June 21. 2024. 6:03

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Spanish EU presidency should not be spoiled by pre-election turmoil, says researcher


The heated pre-election that mirrors tensions, including within the coalition, should not spoil the country’s upcoming EU Council presidency, Ignacio Molina, a senior researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute think tank, told Euroefe.

Spain will hold its municipal elections in May, which many believe will be the first litmus test for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s governing coalition with left-wing Unidas Podemos (EU Left). A general election is due in December.

“That danger exists, of course. Molina stresses that the Spanish presidency could become somehow ‘contaminated’ by the high level of national political tension that this pre-campaign is experiencing”.

Molina considers that the political bickering at the national level threatens the smooth running of Spain’s six-month EU Council presidency from July to December.

“However, one of the good things, which I think is one of Spain’s strengths, is that despite this very high degree of polarisation in domestic politics, with issues such as the ‘only yes means yes’ law or the political crisis in Catalonia, on European issues, there is a much greater degree of convergence between the socialist party (PSOE/S&D) and centre-right opposition Partido Popular (PPE/EEP),” he adds.

In Molina’s view, the Spanish case is not comparable with what happens in other EU countries, such as France or Italy, where the national debate automatically translates into the EU arena.

“In Spain, the rift is often over relatively minor issues. But at the EU level, PSOE and PP have worked together in the European Parliament for a long time and have a similar vision of Europe”, the expert underlines.

However, despite sharing many points of view, PSOE and PP are at opposite ideological poles on key topics of the EU agenda.

“That is right. However, the PSOE is much closer to the PP on European issues than it is to Unidas Podemos, and, in turn, the PP is closer to the socialists than to (far-right party) VOX (ECR) on EU policy”, Molina comments.

“When you look at how MEPs vote in the European Parliament, you can see this trend. PSOE and PP vote much more often together than PSOE with Unidas Podemos or PP with Vox”, he adds.

In his opinion, there is a risk that the upcoming Spanish EU Council presidency will be directly – or indirectly – affected by a heated national debate in Madrid.

“The recurrent ‘contamination’ of national issues that are conveyed to Brussels is eroding all that (the “European consensus” between PP and PSOE), which was, until now at least, a great advantage of Spain,” he said.

“Still, I am optimistic. I think that, whoever the next Spanish prime minister is in a year’s time, we know in principle that he will continue to be pro-European, something that cannot be said in countries like Poland, Hungary, or even France or Italy,” the expert added.

Last week, the PP announced its intention to ask the EU whether it considers it appropriate to investigate Spain’s management of EU’s Next Generation funding in the framework of an alleged corruption case. In Molina’s view, the move is premature.

“The opposition’s task is to do its job, it is legitimate, and we are also in an election year in Spain. (Emmanuel) Macron took advantage of the French presidency of the EU Council (from January to June 2022) in an election year in his country to highlight his role as a “statesman” and to underline that, unlike (Marine) Le Pen, he is a world leader. All this gave him a lot of electoral mileage,” the expert added.

According to Molina, Sanchez may well be tempted to do the same, Molina added.

“It is very likely that (Prime Minister) Pedro Sánchez will do the same. That he will try to reaffirm the message that he is no bold ‘social communist’, to underline that he is a great statesman who among other things, will bring the top leaders of the EU to Spain, at various summits to be held here. It is tempting for him to rub shoulders with the ‘greats’”.

Political parties always try to use the European loudspeaker to hit back at the national level. It has been (and still is) a “classic” strategy in Brussels and Strasbourg, with – on many occasions- a negative “boomerang effect”.

“I think there is a certain temptation for Spanish MPs, with this legislature so, so tense, and with a level of political aggressiveness so (…) internalised, that Spanish debates are channelled too quickly to Brussels. I believe this strategy has little chance of success”, Molina points out.

“Something like this happened a few days ago with the visit to Spain of a delegation from the European Parliament to audit the management of European funds. When you look at the composition of that delegation, 90% of them were Spaniards”, Molina concludes.

(Fernando Heller | EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)