the president of the outgoing parliament and a Christian Democrat, said his group will probably win 210 to 215 seats and the Socialists around 185 to 190.

In Germany, the biggest defender of the notion that the EU needs a stronger legislative branch, voter turnout was 51 per cent.

It was 23 per cent in Britain, 30 per cent in the Netherlands, 49 per cent in Denmark, 50 per cent in Ireland and around 45 per cent in France.

Almost 300 million Europeans were eligible to vote.

The election followed a lacklustre campaign, overshadowed by the Kosovo war.

In the last elections, in 1994, turnout was 57 per cent, down from 63 per cent in the first European elections in 1979.

Yesterday's ballot in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg, Portugal, Finland and Austria completed three days of voting. On Thursday, voting was held in Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark and, on Friday, in Ireland.

The elections are a barometer of how candidates' political parties fare at home.

French President Jacques Chirac's conservative party lost votes and a new right-wing, anti-EU party of ex-Interior Minister Mr Charles Pasqua won some 12.5 per cent of the vote, almost equalling the 13 per cent score for President Chirac's Rally for the Republic party.

Prime Minister Mr Lionel Jospin's Socialists held their own. The extreme-right National Front of Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen polled six per cent of the vote despite a split. His rival, former top lieutenant Mr Bruno Megret, had an estimated 3.5 per cent.

Germany's opposition Christian Democrats won 48.5 per cent, against 31 per cent for Chancellor Mr Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats. Their Green coalition partners slipped to 6.5 per cent of the vote, down from ten per cent in 1994.

Spain's ruling conservative Popular party of Prime Minister Mr Jose Maria Aznar looked set to win 26 of the country's 64 seats in the European Parliament, against 25 for the opposition Socialists. Greece's governing Socialists were predicted to lose to the conservative New Democracy Party.

One of the youngest candidates in the Irish Republic's European Parliament election became the first to be declared in Ireland.

Mr Brian Crowley, aged 35, of the Fianna Fail party, who captured his seat in the Munster constituency at the last Euro poll in 1994, easily retained his place in Strasbourg in the first count under the proportional representation system of voting.

Meanwhile, as the counting continued ahead of declarations in the other three Irish constituencies, it was clear that singer Dana - the 1970 Eurovision song contest winner - was again doing exceptionally well in Europe.

Though the initial declaration was awaited in her Connacht-Ulster division, Dana, real name Rosemary Scallon, was reported to have polled a massive 51,000 first preference votes.

That gave her a chance of taking a seat that observers had confidently expected to go to the Fianna Fail main Irish coalition government party.

In later Irish European election counts, Mr Niall Andrews (Fianna Fail) was declared elected in the Dublin constituency and Ms Avril Doyle (Fine Gael) in the Leinster constituency.

Ms Mary Banotti (Fine Gael), Ms Patricia McKenna (Green Party) and Mr Proinsias De Rossa (Irish Labour) were declared elected in the Dublin European constituency on the completion of the counting of votes.

Former Dublin government Minister Mr Gerry Collins became the seventh elected Irish member of the new European Parliament, retaining his seat.
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Author:Sathiah, Anna
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 14, 1999
Words:676
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