Spain Takes Over EU Presidency Amidst Upcoming Parliamentary Election

news 01-Jul-2023 Europe

Potential Distraction? Spanish Government Remains Focused on EU Presidency

In Spanish government circles, there is a demonstrative calmness when asked about the upcoming events - of course, there is a lot going on, but they are working with "absolute normality" on the plans for the EU Presidency.

According to recent statements from the Prime Minister himself, democracy has never been a problem. Furthermore, he emphasized that it is not the first time that elections take place during an EU Presidency, referring to the previous French Presidency where President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected.

Who Will Deliver the Speech of the Council President?

However, the early Spanish parliamentary election is already having an impact. Unlike Macron at the time, Prime Minister Sánchez has postponed his grand appearance at the European Parliament from July to September. Therefore, the traditional speech of the new Council President will be held more than two months after the start of the Presidency.

Moreover, it is uncertain whether the current EU Council President will still be Sánchez after the election on July 23, as a change in government is not ruled out.

Seeking Coalition Partners

The conservative People's Party (PP) currently has the support of about one-third of voters, according to data released by Spanish public television last week. The Partido Popular would secure 139 seats, more than the combined seats of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the new progressive alliance "Sumar."

While this is a significant number, it is not enough for the PP to govern alone, as desired by party leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo. To achieve an absolute majority, the conservatives would need the far-right party Vox, which has consistently ranked as the third-largest political force in the country in polls, trailing behind the conservatives and socialists. Vox presents itself with confidence accordingly.

Cooperation Already Taking Place in Local Governments

The PP's lack of reservations towards Vox is evident in various city halls and even in Valencia, once a left-wing stronghold. The new regional government there will form an alliance between the PP and Vox.

Similar collaborations or at least toleration of a conservative-led minority government by Vox can be observed in other regions as well. Pablo Simón, a political scientist and professor at Carlos III University in Madrid, believes that a national alliance between the PP and Vox is not out of the question.

For PP leader Núñez Feijóo, who appeared to downplay the extent of regional alliances between the PP and Vox to his fellow party members in the European People's Party in Brussels on Thursday, this is a delicate balancing act.

Issue in Election Campaign

Incumbent Spanish Prime Minister Sánchez and his Socialist Party are leaving no opportunity to shine the spotlight on these alliances. Just like the conservatives, the Socialists have declared the July 23 election as a decisive one.

"All for a Spain of the right or the far right," has been the message across all PSOE channels since the end of May. The goal is to mobilize segments of their own supporters who abstained from participating in the recent local and regional elections. This mobilization effort is particularly aimed at societal reform projects implemented by the minority government of Socialists and the left-wing coalition "Unidas Podemos."

Vox Rejects Equality Policies

Vox does not hide its stance on these issues, and recently a large poster of the far-right party caused controversy in Madrid. The poster depicted a hand wearing a bracelet in the colors of the Spanish flag above a trash can, which contained, among other things, the LGTBI flag, the symbol of feminism, and the "Agenda 2030" - the current government's strategy for sustainable development. The poster has since been taken down.

One of the most sensitive issues is equality policies, which Vox outright rejects. The conservatives must find their limit, as gender equality is supported by a broad societal coalition in Spain, including people with conservative leanings.

What About Gender-Based Violence?

A similar situation arises when it comes to gender-based violence, such as when men threaten, harm, or even kill their partners. Vox's prevailing position is that gender-based violence does not exist.

While the conservatives acknowledge the existence of violence against women and affirm their commitment to combating it, the coalition agreement in the Valencia region - where specific programs for the protection of vulnerable women and prevention of gender-based violence exist - only refers to "interfamily violence," with responsibilities for justice and interior affairs going to Vox.

Campaign Becomes More Substantive

The alliances between the conservatives and Vox in municipalities and regions could unexpectedly benefit the election campaign. They increasingly force the conservatives to focus less on personal attacks against Sánchez and present more of their policies.

This is also to avoid future mishaps like the following: PP leader Núñez Feijóo had announced plans to review all laws and regulations approved with the support of the Basque separatists from the Bildu electoral alliance. In response, the left-wing parties asked whether this also applied to the recent pension increases.

As the campaign becomes more substantive, the chances for the Socialists to gain ground increase. The incumbent government actually has a favorable track record. National and international statistics, such as employment rates, inflation, and economic growth, have consistently supported this over the past months.

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