/ 8 June 2009

EU vows economic leadership after assembly vote

European leaders pledged to steer the region through economic crisis after centre-right parties tightened their grip on the European Parliament in an election that drew a record low turnout of voters.

Although ruling parties were defeated in some of the countries worst hit by the global financial crisis and the turnout was only about 43%, the ruling centre-right parties did well in most of the big European economies.

Incomplete results showed the European People’s Party (EPP) won most votes, the Greens made gains and the big losers were the Socialists.

Far-right forces won parliamentary seats in some countries, including Britain, but they and other fringe parties did less well than some pollsters had expected.

The passage of legislation through the assembly, which passes the majority of European Union laws, is likely to be smooth — including reforms of the financial regulatory system intended to prevent another global crisis.

”Overall, the results are an undeniable victory for those parties and candidates that support the European project and want to see the European Union delivering policy responses to their everyday concerns,” José Manuel Barroso, president of the EU’s executive European Commission, said late on Sunday. ”From today onwards, Europe owes it to the voters to show once again that it can deliver. It must continue to pave the way through the economic and financial crisis. It must do all it can to support those most vulnerable in society, especially those facing unemployment.”

Barroso vowed to tackle climate change decisively after the success of Green parties in countries including France, where a coalition of Green politicians led by 1968 student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit won about 16% of the vote.

Centre-right parties won in large countries including France, Germany, Italy, Poland in four days of voting across the 27 EU member states that ended on Sunday.

Countries where ruling parties were defeated included Britain, Spain, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary, Ireland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Portugal, Sweden, Greece and Slovenia.

Voters’ concerns over economy
The 736-member Parliament passes many laws, has the final say on the appointment of the EU’s leaders and budget, and is a democratic watchdog over the other EU institutions — the Commission and the Council of EU heads of state and government.

Its powers will be enhanced under reforms set out in the EU’s Lisbon treaty, which is intended to streamline decision making but has not yet won the approval of all member states. The election was dominated by voters’ fears over rising unemployment and concerns that the EU has done too little to tackle the economic crisis, although it eventually poured in money to try to revive Europe’s economy.

The Socialists appeared too divided to make gains, despite the worst recession since the 1930s.

”The most striking feature of the election results … is the fact that the centre-left parties across Europe, the Social Democrats and Socialists, have not been able to give a plausible answer, political answer, to the economic crisis,” said Thomas Klau of the European Council on Foreign relations.

”We haven’t seen a far-right wave washing across the European continent. That has not happened.”

Many voters ignored pan-European themes and used their vote to punish ruling parties over the economic crises or domestic issues such as in Britain, where the Labour government faces a scandal over national parliamentarians’ perks.

The EPP already had a strong position in the Parliament but other parties are now in a weaker position to challenge its position when legislation is being passed.

Analysts said this should ease the passage of laws including legislation to create pan-EU bodies to oversee systemic risk and improve monitoring of the financial system, supervise hedge funds and tighten rules on banking capital requirements. – Reuters