Merkel sweeps aside her rivals

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The Independent Online

Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives emerged as clear victors in the European election in Germany after winning 38 per cent of the vote compared with a mere 21 per cent polled by their ruling Social Democrat grand coalition partners.

The result, which also saw the market-oriented liberal Free Democratic Party win 10.5 per cent of the vote, was seen as a key indication of voter sympathies in the run-up to Germany's September general election. Mrs Merkel's conservatives welcomed the result as a clear sign that voters wanted to replace Germany's four-year-old grand coalition government of Social Democrats and conservatives with their favoured option of a conservative-liberal alliance.

"A majority of voters favours a coalition government comprised of conservatives and liberals," said Rold Pofalla, the conservative party general secretary: "We are happy with the result and can build on it," he added.

One of the key factors attributed to the conservatives success was Mrs Merkel's popularity as Chancellor and voters' approval of her handling of the economic crisis including its role in negotiating the rescue of Germany's ailing car giant Opel.

The Social Democrats had been expected to improve considerably on their performance in European polls five years ago when the party was at the height its unpopularity under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and polled only 21.5 per cent of the vote.

Franz Müntefering, the Social Democrat party leader said Sunday's outcome was disappointing and "much worse than expected".

The Greens polled 12 per cent which almost exactly equalled their performance of five years ago.

In Austria, the ruling Social Democrats suffered a humiliating defeat and lost some 10 per cent of the vote. Their conservative coalition partners were down 2.8 per cent but remained the strongest party with 29.9 per cent of the vote.

The anti-Europe party headed by Austrian eurosceptic Hans Peter Martin won 18.5 per cent of the vote. The far-right Freedom Party upped its share by 6.7 per cent to 13 per cent after conducting a virulently anti-Islamic election campaign.

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