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EU election tilts toward the right

The vote for European Parliament boosted conservatives even in nations run by the left.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Conservatives scored victories in some of Europe's largest economies yesterday as voters punished left-leaning parties in European Parliament elections in France, Germany, and other nations.

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

Right-leaning governments were ahead of the opposition in Germany, France, Italy, and Belgium, while conservative opposition parties were leading in Britain and Spain.

A notable exception was Greece, where the governing conservatives were headed for defeat after corruption scandals and economic woes.

Britain elected its first extreme-right politician to the European Parliament, with the British National Party winning a seat in northern England's Yorkshire and the Humber district. The party, which does not accept nonwhite members, could win further seats as more results in Britain were announced.

Lawmakers with Britain's major political parties said the far right's advance reflected anger over immigration and soaring unemployment.

According to a BBC projection, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labor Party was trailing the United Kingdom Independence Party, which seeks Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, in third place. It put the main opposition Conservative Party at 27 percent, UKIP at 17, and Labour at 16, followed by smaller parties.

Germans handed a lackluster victory to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and a historic defeat to their center-left rivals in the European Parliament vote months before a national election.

The Social Democrats got an unexpectedly dismal 21 percent, the party's worst showing since World War II in any nationwide election.

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and a regional sister party won 38 percent, down from 45 percent five years ago. Still, the outcome was enough to boost Merkel's hope of replacing the tense left-right "grand coalition" that has led the European Union's most populous nation since 2005 with a center-right government.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing conservatives trounced the Socialists, while an ecology-minded party vaulted to a surprisingly strong third place, according to official results.

Far-right groups and other fringe parties gained in record-low turnout estimated at 44 percent of 375 million eligible, reflecting widespread disenchantment with the continentwide legislature.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders' anti-Islamic party got 17 percent of the vote, taking four of 25 seats.

Fringe groups could use the European Parliament as a platform for their extreme views, but were not expected to affect the EU assembly's increasingly influential lawmaking on issues such as climate change and cell phone roaming charges.

The 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. Lawmakers get five-year terms, and residents vote for lawmakers from their own countries.