Spain’s far-right Vox gained seats on Sunday but didn’t make the same breakthroughs as its French or German counterparts. Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists mostly held firm — but their left-wing coalition partners faced setbacks, pushing Sumar leader Yolanda Díaz to resign.

Unlike in France and Germany, this weekend’s European elections in Spain were not exactly an earthquake. The country remains split in two: the right-wing camp increased its vote, as in the rest of Europe, but the Socialists (as in Portugal), topped 30 percent of the vote and substantially held firm. In short, this was not the long-awaited mobilization that conservative Partido Popular (PP) leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo had called for to oust prime minister Pedro Sánchez from his Moncloa Palace. 

The PP did indeed come in first place with 34.2% (22 MEPs, +9), but did not really reshape the political map. Most of all it captured the votes that had previously gone to the liberal-centre right pary Ciudadanos, which scored a paltry 0.7%, down from 12.2% in 2019. It is, in short, a victory on points for the PP — or almost a draw, especially if we consider the expectations that had been raised. Even two months ago, the polls were predicting a disaster for Sánchez, who has, once again, proved that he has more lives than a cat. His Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) lost just 3% compared to 2019 and will send 20 MEPs to Brussels (-1), thus competing with the Italian Democrats to be biggest party in the European Socialist group.

The far right is advancing in Spain, too. But unlike the rest of Europe, and again in line with Portugal, it did not really conquer new ground. Vox entrenched its position as Spain’s third party, improving on its results from five years ago (9.6%, six MEPs, +3), but it actually lost a few percentage points compared to the July 2023 Spanish general election. The real surprise was the breakthrough of a new far-right list, Se Acabó la Fiesta — literally: “The Party’s Over” launched by a conspiracy-theorist influencer, Alvise Pérez, inspired by the American alt right and Argentina’s Javier Milei. It secured an unexpected 4.6% (three MEPs).

On the Left, however, both Sumar and Podemos come out weakened, even heavily so. The former, Sánchez’s partner in government, got only 4.6% (three MEPs), while the latter, presenting former minister Irene Montero as chief candidate, was at about 3.3% (two MEPs). In 2019, under the name Unidas Podemos, they had together obtained 10% and a total of six MEPs rather than five. This was a clear defeat — and not even 24 hours later, Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, who was the architect of Sumar, resigned from the leadership of the party.

To complete the picture, there are the various peripheral regionalist and nationalist forces, who elected a total of five MEPs. In Catalonia, independentists only confirmed the electoral setback they had already suffered in last month’s regional elections. They lost one million votes compared to 2019, although back then turnout had been much higher at 60.7 per cent (now just 49.2 per cent) because of a simultaneous local election. Junts per Catalunya (JxC), the formation led by former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, only re-elected one of the three MEPs it had in the last European Parliament. Ahora Repúblicas — a coalition that brings together Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, the Basques of EH Bildu and the Bloque Nacionalista Galego — kept the three legislators it elected five years ago, thanks to these latter two parties’ good performance. Finally, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV) confirmed its sole representative in Strasbourg.

Two Parties (Then Lots of Others)

Besides Sánchez holding firm, there are two main keys to interpreting this vote. On the one hand, the traditional parties, i.e. the PP and PSOE, were strengthened: together they added up to almost two-thirds of the votes cast, when in 2014, at the height of the Indignados wave, they did not even amount to 50%. In short, a two-party system is returning, or at least in part. This was a dynamic already visible in the parliamentary elections last July.

On the other hand, the right, which has once again split into three sections with the entry of Se Acabó la Fiesta, did not achieve a clear majority. Indeed, it also faces a fundamental problem: the radicalisation on the Spanish nationalist right also prevents the PP from being an attractive partner for the centre-right Catalan and Basque nationalists — such as JxC and PNV — with whom it has often reached agreements in the past. This implies that the division of Spanish politics should not only be read on the traditional left-right axis, but also on that of the territorial organisation of the state. That is, between a centralist bloc (the Spanish right) and the bloc of so-called peripheral Spain (the left-wing and Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalists), in favour of greater administrative decentralisation. The only regions where the Socialists obtained the best results were in fact Catalonia, the Basque Country, Navarre and the Canary Islands.

The European elections close an intense electoral cycle in Spain, which opened with the regional elections in Galicia in February and continued with the regional contests in the Basque Country and Catalonia. Theoretically, there will now be no more voting until 2026. The right-wingers have failed in their attempt to scuttle Sánchez’s government, mobilising the squares against the amnesty bill for Catalan independence leaders — a law definitively approved at the end of May — and throwing mud at the premier's wife for an alleged corruption case based on allegations by far-right associations and conspiracy-theorist media. The Socialist leader thus has the opportunity to concentrate on his government’s agenda.

But the Catalan stumbling block has not gone away. A month after the Catalan elections, there is still no government majority in Barcelona. The Socialists won the regional elections, but they need an agreement with Esquerra Republicana. There is time until the end of August to find one — otherwise, it’s back to voting in the autumn. The inability to solve the Catalan puzzle could complicate Sánchez's path: in fact, he needs both pro-independence parties’ support if his government is to survive in Madrid. And to this is now added the internal crisis in Sumar. Stability may therefore be a mirage. We will get the answer in the coming weeks — or at the latest in the autumn, when a budget will have to be passed.

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