European Elections: Ruling parties punished across the continent: More seats lost and another humiliation for Major as voters across the continent punish their governments

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The Independent Online
EUROPEAN voters turned on their governments in yesterday's elections, with the Tory upset mirrored across the continent.

It was a revolt against the rulers, fought on national issues in every country. Voters rejected those in power in Britain, France, Spain and Belgium, with ruling parties losing support elsewhere, but gave unexpected support to Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Germany. Unemployment, anger at corruption and mid-term ennui all contributed.

In France the poll was a dry run for the presidential elections next spring and turnout was high. The anti-Maastricht party, the Communists, the National Front and the list led by the maverick businessman Bernard Tapie took 40 per cent of the vote between them. The Socialists, in power for much of the Eighties, were reduced to 15 per cent, their vote split by Mr Tapie. Though the ruling centre- right parties won, it was by a much smaller margin than expected.

The exception to the pattern was Germany, which holds a general election in October. The governing Christian Democrats and their Bavarian cousins the Christian Socialists did unexpectedly well, prompting Chancellor Kohl to predict overwhelming victory in the autumn. But his coalition partners, the liberal Free Democrats, were wiped out: they failed to cross the 5 per cent threshold and get no European seats.

In Italy, the ruling coalition fared even better than at the general election in May, with Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia expected to send 26 MEPs to Strasbourg. The neo-Fascist led National Alliance won 14 per cent of the vote, and will send 13 members, with six for the regionalist Northern League - lower than expected.

The results will leave the Socialists the largest grouping in the new European Parliament with about 210 seats, according to the party's own calculations. There are 567 seats, increased from 518 to reflect German unification. The Socialists picked up seats in Britain, Portugal, and Greece, but lost them in France, Italy and Spain. Their share of the popular vote and of total seats was weakened.

But the centre-right European Peoples' Party, with which the British Conservatives are linked, has an uncertain future. The neo- Gaullist party, part of France's ruling coalition, is pledged to join them, but not all members may agree. The loyalties of Mr Berlusconi's party are also uncertain. The EPP could have up to 180 members.

The Liberals, which Paddy Ashdown's MEPs will join, will probably fall to 30 from 45, depending on whether the new Italian or French parties sign up. In sum, the Strasbourg assembly will have a roughly fifty-fifty split between left and right, as now, but the centre-right and right are fragmented and the left relatively united.

(Graphic omitted)

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