JUNE 8 2009 09:15h
Far-right forces won parliamentary seats in some countries, including Britain, but they and other fringe parties did less well than expected
Centre-right forces stepped up a campaign to secure a second term for Jose Manuel Barroso as European Commission president on Monday, the day after winning the most seats in a European Parliament election.
Although ruling parties were defeated in some of the countries worst hit by the global financial crisis and turnout slumped to a record low of just 43 percent, governing conservatives did well in most of the big European economies.
Barroso is the main candidate so far to lead the European Union's executive Commission, which has far-reaching powers to regulate and propose legislation. The role of Commission chief is vital in determining how the body deals with national EU capitals which often seek to resist its initiatives.
The European People's Party (EPP), the biggest group in the assembly, said it expected European Union leaders to back Barroso for a new term at a summit on June 18-19 and predicted he would win approval in parliament despite opposition from French Green Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
"I am extremely confident ... I am not worried about that at all," said EPP leader Joseph Daul said of resistance to the 53-year-old former Portuguese prime minister, accused by critics of promoting free markets at the expense of social concerns.
Daul rejected calls to delay a decision on who should be appointed head of the Commission until after Ireland holds a referendum on the EU's Lisbon reform treaty expected in October.
He said the EU executive needed to press on with efforts to tackle the economic slowdown in Europe.
"We need a president of the Commission, a president for the next five years. We can't leave this post vacant till the end of the year -- it would be like having no one in government," he told a news conference.
Incomplete results showed 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 further reforms of the financial regulatory system intended to prevent another global crisis.
However the EPP will remain short of an absolute majority in the 736-seat assembly and will now scout for alliances to ensure its agenda dominates. A tie-up with the smaller Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) would take it close to a majority, but it would still need other allies.
ALDE leader Graham Watson hinted at a possible deal under which the EPP would seek support for Barroso as Commission chief but would cede the less politically powerful post of European Parliament president to another party.
"I don't exclude such a leap of imagination," he said, adding his group had not taken a decision on Barroso.
Barroso vowed on Sunday to tackle climate change decisively after the success of ecologists in countries including France, where a coalition of Green politicians led by 1968 student leader Cohn-Bendit won about 16 percent of the vote.
Centre-right parties won in 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.
The 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. But opposition Socialists across the bloc appeared too divided to reap the benefit of protest votes.