Pedro Sánchez: Europe’s (new) great survivor?
By Sam Boyle, Consultant


Last week, we looked at Spain’s first weeks of their Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And, for many, it looked like the time was up for Pedro Sánchez, with the Partido Popular (PP) set to form the next Spanish government, propped up by the far right. The voters had something else in store. Though they finished second in the popular vote and seats won, Sánchez’s Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) won the biggest share of the vote since 2008 and Vox, the far-right party set to be in government, won less seats than in the last election, losing 19 in total. Denying the PP an obvious route into government, Sánchez has, once again, shown he will not go down without a fight.

On Sunday 23rd of July, the Spanish public disrupted their summer holidays to cast their vote for the next government, and despite the soaring temperatures turnout topped 70% showing. As the polls predicted, Spain’s opposition conservative party won the greatest number of seats. However, what wasn’t predicted was how close it was going to be between the right and left, with the Partido Popular, or the People’s Party, only winning 14 more seats than the PSOE.

This close result means that Spain has entered a phase of political uncertainty, weeks of negotiations will begin once parliament convenes in mid-August, as both sides decide what their options could be for forming a government. King Felipe VI will invite Alberto Núñez Feijóo to form a government, if he declines or is unable, likely with limited willing coalition partners, current Prime Minister and leader of PSOE Pedro Sánchez will get the call up. If neither can form a coalition within two months, another election must be called and the process starts again before the end of the year.

This period of uncertainty extends creates difficulties across public policy, but especially concerning Gibraltar. For those who may not have been following the situation between Spain, Gibraltar and the UK that closely, the three governments were close to agreeing on a post-Brexit deal which would allow for easy travel between the mainland and the Rock. This deal is particularly important for the 15,000 workers that travel across the border from Spain every day. Under the previous PP government, long queues at the border became a regular occurrence. This time around, the PP had talked of addressing the “decolonisation process for Gibraltar and the recovery of sovereignty”. Chief Minister and Leader of the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party Fabian Picardo will be hoping that Sánchez manages to work his magic and form the next government so that they can continue where they left off regarding the post-Brexit deal.

Not only are the results a worry for Gibraltar, but other member states will also be paying close attention. Spain recently took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, a role it will hold until the end of the year. Though the presidency has been planned long in advance, political uncertainty at home can be both a distraction and a stick for opponents to wield against you. Conversely, the poor showing by Vox will be analysed closely in Rome by Prime Minister and leader of the far-right party Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, for any emergent Europewide trends.

As for the political negotiations in Spain, the PP are unable to form a government on their own or with the support of Vox. PSOE, though winning less seats, is better positioned to bring together other left wining parties, as well as the regional Basque and Catalan parties, to form a rainbow coalition. 

Though Sánchez has previous come back from the political dead, this election may be as much remembered for the power shifts amongst the smaller parties. The Junts, the pro-Catalonian independence party, whose leader Carles Puigdemong is current in self-imposed exile in Belgium since the failed push to split the region from Spain in 2017, are now positioned as king maker. Sánchez would need their support to form a majority coalition, however this would come at a price as Junts has already said they will not do so “in exchange for nothing.” They are likely to ask for concessions on independence and an amnesty for Catalan separatists still facing charges from 2017. Sánchez has previously pardoned jailed separatist leaders on the right in order to gain their support, but he has denied he would grant an independence referendum.

Sánchez has once again performed the seemingly impossible, putting himself as the likely candidate to lead the next Spanish government. Núñez Feijóo, meanwhile, has in effect been deemed a loser, despite winning the popular vote. However, for the great survivor, all is not plain sailing. High wire negotiations with separatist parties could prove unfeasible or his political undoing. Conversely, the underperformance of Núñez Feijóo could provide the opening for Isabel Díaz Ayuso, president of the Madrid region. The populist regional leader has been identified as an effective electoral weapon, even though her divisive libertarianism causes problems within the PP. For Sánchez, he still has work to do to create a new government, but even if he succeeds once more, his days may already be counting down. 

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