Germany Turns Right, Britain Left

June 15, 1994

Don't count Helmut Kohl out yet. The German chancellor's Christian Democrats dealt a harsh blow to polls and pundits by coming in first in the elections to the European Parliament with roughly 39 percent of the German vote against some 33 percent for Social Democrats.

The European Parliament is a monthly talk shop in Strasbourg with gradually increasing powers (from minuscule to somewhat more) in the European Union (formerly Common Market and European Community). Its elections are watched partly to show international swings of opinion but also as domestic referendums within each country.

On that score, Chancellor Kohl, who has been in power for three terms since 1982 and is a candidate in the Oct. 16 German election, won a stunning victory. In the 12 countries where the European election was held, this was the most significant vote of confidence in a sitting government. It suggests voter optimism about German economic recovery.

Europe-wide, the Socialists held their position as the leading faction in the parliament. The conservative group took a setback, with the gains going to independents, some of them hard right-wingers. In Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's new right-wing coalition strengthened its position, but as it has not yet had a chance to alienate voters, this meant little.

The two great repudiations were of British Prime Minister John Major's Conservatives and Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez' Socialists. In neither country was this a surprise. Only the British Labor Party's strong majority keeps the Europe-wide Socialist faction from losing numbers. Spain's corruption-plagued Socialists fell behind the conservative Popular Party in a nationwide vote for the first time in 12 years. In France, all major parties lost ground, as did the European idea itself, to a variety of extremist and protest gestures.

Calls for Mr. Major's resignation will increase, but the British Conservatives need not go to the voters before the spring of 1997. They have time to retrieve their fortunes, as the German Christian Democrats are doing. If they can't, a replacement of Mr. Major would be wasted this early. That would allow time for the successor to plummet to Mr. Major's depth of unpopularity.

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