European Elections: Angry Germans give Schroder a poll message

THE LOWEST turn-out in a federal election in Germany delivered the worst result yet for the Social Democrats, (SPD) one of the best for the right-of-centre Christian Democrats, and swept the successors of a communist regime into the European parliament for the first time.

The biggest winners of the night were the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies, who together notched up an astonishing 48 per cent of the vote. That was nearly 10 points up on their result in the last Euro- elections, and a leap of similar magnitude since their defeat by Gerhard Schroder's Social Democrats in last September's general elections. According to early projections, they were set to win 52 of Germany's allocation of 99 seats in the European Parliament.

The Social Democrats won a paltry 31 per cent; even lower than five years ago which had, until now, marked their nadir. The Greens, who govern with Chancellor Schroder in coalition, weighed in with 7 per cent, having lost nearly a third of their voters in recent months.

Europe barely figured in the poll, as Germans sought to vent their frustration with their government in Bonn. The anti-European Christian Social Union of Bavaria triumphed as spectacularly as the Europhiles in the Christian Democrats.

As Wolfgang Schauble, the Christian Democrats' new leader, declared: "This is a catastrophic defeat for Schroder and for the red-green coalition."

Seeking to distance himself from the calamity, the Chancellor stayed away from a party in SPD headquarters in Bonn. His officials sought solace in low turn-out figures - about 50 per cent - blaming voter apathy for their poor showing.

One European issue did register though. Exit polls revealed that the war in Kosovo was seen as the most important issue apart from unemployment.

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