Franco was a Eurosceptic

Spain's internal blockages

The hope of the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to find a solution to the difficult domestic political situation in Spain with early elections is likely to be disappointed, according to the latest polls. The voters are firmly anchored in their camps, shifts only take place within the respective camps without clear majorities being formed. The new legislative period is thus once again marked by the precarious stability of a government. The various, sometimes contradicting, visions and projects for Spain are incompatible with one another. The main political forces reproduce these conflicts and divergences in their election manifestos. In doing so, they do not show the desire to build bridges in the interests of a national consensus.

Forecasts: instability and unclear majorities

The difficult government without clear majorities could continue. At least that is true if the forecasts of the most recent polls by the most important Spanish media and the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS) prove to be true. They suggest that the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), led by incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, will win the elections as the strongest party by a wide margin. Accordingly, it would have between 130 and 140 MPs, but would miss the absolute majority of 176 of the total of 350 MPs, which would be necessary to be able to govern alone. The PSOE could also not achieve a solid and stable majority if it forms a left bloc together with the Unidos Podemos (the amalgamation of the left political parties led by Podemos). Because Podemos is likely to lose more than half of the 71 parliamentary seats it won in the last elections on June 26, 2016.

On the other hand, the same polls suggest that the right-wing camp - made up of the People's Party (PP), the liberal citizens' movement (Ciudadanos - Cs) and the rising extreme right of Vox - will not be able to win an absolute majority either to reach. The three parties together could get 155 to 165 parliamentary seats, with a significant drop in support for Cs and a strong mandate for Vox, who is running for the first time in national parliamentary elections, is expected.

The key to forming a government is therefore again in the hands of regional parties such as the Basque nationalist PNV or the Basque independence alliance Bildu, the Catalan political forces of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and the electoral coalition of Junts per Catalunya (JxCat). According to current projections, each of them could increase the number of their MPs (with the exception of JxCat). The result suggests the continuation of a scenario that could prolong the political blockade in Spain.

But it's not just about the majorities in the House of Representatives: The election of the members of the Senate, the second chamber of the Spanish Parliament, is also of particular importance. Because the Senate has to vote on a renewed application of Article 155 of the Constitution, which allows the dissolution of a regional government, after a corresponding motion by the government. This requires an absolute majority. As today's opposition parties are already calling for, the Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia could be interfered with again, as was the case on October 27, 2017 after the declaration of independence. In the last legislative period, the Senate had 208 elected members and 58 members appointed by the regional parliaments.

Polarization in the party system

Spain's party system has changed a lot over the past decade. The times when Spain was dominated by two parties, the PP and the PSOE, are over, governing with absolute majorities of one of the two major parties is a thing of the past. There is no tradition of coalition governments; rather, governance is usually based on tolerance agreements, and selective support pacts are negotiated.

The fact that Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called parliamentary elections before the end of his term of office is a direct consequence of the blockade in which the minority government of the PSOE found itself, but in particular of its dependence on the votes of the regional parties. For example, Sánchez was unable to push through the general budget in February 2019 because the Catalan parties, which are campaigning for Catalonia's independence, refused to approve. The background to this was the fact that the socialist government rejected the demand of the Catalan parties to put the right to self-determination on the agenda of their negotiations with the regional government of Catalonia. The decisive factor in the decision of the Sánchez government to call for new elections early was, on the one hand, the impossibility of approving the budget and, on the other hand, the pressure exerted by PP, Cs and Vox in a mass demonstration for the unity of Spain and against the socialist government. which took place on February 10, 2019 in Madrid.

The PSOE's reign ended sooner than expected after it brought down the government of Mariano Rajoy (PP), supported by Unidos Podemos and regional parties, with a total of 180 votes due to a corruption scandal with a motion of no confidence. On June 2, 2018, the socialist government of Pedro Sánchez was elected as the new Spanish Prime Minister with the votes of a parliamentary minority. A few days after being voted out of office, Mariano Rajoy resigned from his position as PP chairman, and was succeeded by Pablo Casado. Under his leadership, the party takes more conservative positions, with the unity of Spain and more aggressive rhetoric in defense of traditional values ​​being the relevant axes. This change did not please the more moderate forces in the PP. They accuse Casado of leaving the political center to rivals Cs and PSOE.

However, the moment when a new departure and a rejuvenation of the party leadership were to start turned out to be a turning point for the PP. Because with the right-wing extremist party Vox, a new competitor appeared on the right wing of the party spectrum, which was able to massively penetrate the reservoir of the PP voters. The party, founded in December 2013 by former PP members, has contributed to sharpening the polarization of the political debate, particularly with regard to the territorial unity of Spain, coming to terms with the past and the Catalan question. Vox is a "sui generis" party that thrives on the ideological basis of the Franco dictatorship. It ties in with conservative values ​​of Catholicism, represents a traditional view of the family and speaks out against abortion and so-called "left feminism". In addition, she has shaped a public discourse directed against Muslim immigration. Although it rejects unregulated immigration and defends traditional Christian values ​​in Europe, Vox is not a eurosceptic party; It supports the European Union project and advocates liberal positions on economic issues, such as reducing the role of the state and the privatization of companies and public services.

