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EU ELECTIONS

Spain proves it’s more pro-Europe than ever and bucks the trend in EU

Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands... The surge in support for eurosceptics in elections to the European Parliament spared several countries on Sunday or was weaker than expected.

Spain proves it's more pro-Europe than ever and bucks the trend in EU
File photo from a pro-Europe demo in Madrid: AFP

In Spain, which elects the fifth-biggest contingent of lawmakers to the European Parliament, the staunchly pro-EU Socialists won big in the polls, taking close to 33 percent, tailed by the conservatives who also view  membership to the bloc favourably.

Compared to other major EU states such as France or Italy where eurosceptics came first, citizens in Spain are broadly pro-EU, said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

And that is because the EU rhymes with freedom.   

READ MORE:  Spain's Socialists win big in EU vote


The EU election results from Spain show big win for PSOE. DATA: Interior Ministry

Spain's return to democracy following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and its entry in 1986 into the then European Economic Community “are two sides of the same coin,” he added.

Even far-right party Vox, which entered the European Parliament for the first time with three seats, is staunchly pro-European.   

It does not want to leave the bloc, the euro or even the Schengen zone that drops some internal border controls.

Prosperity

EU membership helped thrust Spain into the modern world. EU development funds for example helped the country build Europe's largest high-speed rail network.

The same goes for Portugal and Ireland.   

“These countries were transformed by their membership of the EU,” says Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation think tank, which would explain the lack of major eurosceptic forces.

Dublin for instance “became the gateway for investments of the Gafa (tech giants Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple) in Europe.”   

Exit polls showed Ireland's pro-EU Fine Gael — who lead the current government — and Green party set to score big.   

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey published by the European Parliament, 83 percent of respondents in Ireland have a positive opinion of EU membership.

Ireland has received 42 billion euros ($47 billion) in EU development aid since it joined the bloc in 1973, according to Irish government figures.   

In all, 700,000 jobs have been created and foreign trade increased 90 fold.   Ireland, which will bear the economic brunt of Britain's looming exit from the EU, has consistently been backed by its EU partners.

That is also thought to have cemented the Irish public's commitment to the bloc.

Like Spain, in Portugal 69 percent of the population looks upon EU membership favourably, according to the Eurobarometer, despite drastic austerity imposed by Brussels after the financial crisis.   

Pro-EU Socialists won the polls.   

The country joined the bloc in the same year as its neighbour after decades of dictatorship.

It has “benefitted greatly from the European project” in terms of improved social services, education and transport, says the head of the ruling Socialist Party's poll list, Pedro Marques.

History, identity

But what of other member states like Hungary and Poland that also benefitted economically from the EU but elected eurosceptics to power?   

According to Giuliani, it's all down to history.   

“For Spain, Europe is democracy and prosperity. In Hungary or in Poland, Europe is prosperity, security but it's something that runs up against the desire to recover national sovereignty,” 20 years after the end of communism, he says.

It's a different story for the Baltic states.   

The EU and NATO allowed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, once ruled from Moscow, to reassert their sovereignty.   

They became member states in 2004 and for them, the EU means access to the single market and security in the face of their giant, increasingly assertive Russian neighbour.

On Sunday, Lithuanians also voted in presidential elections, electing Gitanas Nauseda, a pro-EU political novice.   

In the Netherlands, meanwhile, projections showed voters showing their attachment to the EU with the social democrats coming first.   

Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders looked set to be kicked out of the European Parliament altogether while anti-EU leader Thierry Baudet was expected to win three seats, far less than expected in opinion polls.

And in Denmark, the People's Party, which had won European elections in 2014 with 26.6 percent of the vote, took a tumble with under 11 percent.

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EU ELECTIONS

Why does Spain now have five unpaid ‘reservist’ MEPs?

At the most recent European elections, Spain elected 54 new members of the European Parliament, plus five who will be on the bench for the next few months.

Why does Spain now have five unpaid 'reservist' MEPs?
The European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Photo: AFP

Why does Spain have reservist MEPs? 

Normally it doesn't. In previous years, Spain has elected 54 people to the European Parliament. This time it's different and it's the United Kingdom's fault.

READ ALSO:


The European Parliament building in Strasbourg. Photo: AFP

Is this Brexit related?

Afraid so. When the UK announced that it wanted to leave the EU, one of the (many) things that was affected was the composition of the European Parliament. Once it was not a member state, the UK would obviously lose all of its 73 MEPs.

The European Parliament decided that most of these seats would simply be scrapped and the parliament would be streamlined from 751 members down to 705.

However the remaining 27 seats would be redistributed among countries that had been left underrepresented – including Spain, which is in line to get five new members.

Seats in the parliament are allocated based on population numbers, and some countries that have seen demographic changes have been left underrepresented. Spain is one of these along with Denmark (which gets one extra), Estonia (one), Ireland (two), France (five), Croatia (one) Italy (three), the Netherlands (three) Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden (which all get one apiece).  

So this comes into effect now?

No. It was supposed to, because the UK was supposed to be gone by March 29th, but for reasons we won't go into here, that has not happened and in fact the UK took part in the European elections on May 26th and sent back 73 MEPs.

This means that the countries that were supposed to be getting extra members have had to create a “reserve list”.

In Spain,  the five new MEPs-in-waiting have been selected from the lists in the usual way, and informed that they have won a seat, but until the UK leaves they will not take up their seats and will not be paid.


The number of seats won by PSOE, PP, Ciudadanos, Podemos, Vox, AHORA REPÚBLICAS, JuntsxC, CEUS. DATA: Ministry of Interior. 

According to the results, one seat each will be given to PSOE, PP, Ciudadanos, Vox and the Catalan nationalist party JxC. Podemos missed out on adding another MEP to the six it won.

 

Those MEPs currently in the waiting room are Estrella Dura Ferrandis (PSOE), Gabriel Mato Adrover (PP),  Adrián Vázquez Lázara (Ciudadanos), Margarita de la Pisa Larrión (VOX) and Clara Ponsatí for the JxC.

The last name may be familiar as the number three on the list in Carles Puigdemont's party. Ponsati has charges pending in Spain for her role in the Catalan independence movement and is currently in exile in Scotland.

All five will be called upon to take their seats as MEPs once the UK leaves.

And when will that be?

Only a fool would predict that. The current leaving date deadline is October 31st, but the UK has had two previous deadlines that were extended, so who knows?

 

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