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Six key takeaways from the European elections in Spain

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Six key takeaways from the European elections in Spain
Partido Popular leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo​ arrives for a press conference after the results of the European Parliament elections. Photo: OSCAR DEL POZO/AFP.

Who won the European elections in Spain? Who were the big losers? And what does it mean for domestic politics?

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Though European elections can be good litmus tests for broad political trends at the international level, often each member state will extrapolate the results and try to interpret them along domestic lines.

This time around, the most notable (and immediate) impact has been on French politics, where President Emmanuel Macron shocked political pundits by calling a snap election in response to a surging far-right vote.

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In Spain, of course, we've had more than our fair share of snap elections in recent years, as well as regional and local polls. During the campaign, the European elections were framed, by both the press and some political parties themselves, as a referendum on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the state of the country more broadly.

READ ALSO: What we learned from the European elections across Europe

But that's not to say there aren't some interesting takeaways.

Centre-right wins

Spain's centre right Partido Popular (PP) won the elections in Spain. However it was not the decisive victory that leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo had hoped for or expected. The PP’s result was solid, winning 22 seats on 30.18 percent of the vote, a 14 percent rise compared to 2019 results. It was the most voted party in 13 of the 17 Spain's regions as well as in 40 of 50 provinces and in some 4,800 municipalities (out of 8,100).

Sánchez's Socialist (PSOE) party won 30.18 percent for 20 seats and its result has more or less stabilised since 2019, despite five tumultuous years in government. The bulk of PP gains seem to have come from former Ciudadanos voters rather than Socialist switch voters.

This is clearly a solid result for the PP, but not the crushing blow many on the Spanish right had hoped it would be. With the seemingly never ending drama of Spanish politics in recent years, particularly Sánchez's divisive amnesty for Catalan separatists, Feijóo and the PP framed the election as a judgement on Sánchez's record. These results don't quite deliver it.

Centre-left hangs in there

This is mainly because the PSOE vote stayed solid. Although its vote share has fallen by around 2.6 percent overall, it only lost one seat.

The PSOE vote was particularly strong in Catalonia, where it recently denied a separatist majority for the first time in decades in regional elections, and it also made some headway in the Basque Country.

READ ALSO: Politics in Spain: 8 things we learnt from the Catalan elections

Following the soap opera feel of Spanish politics in recent years and the passing of the amnesty law just weeks before the European vote, many in PSOE would have feared a worse result.

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Spain bucks far-right trend

Europe's far-right parties made big gains across the continent, winning in France, Italy and Austria, while Germany's AfD came second -- but ahead of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's SPD party -- and in the Netherlands the far-right also had a good night.

Spain seems to have bucked this far-right drift occurring across the rest of Europe. Though the Spanish far-right came third overall, taking 14.21 percent of the vote, its way of its European allies, such as in France where the far-right vote reached 33 percent.

Judging by these results, Spain's two traditional parties, the PP and PSOE, are in no danger of being overtaken by the far-right anytime soon like has happened in other countries.

Spain's far-right party Vox' leader Santiago Abascal (C) and Vox candidate Jorge Buxade (R) address a press conference after the results of the European Parliament elections. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

But the far-right made gains in Spain

That's not to say that the far-right didn't make gains in Spain, however. This round of European elections is further confirmation of far-right Vox as Spain's third political force. Vox won 6 seats, taking 9.62 percent of the vote.

Interestingly, upstart far-right political party Se acabó la fiesta (The party's over), which was founded by a controversial YouTuber, won 4.6 percent of the vote and will enter the European Parliament with 3 seats.

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Far-left split

Though Spain's centre-left vote held up and the PSOE stayed solid, the parties to the left had a pretty poor night and split the far-left vote. Junior coalition partner Sumar won just 3 seats on 4.65 percent of the vote, and former junior coalition partner Podemos lost 4 seats, down to 2 overall, on just 3.28 percent.

This result continues the near election extinction of Podemos, and represents a remarkable political fall from its heyday of entering into the Sánchez government in 2018. Its two seats represent mere survival, and it retained only a third of its votes and seats from 2019.

These European results, if anything, demonstrate the classic scenario of political infighting on the left. Sumar and Podemos between them won just 7.9 percent of the vote, while in 2019 Podemos achieved 10.1 percent and in Spain's summer 2023 general election Sumar obtained 12.3 percent.

Low turnout

Some important context here, however, is that turnout for European elections is always quite low, relatively speaking.

In Spain turnout was 49.22 percent, according to data from Spain's Interior Ministry of the Interior, which means that, try as they may, political parties probably can't read as much into the results as they would like or claim to. For context, turnout in last summer's general election was 70.39 percent.

RTVE reports that turnout was much higher among older people, in municipalities with higher incomes, and in the least populated areas of the country, so these results can't be viewed as entirely representative. However, that won't stop the PP claiming the results vindicate their anti-Sánchez strategy, and will likely call for a general election, and Sánchez himself is likely to use the results to claim the PSOE is the only party capable of stopping the far-right.

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