The »Andalusian Alliance«

The political importance of Vox was shown in the result of the regional elections in Andalusia on December 2, 2018, which led to the replacement of the PSOE, which had ruled there for 37 years. For this purpose, the so-called »Andalusian Alliance« consisting of PP, Cs and Vox was formed for the first time. Due to a formal coalition of PP and Cs and the tolerance by Vox, the PP candidate Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla was installed as president of the Junta de Andalucía on January 18, 2019. Vox managed to win twelve seats in the regional parliament from scratch and thus become a political force that is crucial for the formation of a government. In addition, with Vox, the party system in Spain is being expanded again, which had already fundamentally changed in December 2015 with the appearance of Cs and Unidos Podemos in the Spanish parliament. The fact that there are now five instead of two large parties to choose from can lead to a split in the votes in the respective camps (e.g. between PP, Cs and Vox). That would favor the options of the PSOE to have more MPs because the majority party is preferred in the distribution of the seats.

The fight for »España Vaciada«

However, the PSOE must do its best to mobilize its voters, as low turnout traditionally harms socialists. The large number of undecided voters could be decisive for the distribution of the seats in parliament, especially in those parts of the country that recently spoke out as "empty Spain" (España Vaciada). These depopulated Spanish provinces, which feel neglected in terms of services and infrastructure, are trying to convert their weight of votes into political demands. Representatives of 23 provinces and 90 municipalities of the »España Vaciada« organized a demonstration on March 31, 2019 in Madrid, during which they demanded improvements in their situation. In doing so, they succeeded in persuading the major political parties to include the cause of the »España Vaciada« in their election programs - not only the traditional confrontations that sparked off the question of political autonomy, but also the issues of the other parts of the country, those of government policy, such as rural development.

The consequences of the Catalonia crisis

The parliamentary elections take place during the so-called »Trial against Procés«. which began on February 12, 2019 at the Supreme Court. Twelve Catalan independence leaders are charged with rebellion, riot, embezzlement and disobedience. In this respect, politics and the election campaign are again dominated by the Catalonia crisis, which has divided the country since a referendum was held on October 1, 2017 and the regional parliament symbolically declared Catalonia independent on October 27, 2017.

The then PP government under Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy then applied constitutional article 155, interfered with the autonomy of Catalonia and replaced its government on October 21, 2017 - a decision approved by the Senate on October 27, 2017. Leading members of the Catalan independence movement were arrested and others fled Spain.

As a result of the regional elections on December 21, 2017, the self-government of Catalonia was largely restored and the application of Article 155 was repealed. On June 2, 2018, a new regional government was sworn in, but under which the previous majority prevailed. As before, a coalition dominated the regional parliament and the regional government, which advocated independence.

In the upcoming parliamentary elections, the coalition ruling coalition's pro-independence parties in Catalonia will receive special attention for three reasons. First, the electoral debate focuses on the model of autonomy, the Catalan crisis and its solution. Second, the elections are taking place while the "trial against Procés" is ongoing, and some of the accused leaders are on candidate lists. Thirdly, the elections are also understood as a vote for or against the independence parties; they could provide information on whether these parties are still able to mobilize voters and exert their influence in Madrid. Whether support for Catalonia's independence continues to grow or, as in the case of the Basque Country, stagnates or even declines, should serve as a signal for further handling of the question of independence.

After the unilateral path to independence has failed, both ERC and JxCat appear to be concentrating on securing the release of the defendants and the return of those politicians who reside outside the country. They are also demanding the right to self-determination for Catalonia and negotiations with the government in Madrid on a legally binding independence referendum to resolve the Catalan question.

There are internal tensions in each of the most important Catalan political parties that are of a strategic but also of a political nature: On the one hand, there is disagreement about whether the process of unilaterally enforced independence will be continued or whether it will be aimed at based on the vote of October 1, 2017 to exercise Catalonia's right to self-determination by holding a legal referendum agreed with a possible center-left government led by the PSOE.

The second disagreement is between former President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont and a number of prominent members of the coalition's main party, the Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català (PDeCAT). A more moderate section of the PDeCAT, which favors a position of dialogue and negotiation, is against Puigdemont's strategy of confronting the government in Madrid and openly questions his leadership. This group is toying with the creation of a new center-right party in the style of the Basque PNV.

