Analysis. The Spanish elections in May will be a bellwether for European politics. Will Spain once again elect more left-wing representatives to the European Parliament? Or will the upcoming elections be a rerun of the Andalusian elections?

Spanish Spring? European and local elections will signal left’s strength

It looks like we’re in for a hot spring in Spain, at least when it comes to elections. On May 26, in addition to the European elections, the country will also go to the polls for administrative elections, which will appoint the leadership of all the municipalities and of the vast majority of autonomous communities.

Some have been speculating there is also a chance for early general elections on the same date, in case Pedro Sánchez fails to pass the budget and makes the decision at the start of the new year to call a snap election instead of trying to get by with government decrees. This possibility seems more remote now, as it seems that Sánchez has managed to reopen the channel of communications with the pro-independence Catalans (who have given the green light to the beginning of the general debate on the budget agreed upon by the PSOE and Podemos, during the last week of the parliamentary session), while the results of the Andalusian elections have brought new fears to both the Socialists and the People’s Party, making the prospect of early elections a less-attractive option.

Whether the Spaniards will vote in two or in three concurrent elections this spring, the European elections will certainly have a high importance for the country, and the turnout will be, without doubt, a crucial factor: in European elections, the Spanish turnout has not surpassed 50 percent since 1999—when, just like now, the administrative and European elections were held on the same day.

In 2014, Spain was one of the few European countries to send more left-wing MEPs to Brussels than those aligned with the center or right (29 versus 25). That was also the time when Podemos established itself firmly as a new political actor: it got five of the 54 Spanish seats in the European Parliament (the historical Izquierda Unida and its allies got just one seat more). Back then, Ciudadanos, which will certainly make a strong showing in May, got only two MEP seats. The now-defunct Union, Progress and Democracy party, UPyD, which won four seats, was occupying Ciudadanos’s current place on the political scene (but with much less success overall). The PP won a quarter of the votes and 16 seats, while the PSOE won 14; the rest of the seats were divided between coalitions of various nationalist parties of the left and right.

The political landscape is still very fluid, since the Socialist party came to power in such a dramatic fashion (after a no confidence motion in June against the previous government). The parties have only just begun to outline their lists. For now, in addition to the classic electoral rivalry between the PP and the PSOE (in which the PSOE seems to have the upper hand for now), the three big question marks are Podemos and Izquierda Unida (which will run on a common list this time), Ciudadanos (which could play the role of the third party spoiler), and especially whether Vox will win seats, and, if so, how many. The latter would be sure to join the ranks of one of the two far right-wing groups in the European Parliament (Europe of Nations and Freedom and the European Conservatives and Reformists).

The main advantage for the Spanish parties is that the European elections are the only ones in Spain for which the percentages will be calculated at the national level (rather than for each province): therefore, no party will have a regional advantage from the outset, and everyone will benefit from truly proportional representation.

While the membership of the PP and PSOE contingents in their respective political families in the European Parliament can be taken for granted, the future MEPs of Podemos and its allies have several options as to which group they will join. Some of the current representatives of Podemos and its allies have been part of the European Green Left – Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) group, while others have sat with the Greens. Today, Ciudadanos sits among the liberals of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group (where the representatives of the defunct UPyD have been sitting during the current legislature), and will continue to do so, while the Catalan left-wing nationalists of Esquerra Republicana, unusually, are sitting with the Greens.

As for Vox, whichever group its MEPs choose to join, they will be the first to represent Spain in a group to the right of the European People’s Party.

Finally, the small animal-rights party Animalist Party Against Mistreatment of Animals (PACMA), which previously (like Vox) fell just short of winning an MEP seat in 2014, could now finally get a representative—who will probably sit among the Greens—thanks to the fact that, on account of Brexit, the number of Spanish representatives in the European Parliament will increase to 59 (making the threshold to win a seat lower). The Spanish presence in the Greens/European Free Alliance could, therefore, go from the current four to six or seven, which is an interesting development, given that in Spain there is no one large Green party, but only regional Green parties.

Some of the coalitions of nationalist parties that will be awarded one seat might have to take turns occupying that seat, as it happened, for instance, during the current legislature, for the Galician BNG and the Basques of Eh Bildu, who had to share one seat between them: for half of the legislature, the seat was held by a representative of the BNG (who sat with the Greens), while for the other half it was occupied by a member of Eh Bildu (who sat with the GUE/NGL).

Will Spain once again manage to elect more left-wing representatives to the European Parliament? Or will the upcoming elections be a rerun of the Andalusian elections this year, where, for the first time, the right got more seats than the left? We will have the answer in May.

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