Since Sunday night, Spaniards in Brussels must feel a little bit more at home. Following the announcement of electoral results, Spain follows the “Belgian example” meaning entering a period of what appears to be complex coalition negotiations in order to form a government.
Yesterday’s elections did not produce an outright winner. Rather, results highlighted the political impact of the European crisis. Prime Minister Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP) won just 29% of the vote or (123 seats out of the 176 needed to form a government) with the Socialists (PSOE) receiving 22% of votes (90 seats).
While traditional political powers (the Socialists scored their lowest percentage since 1989) lost part of their electorate, new parties capitalized on Spaniards’ austerity and unemployment fatigue. The radical left Podemos, scored 21% or 69 seats with the liberal Ciudadanos at 14%, which amounts at 40 seats. As in many Southern European countries the political landscape is changing and two party systems are taking the biggest hit.
Similarly to SYRIZA’s successful strategy in Greece, Podemos and Ciudadanos campaigned against corruption and established societal mechanisms. In the backdrop of an economic situation slowly recovering and high levels of unemployment, political parties associated with the establishment gave space to new political powers.
So what comes next? Weeks of negotiations and potentially a new election in the next 3 months. Spain doesn’t have an imminent deadline (the King should appoint a candidate for Prime Minister on 13 January) in order to form a government; however no combination of parties seems to produce a viable solution at this point. What could initially be a minority government led by the People’s Party, could turn into a recipe for disaster facing opposition from the left on structural reform issues.
By contrast, a similar scenario to the Portuguese one in November could emerge. In spite of the conservatives’ winning first place, a coalition government would be formed with the Socialists and Podemos. However, being on the same side of the political spectrum does not equal automatic consensus. The Socialists and Podemos disagree on the contentious issue of Catalan independence, thus making difficult ensure their potential coalition’s stability; particularly considering they would need the support from the smaller regional parties to have a majority.
In these days following the vote, Rajoy would not be the only one scratching his head; Jean-Claude Juncker and his team at the European Commission must be waiting for the situation to unfold with caution, hoping that the Spanish rain would indeed stay mainly in the plains. A temporary political vacuum in Spain, would mean Rajoy remains as interim Prime Minister until a government is appointed yet has much less legitimacy to negotiate in Council and even if/when a “real” government would be formed, the difficulties of domestic alliance building would take precedence over active involvement in EU affairs, in areas such as state aid or agriculture.
With issues such as Brexit coming up in 2016, the benefits of having a stable government proactively working for the European agenda in one of Europe’s largest countries are undeniable; it would enable both for structural reforms to be carried out thus stabilizing the Spanish economy and giving fewer Eurosceptics the opportunity to capitalize on the South’s “lack of capacity” to reform.
In addition, depending on which coalition takes over the issue of Catalan independence could re-emerge. This is the last thing the Commission’s wants in a year where it will have to walk on eggshells in order to avoid the UK leaving the EU in the autumn of 2016.
In the year to come, what Brussels would like is for the EU to project an sunny image of unity over fragmentation. Seeing Spain’s election results, we’re not welcoming 2016 with the best of forecasts…. It looks like quite a bit of rain is coming our way…