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Right takes priority in European elections

CENTER-RIGHT parties hailed European Parliament election victories as a continent-wide vote for conservative approaches to the economic crisis.

Right-leaning governments came out ahead in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium, while conservative opposition parties won in Britain and Spain.

Many socialists ran campaigns that slammed center-right leaders for failing to rein in financial markets and spend enough to stimulate faltering economies. But voters did not embrace their cause.

"The center-right has been addressing the economic crisis," said Sara Hagemann, an analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Center think tank. "The center-left parties failed to sell that message."

Voters angry over poor economic conditions and political scandals punished ruling parties of both stripes in Greece, Austria, Spain, Britain, Bulgaria, Ireland, Hungary and the island of Malta.

The June 4-7 elections across the 27-nation bloc saw only 43 percent of 375 million eligible voters cast ballots for representatives to the 736-member EU legislature.

The European Union said center-right parties were expected to take 267 seats in the 736-member parliament. Center-left parties were headed for 159 seats. The remainder were expected to go to smaller groupings.

Voters in Italy handed a tepid win to scandal-plagued Premier Silvio Berlusconi and rewarded the anti-immigrant party in his coalition.

With some 97 percent of the vote counted, Berlusconi's Freedom Party had 34.9 percent. The 72-year-old spent much of the campaign fighting off scandal over his wife's allegations of an improper relationship with an 18-year-old model. His coalition ally, the Northern League, rose nearly 2 percent, to 10.6 percent.

Germans handed a lackluster victory to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives. Her Christian Democratic Union and a regional sister party won 37.8 percent, down from 44.5 percent five years ago.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives trounced the socialists while in Austria the rightist Freedom Party more than doubled its strength to 13.1 percent.

The EU parliament has evolved over five decades from a consultative legislature to one with the power to vote on or amend two-thirds of all EU laws.


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