The results of the general election in Spain have been a hopeful message to Europe: Spain is not going to join Italy, Sweden or Finland, there will be no coalition government between the right and the extreme right. And what is also important for Europe, there will be no such government in the country that holds the presidency of the Council. The general election was scheduled for the end of the year, coinciding with the end of the Spanish presidency of the European Union. The results of the local and regional elections of 28 May forced President Sánchez to advance the elections to 23 July.
There have been three major reasons for anticipating these elections, all of them linked to the results of the local and regional elections of 28 May, where both parties governing in the national coalition, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’ Socialists (PSOE) and the left-wing Unidas Podemos (UP), lost many city councils and regional governments. In the first place, Sánchez wanted to prevent his government coalition from bleeding to death during the five months remaining until the planned elections. Secondly, anticipating the elections was intended to put pressure on the parties to the left of PSOE to force them to put an end to their differences (which had been one of the reasons for the poor results of the elections and the loss for the left of many local and regional governments) and unite in a single candidacy for this general election. And thirdly, Sánchez wanted the July election to coincide with the materialisation of agreements between the right (PP) and the extreme right (Vox) to govern the cities and regions in which both had achieved a majority.
The starting point of this election was not very favourable to the left. The coalition government between PSOE and UP, which began its journey in January 2020, had suffered heavily due to the total offensive deployed by the right, which had not even respected the pandemic period (the PP appealed to the Constitutional Court against the government’s measures to deal with Covid-19). To the assault of the right should be added the division of the left between Podemos and Sumar, the formation of Yolanda Díaz, vice president of the government after the resignation of the historical leader of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias.
It is necessary to add that the elections held throughout the legislature in some important regions (Andalusia, Madrid) had been very positive to PP. In addition, the polls (some of them clearly biased in favour of the positions of the right) drew a clear majority for the PP-Vox alliance and a major setback for the left. The scenario at the beginning of 2023 was very complicated for the parties in government, and the local and regional elections ended up complicating it. So, the snap elections, forced by the circumstances, represented a challenge for the PSOE and the whole of the left.
PP has been the winner of the general elections, with 8 million votes and 136 seats (out of a total of 350 in the Congreso de los Diputados), but theirs has been a Pyrrhic victory, since their radicalisation in recent years has left them with no other parliamentary partner than the extreme right, Vox, which has lost 19 seats, from 52 to 33. The sum of both (169) falls short compared to the set of seats on the left and the nationalists.
PSOE, far from the bad omens of the polls, has managed to increase its seats in Congress to 122 from the previous 120 and, what is better, it has remained only three hundred thousand votes behind PP, a tiny 1.3 per cent of the vote. Together with Sumar, the new party on the left of PSOE, they obtain 153 seats. Taken together, the government parties only lost five seats. But, unlike PP, PSOE can negotiate the support of other groups present in the chamber, groups that had already supported the left-wing government in the past legislature: the Basque nationalists of the left (EH Bildu) and right (PNV) and the centre-left Catalan independentists, ERC. Thus, even though it has not won the elections, PSOE has a better chance of forming a government than the winner, PP. PSOE’s good results have been due to the last-minute mobilisation of a part of the progressive vote spurred by fear of a right-wing government with the extreme right in the style of Giorgia Meloni in Italy. The PP campaign – based on lies and fake news, clearly leaning to the right, with a strategy of harassment and overthrow of the government, and with the recent memory of its pacts with Vox– has ended up raising the vote for the left.
However, the results do not give a conclusive mandate because the configuration of a majority around PSOE in the Congreso depends to a large extent on the participation of the right-wing Catalan independentists, Junts, who have already made it clear that their conditions are a general amnesty for those accused of the 2012-2017 independence movement (the so-called procés) and the holding of a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. Both demands are unacceptable for PSOE. If Junts finally decides not to support the formation of a new left-wing coalition government, there will be no choice but to repeat the election, probably at the end of the year. It would be the third time we have to repeat a general election in a row: the 2015 election was repeated in 2016, and that of April 2019 in November of the same year.
Regardless of what happens in the end, the general election in Spain has a clear European dimension, because it halts the recent string of elections in the EU that brought coalitions or collaborations between the right and the far-right to power. If the coalition between PP and Vox had materialised, Spain would have joined the countries that already have such government coalition or parliamentary agreements s between the traditional right and the extreme right as Italy, Sweden, or Finland, which align with the national-populist governments of Hungary and Poland. And a government of this type in Spain would be a strong symbol at a time when the country holds the semester presidency of the Union and when there is less than a year to go before the European election in June 2024. This election will be key to determining the direction the Union will follow in the coming decades, and there is a danger this direction could be determined by alliances between the traditional right and the populist and nationalist extreme right. The resistance of the left, fostered by the vote of the Spanish progressive electorate, should also be read as a message to keep building a Europe of democracy, freedom and equality.