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Pro-EU parties have firm hold on parliament

Brussels

PRO-EUROPEAN parties kept a firm grip on the EU parliament on Monday as liberal and green parties matched a surge by eurosceptic parties, who won control of a quarter of seats in European elections for the first time.

The far-right and nationalists in Italy, Britain, France and Poland came out on top in their national votes on Sunday, shaking up politics at home but failing to dramatically alter the balance of pro-European power in EU assembly.

Facing a more hostile Russia, China's growing economic might and an unpredictable US President Donald Trump, many Europeans appeared to heed a message that the EU needed to stick together to protect workers' rights, free speech and democracy.

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"We are going to build a social Europe, a Europe that protects," Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose revival among Spanish voters offset a fall in centre-left support in Germany, told a news conference late on Sunday night.

Investor sentiment was bolstered by the smaller than expected gains by populist parties. However, the drop in support for the main centre-right and centre-left blocs could complicate policymaking and require broader cross-party agreements and discipline, market analysts said.

Provisional results published at 08:18 GMT on Monday showed the Socialists, Greens, liberals and conservatives with 507 of the 751 seats in the EU Parliament, which helps pass laws for more than 500 million Europeans.

The search for a majority, as well as securing the top EU jobs, will now dominate as pro-EU groups seek to shield the EU from anti-establishment forces, who want to break up the world's largest trading bloc but who are split over its future.

French President Emmanuel Macron's centrist Renaissance platform added to gains for liberals at the EU level while support for the Greens surged, giving four groups the pro-EU middle ground and holding on to two-thirds of seats.

Mr Macron and Mr Sanchez were to meet later , the first in a series of meetings between EU leaders before they gather for a summit on Tuesday evening in Brussels to discuss the outcome of the parliament vote.

A stronger voice for the liberals and Greens could see the next EU executive seek a tougher line on regulating polluting industries, taxing multinational companies or demanding trading partners help contain climate change.

They could also press EU member states, notably in the east, not to damage civil rights.

Cries of "Europe is back" among voters waving blue and gold EU flags outside European Parliament in Brussels on Sunday night also showed the ebullient mood among Europeans delighted with a sharply higher turnout across the bloc.

Turnout in the world's second-biggest election rose to 51per cent from 43 per cent in 2014, its highest in 20 years and the first reverse of falling participation since the first direct EU vote in 1979.

Disenchantment with the European project, which has struggled through economic and migration crises over the past five years, has made the bloc seem distant to voters and anger with the traditional parties was palpable across the bloc. REUTERS