The Conservatives emerged as the clear winners of the night despite signs that they had been hit by a backlash from voters over the MPs' expenses scandal.
But they remained largely static in the popular vote, failing to take advantage of the dramatic slump in support for the Government. A BBC projection early today put the Tories on 27 per cent of the vote, unchanged from its performance at the last European elections five years ago.
Party strategists, however, counter that this campaign has been so unusual that it remains well placed for the general election expected next year when the campaign focus will return to the economy.
Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, said the clearest message from the elections was that sitting Labour MPs were not safe anywhere in the country.
The party was triumphant after coming first in the popular vote in Wales, which had been dominated by Labour for almost a century. It won 145,193 votes to Labour's 138,852.
Its strong showing, combined with the collapse in backing for the Government, will raise hopes that it can win a series of marginal constituencies – including Cardiff North and the Vale of Glamorgan – across Wales in the general election next year.
The Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan welcomed "a historic result" for the Tories and a "seismic shift in Welsh politics".
"Only the Conservative Party can beat Labour in Wales and Gordon Brown has gone down in history as the first Labour Prime Minister to have lost Wales," she said.
In much of England, however, the Tories' performance was almost unchanged. Conservative activists reported that the expenses issue was dogging their election campaign, which coincided with the disclosure that Tory MPs variously claimed for a duck house, cleaning a moat and refurbishing servants' quarters.
But party strategists insist, given the unusual nature of the campaign, that the Conservatives' European performance still provides a solid basis for next year's general election.
Following Boris Johnson's success in winning the London Mayoralty, the Tories topped the poll in the capital. They obtained three seats in London, unchanged from last year.
The Conservatives retained their three seats in the East of England, but their 31 per share of the vote remained unchanged.
Their similar performance suggested that disillusioned Labour voters backed the Greens and the British National Party instead of the main opposition party.Reuse content