Controversial models for resolving the conflict

The Catalan question continues to drive polarization in the positions of the major parties. The unity of Spain is positioned against the model of an autonomy of Catalonia. In fact, the positions are more differentiated: The PSOE is striving for a path of negotiation and relies on the dialogue with the regional government of Catalonia, which moves within the framework of the provisions of the Spanish constitution. This is served by the proposal to better integrate Catalonia in Spain through an optimized financing system and a new statute of autonomy. Podemos, in turn, proposes that the Catalan question be resolved by holding a referendum agreed with the government of Catalonia as part of his "plurinational Spain" project.

On the other side of the political spectrum, people want to take the opposite path and defend the transfer of powers and some autonomous competences back to the central government in Madrid. However, with regard to the autonomy regime, the proposals of the individual parties in this camp differ from one another: The PP does not question existing autonomy regulations. Cs calls for a review of the tax privileges granted to the Basque Country and Navarre. The aim should be not to negotiate statutes individually with the various autonomous governments as before, but to create uniform regulations that apply to all regions. Vox is in favor of revising the privileged financing system for Navarre and the Basque Country in the short term, but is striving for the general abolition of the Statute of Autonomy. The parties of the "Andalusian Alliance" want to defend the territorial integrity of Spain and enforce a tougher course against the incumbent regional government of Catalonia. If the relevant legal requirements are met, the re-application of Article 155 is required, as the Catalan government continues to take steps aimed at achieving independence.

In view of this situation it can be seen that the Catalan question will determine not only the election campaign but also the formation of a coalition and whether a minority government can count on being tolerated (possibly also by Catalan MPs).

Migration, financial limits of social policy and the question of tax increases

Despite all efforts, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has so far not been able to do anything in the election campaign to prevent the polls on April 28, 2019 from being dominated by the Catalan question. His attempts to give more weight to economic and social policy ideas were also thwarted by the presence of Vox and the pressure she exerted to regulate migration. The costs that immigration causes for the already ailing social systems are emphasized. In this way, the question of migration is politically interwoven with the future of the social systems in order to gain sustainable support from the voters.

Vox has had success with his "Islamophobic" rhetoric and his campaign against irregular immigration. In response, both the PP and the Cs have tightened their migration policies, demanding the repatriation of all irregular immigrants as well as strengthening border controls. These parties only want to accept legal and controlled immigration from the countries of origin that meets the needs of Spain.This position is reinforced by the »Salvini effect« and the Italian migration policy, which have the consequence that more and more irregular migrants are looking for their way to Europe via Spain.

In view of this, the PSOE proposes, despite all the difficulties, to continue working on a European migration policy that is intended to enable an orderly flow of immigrants within the framework of the European Union. The ruling party would like to underline its anchoring in the European family one month before the European Parliament elections. Podemos, on the other hand, advocates open and legal routes for migration to Spain. As in other EU countries, the issue of migration has great potential for mobilization in Spain, which can be decisive for the outcome of the election.

After a possible Brexit, Spain will be the fourth largest economy in the European Union, and Madrid's weight in the European concert should then grow significantly. The country's economy is currently still on an expansionary course, following the severe crisis in 2008–2014. Growth of 2.1 percent is forecast for 2019. This would put Spain above the Eurozone average of 1.3 percent. The national debt will, however, reach 95.4 percent of the gross domestic product by the end of the year, the unemployment rate was still a high 14 percent in February 2019, and for young people under 25 years of age even 32.4 percent. According to surveys, unemployment is one of the main concerns of citizens. With the high unemployment rate driving up social security contributions and the financial drainage of the Spanish pension system as the population ages, closing the funding gap should be high on the agenda of a new government.

Against this background, the question arises as to whether there will be tax increases. PSOE and Podemos advocate raising taxes on higher incomes and businesses to finance public spending. At the same time, they advocate maintaining the minimum wage (salario mínimo interprofesional, SMI) of 900 euros per month, a measure adopted by the Sánchez government in December 2018. Both PP and Cs, on the other hand, propose lowering taxes. They want to make the labor market more flexible so that companies can hire more staff and increase their productivity. To that extent, they question the effectiveness of the minimum wage, since they believe that it makes it difficult to promote employment. In their view, it should be linked to economic growth.

Vox is also proposing a tax cut, but, unlike the rest of the right-wing camp, wants to combine it with a drastic cut in public spending and the privatization of public companies. For Vox, in addition to reforming the pension system, it is of central importance to lower social security contributions in order to strengthen both the competitiveness of companies and purchasing power and to stimulate domestic demand.

However, when it comes to tax and economic policy, everything will depend on whether the economic downturn in Europe continues and growth forecasts need to be revised further downwards. Such a tendency could seriously affect the development of the Spanish economy.

