Spain to lead progressive forces in the European Union

The 2019 European Parliament election that took place last month has resulted in the Greens (GREENS/ EFA) and Liberals (Renew Europe) significantly improving their results since the 2014 elections, with +21 and +41 MEPS respectively, and the Conservatives (EPP) and the Social democrats (S&D) losing ground, with -39 and -38 MEPs each: a decline of mainstream parties and the rise of previously marginal political forces.

In Spain, however, this Election’s results present a different picture. While the Conservatives (PP) downfall was felt in the country with a loss of 5 MEPs, the Socialists (PSOE) have considerably improved their numbers, adding 6 MEPs to the 14 they achieved in the 2014 elections. With 20 MEPs (out of the 54 that Spain gets to elect), they have thus become the most voted for party in Spain and the most influential national group within the European S&D Group, which has led to Iratxe García Pérez been appointed new President of the Group.

The success of the Socialist party in Spain is the direct consequence of a fragmented Conservative party and the mobilisation of Spanish citizens in light of a much feared rise of the far-right. This fear and the European elections taking place on the same day as Spain’s regional and local elections led to an increase in participation (61% in comparison to 44% in 2014) and a significant shift of voters from leftist parties to the Socialists. This shift among the electorate aimed at empowering the Socialist party against a Conservative party seen as too keen to negotiate with and justify the far-right.

Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s President, has gained a seat as one of six leaders participating in crucial negotiations taking place in Brussels to fill the top European jobs, such as the European Commission Presidency. Sanchez is believed to have a good relationship with Emmanuel Macron, the negotiator and godfather of the European liberal group, and both are joining forces in these discussions to avoid Manfred Weber, the EPP candidate, being appointed as new Commission President.

Macron and the European liberals seem at times to be more aligned with Spanish Socialist than with their Spanish Liberal counterparts (Ciudadanos). Ciudadanos is gaining sharp criticism in Spain for their unwillingness to support Sanchez’s appointment as President and their refusal to form coalitions with the socialist at the regional level. The Spanish liberals are instead looking to build alliances with the Conservatives, which in turn are negotiating with the ultraconservatives (Vox) as they also need their support. This indirect negotiating with the far-right is creating tensions between Ciudadanos and the European liberals, and particularly with Macron who is aiming to establish an alliance with Spain to oppose populism and far-right movements across Europe.

The newly acquired prominence of Spain in the European arena represents an opportunity for the country to become a progressive, driven force and gain credibility with its European partners. Spain has traditionally taken a secondary role despite its economic significance (it is the fifth strongest economy in the region – and will become the fourth after the UK exits the EU), as previous presidents never showed a keen interest in foreign affairs. Sanchez, however, seems very comfortable in international forums and is focussed on strengthening Spain’s global role.

He has first to get confirmed as President, however. Even though the Socialist Party won a national election in April, they did not manage to secure a majority of seats in a very fragmented Spanish Parliament. Sanchez needs to ensure the support of other parties to govern, and while he seems confident that he will be confirmed as President, talks with potential partners are in a deadlock.

In Sanchez’s own words, his new role as the most influential Socialist President in Europe represents both an opportunity and a big responsibility as progressive forces in the European Union are going through a challenging period. It remains to be seen if he will get enough support at home to carry through his plans for Spain and the Socialists across Europe.

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