Knives out in Europe's battered parties: Leonard Doyle on the political fall-out being witnessed in smoke-filled rooms after the EU polls

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The Independent Online
IN governing and opposition parliamentary parties across the European Union there is talk of recrimination and bloodletting as the results of the European Elections are put under the microscope.

It is not only in Britain that opposition parties are taking hope from the results of an early return to power and governments are reshuffling their cabinets to bring in fresh faces.

The shockwaves are still working their way through the system. But in Spain, France, Germany, Ireland and to some extent Italy, the elections are already causing contortions for ruling and opposition parties that could radically change the political landscape.

In France, a dismal showing has put paid to the presidential ambitions of the Socialist Party leader, Michel Rocard, whose party had the worst showing since the early 1970s. Yesterday he offered to step aside as leader and presidential candidate, telling his party that 'whoever wants to, and has something to propose, can be a candidate'.

But just as the Socialists are looking like a walkover, the ruling centre-right RPR-UDF coalition, led by the Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, is tying itself into knots over the presidency. The UDF should field its own candidate and its leader, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, is waiting in the wings. But the defection of 27 deputies from the party, who hope to back the RPR's Mr Balladur has fouled the line-up.

In Germany, the results brought an enormous upturn to the fortunes of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, confounding the opinion polls and pundits. At the precise moment when the opposition Social Democrats should have streaked ahead in the run- up to October's general election, it received a severe drubbing, losing 5 percentage points. There is no time for the party to ditch its leader, Rudolf Scharping, but he will face intense pressure at next week's party conference.

In Italy, the search is now on for a successor to Achille Occhetto, as head of the powerful former Communist Party of the Democratic Left.

Mr Occhetto resigned on Tuesday because of the poor showing in the European poll, and a struggle is already under way to succeed him between social democrat reformers (like Mr Occhetto) and hardline old Communists.

In Spain, the fall-out from the elections could have immediate consequences for the government. When the Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, returns today from the Iberoamerican summit in Colombia, he will face calls for his resignation, a parliamentary confidence vote, or at least a cabinet reshuffle. His Socialist Party (PSOE) was hammered by the conservative Popular Party (PP) in the European vote.

A cabinet clean-out is inevitable. The deputy prime minister, Narcis Serra, tarred by corruption scandals linked to a bugging operation in Barcelona and a spying operation against a former leading banker, Mario Conde, is likely to be jettisoned.

In Ireland, the Labour Party, in coalition with Fianna Fail, is facing an identity crisis after winning just 11 per cent of the vote. At the same time, the opposition Progressive Democrats are on the verge of splitting after a humiliating showing, and the defeat of their founder, Des O' Malley.

In Greece, the ruling Socialist Pasok party saw a sharp drop in its support.

Pasok seems determined to take on the highly nationalistic Political Spring party by getting the troublesome Macedonia dispute out of the way quickly.

In Portugal, the defeat of Portugal's ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) last Sunday - nine European seats to the Socialist Party's (PS) 10 - was narrower than expected. This means the political fall-out is likely to be small.

The Socialists had hoped for a far clearer victory, with polls showing them up to 10 points ahead. In the end, they won by less than half a percentage point.

(Photograph omitted)