Scenarios for the formation of a government capable of acting

Two options for forming a government under the leadership of the PSOE are conceivable:

(1) It could be tight for a stable absolute majority of PSOE and Unidas Podemos in association with the Basque nationalist regional party PNV. This coalition would also have to rely on the votes of the representatives of the Catalan nationalists in order to achieve a majority in parliament. In such a constellation, a government made up of PSOE and Podemos would become the plaything of Catalan interests and its scope for action would be limited. The chairman of the ERC, Oriol Junqueras, has announced his intention to support a left-wing government and ensure its stability. How high the price would be, however, can hardly be answered at the moment. In view of the muddled interests in the Catalonia question, very difficult coalition negotiations can be expected in any case. A new government could quickly fall victim to regional interests and the political dynamics in Barcelona.

(2) An electoral success of the »Andalusian Alliance« is also conceivable, which could achieve an absolute majority with the MPs from PP, Cs and Vox. For a government to be formed, either a coalition between the PP and the liberal Cs or the participation of Vox would come into question; that depends in each case on the votes that the parties in this camp achieve. Cs chairman Albert Rivera has already signaled to the PP that he is ready to form a joint government if the election is successful.

(3) In view of the hardened fronts between the camps as very unlikely, a third scenario must apply, which would be based on an understanding between PSOE and Cs. At the same time, a clear absolute majority could be achieved. Since the beginning of the election campaign, Cs has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of supporting a new inauguration of Sánchez or of signing an intergovernmental agreement with the PSOE. Because one is not ready to change the position on the Catalonia question. Indeed, the different attitudes to the Catalan question and the person of Pedro Sánchez seem to be two insurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of a government pact between the two parties.

(4) A continuation of the current constellation cannot be ruled out: a minority government without a stable majority in parliament, which has to obtain the necessary support on a case-by-case basis. This would mean that the internal blockades would once again fully affect the government's ability to act. Instability and political front positions would soon restore the situation that led to the April 28 elections being scheduled. The ballot would not have brought the country closer to a solution, but merely promoted the cementing of existing positions.

So far, the parties and the representatives of regional interests have sacrificed the willingness to govern in an equitable manner and to compromise the maxim of preserving their own identity and negotiating "with a clear edge" for their own clientele. In terms of election tactics, this may be profitable in the short term, but it impairs governability and reduces Spain’s foreign policy room for maneuver and its political weight.

Spain and the EU: Domestic Policy Priority?

In the run-up to the upcoming elections, Spanish foreign, security and defense policy is not a central issue. apart from exceptions in the past on how recently in the elections of 14 March 2004, after the terrorist attacks in Madrid three days earlier, Spain's role in the EU and beyond is hardly discussed in the election campaigns. This is surprising insofar as the Sánchez government applied for a leading role in the European concert during the Brexit in Berlin and Paris and offered itself as a partner of the »Franco-German axis«. In the meantime, the complicated domestic political situation has quickly lowered one's own demands on foreign policy relevance. The attempt of the Catalan nationalists to bring their independence request onto the European and international stage failed, but tied up considerable diplomatic forces in Madrid.

The country's five major parties are defending the European project. This also applies to the most important regional parties, albeit with different nuances. None of these parties can be qualified as eurosceptic, leaving the EU is not an issue for them. Parties like PSOE, PP and Cs advocate strengthening the role and engagement of Spain within the EU. You are ready to take on more responsibility and support European military cooperation.

For Spain's partners in Europe, the upcoming elections are linked to uncertainty about a stable majority in a new government as well as uncertainty about the European political role that Spain will play in the future. Although Spain's fundamental foreign policy positions are unlikely to change, the scope and depth of Spanish engagement are still closely linked to the domestic political agenda. This will be reflected, for example, in the future negotiations on the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021–2027, the scope of the structural funds and the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, in which Spain is concerned with rural areas and the demands of the »España Vaciada «Is represented. It will be interesting to observe to what extent Spain joins the line of net recipients of the European "southern rail" or develops its own positions.

Spain's position in Europe continues to suffer from deficits in its foreign policy, its limited presence in Central and Eastern Europe and its deviation from a majority position in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which concerns, for example, the recognition of Kosovo as a state. On the Kosovo question, domestic political fears are voicing that its recognition could have repercussions on the Catalan question.

However, there is not only an east-west divide in Spanish foreign policy within the EU, but also a north-south divergence, for example with regard to the perception of Russia as a threat, the sanctions policy against the Kremlin or the migration and asylum policy fundamental issue in the Spanish election campaign. Spain is close to an agenda that Member States from southern Europe in particular share and defend within the framework of the EU. Whether a new Spanish government can and wants to take on more political responsibility within the framework of the European project and whether it is prepared to take on more comprehensive commitments for the deepening of the EU will largely depend on the domestic political situation.

Prof. Dr. Günther Maihold is Deputy Director of the SWP. Xavier Servitja Roca is visiting scholar at the SWP.

© Science and Politics Foundation, 2019

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doi: 10.18449 / 2019A26