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NEWS ANALYSIS : Results of Voting for Continent's Parliament : Europeans Showed Dissatisfaction With Ruling Parties

June 24, 1989|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

BONN — For several days, political analysts have been sifting through the returns in the election for the European Parliament, a five-year term that will encompass the Continent's new unified market scheduled to begin in 1993.

Basically, they have been asking: What do the widely scattered results for the 518 seats in the Parliament that sits in Strasbourg, France, add up to?

The answer from the more cynical among them is: Not much, since the European Parliament has so far only diluted powers to effect legislation and political groupings from right to left that are often confusing and contradictory.

But those more sympathetic to the institution believe the results have more significance, that the shift toward the left in the Parliament indicates that the European Community as a whole will take more action on social and environment issues.

Measure of Dissatisfaction

Still other experts read the returns and lackluster balloting--the turnout was far below the average in national voting--as a measure of the dissatisfaction with individual governments in power.

In this perspective, Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and West Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl were undeniably the major losers, since their respective conservative parties suffered severely in the polling.

But suggestions that tough leaders like Thatcher and Kohl can be swept aside by their party leaders and replaced with more attractive candidates for their next national elections seem premature.

For her part, Thatcher brushed aside editorial comment that she should step down as leader of the British Conservative Party, declaring that the massive European setback was due to a low turnout of Tory voters on a warm, pleasant day.

Asked if her campaign, which actually seemed to downgrade Britain's role in the European Community, was wrong--and implicitly--whether the time had come for her to abdicate after 10 years as prime minister, she replied:

"No, no, not at all."

Similarly, Kohl indicated that he fully intends to remain chancellor through the December, 1990, national election, and lead his Christian Democratic Union and its coalition allies to its third successive victory.

He, too, held that broad political trends could not be read into an election with such a low voter turnout--by European standards--of 56%.

Time for Improvement

"Actually, the poor showing in the European Parliament could be a blessing in disguise," observed one political analyst here. "Both Kohl and Thatcher, if they are smart, can use the next several months to improve their policies and image for their next national elections."

While neither Thatcher nor Kohl is particularly popular within their parties, they both enjoy successful track records with no obvious successors waiting in the wings.

In the European voting, Thatcher lost ground to the left-leaning Labor Party, while Kohl saw more seats go to the far-right Republicans.

But political strategists of both conservative parties suggest that the European Parliament is like an off-year election, in which voters tend to express discontent with the incumbents. But in national elections, according to this view, many dissident voters come back to the centrist fold.

If the European elections do not spell immediate doom for the major European leaders, they do give some clues, contradictory as they may be, to the mood of the electorates.

High Protest Vote

That mood was reflected in a high protest vote. Voters in only two countries, Belgium and Holland, increased the seats held by their governing parties. Spain and Luxembourg saw their leading parties come out about even.

But in Britain, West Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Denmark and Portugal, the ruling parties suffered losses in the European Parliament.

Further, parties with strong environmentalist platforms all did well, though the party that did the best, the Greens in Britain with 15% of the vote, received no seats because the country is the only one in the European Community that operates on a winner-take-all system rather than proportional representation.

There was a slight shift to the left in the overall makeup of the Parliament, with those groupings gaining a slight majority of about 260 seats.

But the Communists on the extreme left did poorly, mostly in France and Italy, losing seven seats.

At the same time, West Germany's right-wing Republicans, pushing a populist, nationalist, and anti-foreigner platform, polled 7.1%, good for six seats. They will join four extreme rightists from Italy, and France's Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front Party, which held onto its 10 seats.

For years, the public of the Community's 12 member-nations have been unexcited by the Parliament because they regarded it largely as a talking shop, whose members serve only in a consultative role and lack the power to legislate.

It was the European Commission, the community's executive body, and the Council of Ministers, appointive national representatives, that laid down the law in Brussels.

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