Snap Elections in Spain Hasten the Fight for Power in Brussels

Bernardo de Miguel

6 mins - 30 de Mayo de 2023, 07:00

The electoral duel between Pedro Sánchez and Alberto Núñez Feijóo this Sunday will provoke important political reverberations far beyond the majorities and governments at stake. The earthquake caused by the victory of the Partido Popular in the municipal and regional elections and the quickening of the general elections originally slated for December to July 23 likewise accelerates the battle for the distribution of power in Brussels. This electoral advance has especially frustrated Ursula von der Leyen, who was confidently relying on an exceedingly powerful Spanish presidency of the EU to finish off her first term as the head of the European Commission and, if necessary, to run for a second one.

[Recibe los análisis de más actualidad en tu correo electrónico o en tu teléfono a través de nuestro canal de Telegram]

The outburst of the fight for posts in Brussels was marked by the elections in Spain at the end of the year - the most significant electoral event in the member states of the Union before the renewal of the Community leadership (presidencies of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament, and the High Representative for Foreign Policy). The crown jewel of this distribution is the position held by Ursula von der Leyen, who belongs to the European People’s Party (EPP). The debate on the continuity or replacement of the German is already on the political agenda in Brussels, although the European Council is still a year away from making a decision on the basis of the outcome of the elections in the European Parliament.

The elections in Spain will be key for the composition of the European Council. And as in 2019, once the presidency of the Commission has been assigned, the other pieces will be distributed and the parties with possibilities (popular, socialist, and liberal, more than anything else) will aspire to collect their share. The bargaining, already underway behind the scenes, is set to intensify depending on the outcome of the elections on July 23.

Spain is the only short-term opportunity for the European People’s Party (EPP) to regain some power in the Council of the EU, where each country’s vote is proportional to its number of inhabitants. The EPP does not head any government in the five most populous countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland). Its weight has fallen drastically since the beginning of this century when it came to be at the head of the four main economies of the Union with names like Angela Merkel, Jacques Chirac, Silvio Berlusconi, and José María Aznar.

The European People’s Party, led by the German MEP, Manfred Weber, sees in Spain the possibility of recovering some of the lost laurels and reach 2024 with enough strength to defend the enormous share of power they now enjoy in Brussels, where they preside over the Commission, the Parliament, and the Eurogroup, in addition to the ECB in Frankfurt. 

Weber has celebrated Sunday’s popular victory as “the first step towards a strong and stable government headed by the PP”. The German, a firm supporter of the collaboration of the People’s Party with the extreme right, tacitly recognises in these words that Núñez Feijóo will need to rely on Vox to reach the Moncloa in case he wins the elections.

Feijóo has a direct connection with Weber through MEP Esteban González Pons, who is the German’s number two in the Popular group in the European Parliament. Weber, who orchestrated the alliance in Italy between Berlusconi’s People’s Party and Meloni’s Ultras, would be strengthened with a conservative government in Madrid and could, perhaps, push his ally, the president of the European Parliament, the Maltese Roberta Metsola, as an aspirant to fill Von der Leyen’s position.

Metsola looks like a weak opponent for Von der Leyen. And Weber has so far failed to win major support for the Maltese in his own party. A balance that could change if the Spanish Populares return to power after being ousted by a motion of censure five years ago.  

Sánchez’s decision to hasten the end of the legislature six months ahead of schedule also upsets the current president of the European Commission. Von der Leyen maintains a good relationship with the President of the Government. Furthermore, she was relying on a very strong Spanish presidency of the EU to finish off ‘in style’ a mandate at the head of the Commission for which she has garnered applause for the management of the pandemic and the creation of the recovery fund.

But the early elections in Spain are a setback for the president and jeopardise her final run-up to the European Parliament elections. The Spanish semester is the last presidency under which Von der Leyen will be able to work at full capacity before the end of her term of office. Diplomats even define this last full six months of the legislature as “the golden presidency”.

In January next year, Spain will pass the baton to Belgium. But the Belgian semester will already be marked by the dissolution of the European Parliament and the election campaign for new elections, which will be held in June. The next presidency belongs to Hungary. But Von der Leyen will already be in the home stretch of her five-year term, and she cannot expect much cooperation from the Eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The outcome of the elections in Spain will also accentuate the debate on the handover of the presidency of the European Council, held until the end of 2024 by the Belgian liberal Charles Michel. Especially if Feijóo manages to win, this would leave Sánchez as a possible contender for the Council presidency, a post that the Socialists have never achieved. The name of Sánchez has already been mentioned as a possible replacement for Michel, although the sources that blow the most in that direction come almost always from the People’s Party, eager to get rid of the current president of the Spanish Government and to keep the presidency of the Commission for the fifth consecutive term.
Se puede leer el artículo original en español
¿Qué te ha parecido el artículo?