LONDON — A volatile mix of apathy, anger and economic uncertainty translated into gains for extreme-right parties in European parliamentary elections, including the first seats won by the all-white British National Party.
The party, which does not accept nonwhite members and calls for the "voluntary repatriation" of immigrants, won two of Britain's 72 seats in the European Parliament, gaining ground in economically battered areas that once were strongholds of the left-wing Labour Party.
Analysts said advances by the far right were driven in part by voters' desire to punish mainstream parties for the recession, and by concerns about burgeoning immigration within the bloc of 27 countries that stretches from Ireland to the edge of Asia. Low voter turnout of 43 percent also played a role.
As voters deserted left-wing parties in droves, center-right parties were the biggest winners in races for the 736-seat EU legislature and conservative nationalist parties made gains, as well.
Right-leaning governments came out ahead in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium, while conservative opposition parties won in Britain, Spain and Bulgaria. The parties praised the results as a continent-wide vote against governments' stimulus spending and corporate bailouts.
They pledged restrained government spending, pushing instead for bureaucracies to quickly use money they've been given for job creation projects like expanding broadband networks and upgrading gas pipelines.
Many Socialists ran campaigns that slammed center-right leaders for failing to spend enough to stimulate faltering economies, but voters did not embrace their cause.
In The Netherlands, Geert Wilders' anti-Islamic Freedom Party won 17 percent of the votes, taking four of 25 seats and becoming the country's second-largest party in the European Parliament.
Wilders' popularity has grown in recent months as he cast himself as a champion of free speech following a Dutch court's order that he be prosecuted for hate speech. He has called Islam's holy book, the Quran, a fascist text and made a film that linked images of terrorist attacks to Quranic verses.
Austria's Freedom Party, which also campaigned on an anti-Islam platform, more than doubled its share of the vote to 13.1 percent. Hungary's Jobbik party _ an anti-immigration group that wants police to crack down on what it calls "Gypsy crime" _ won three of the country's 22 seats and almost 15 percent of the vote. The Greater Romania Party _ which is pro-religion, anti-gay and anti-Hungarian _ made surprise gains, winning almost 9 percent of the vote and taking two of Romania's 33 seats.
The British National Party's seats _ its first at a national or international level _ are a breakthrough for the party and its Cambridge University-educated leader Nick Griffin, who once called the Holocaust a hoax.
"There is a huge amount of racism in this country," Griffin said Monday. "Overwhelmingly it is directed against the indigenous British majority, which is one reason we have done so well in these elections."
The BNP took about 6.2 percent of the vote, up from 5 percent in 2004, but its biggest gains were in traditional strongholds of the governing Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
"There is a long-term legacy of us failing to bring people with us and deal with some of the issues that concern them," said Labour lawmaker John Cruddas.
Labour saw its share of the vote collapse to less than 16 percent, its worst national electoral performance in almost a century.
Under Griffin, the BNP has changed its image. Members have replaced Doc Marten boots and skinhead haircuts with business suits in an attempt to lose the party's thuggish image, and the party has played down its traditional hostility toward Jews. Still, it openly opposes immigration and what it calls the "Islamification" of Britain.
Roy Hunjan, 70, a retired health worker from Birmingham in central England, said he found the BNP's rise "disturbing."
"They're trying to give a very different image, but basically they're the same as the Nazi party," he said.
The election results do not shift the overall balance of power in the European Parliament, which sets collective policy for European Union countries on a wide range of issues. The increasingly powerful body makes laws on everything from climate change to human rights to cell-phone roaming charges.
"Even with seats in the European Parliament they won't be able to have a lot of influence," said Simon Usherwood of the department of politics at the University of Surrey.
"They will still be too small to have any significant impact. And one of the problems with the far right is often they have trouble working together with other groups."
Associated Press Writers Mike Corder in The Hague, Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Raf Casert and Constant Brand in Brussels and Nardine Saad in London contributed to this report.