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The European Parliament elections of 2014 will be held in Spain on May 25th. With 54 MEP seats at play, the Spanish delegation is the fifth largest among the 28 EU member states. However, the stability and strength of its two main parties – the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE) – have traditionally given the country an extra influence on the big two groups that dominate the parliamentary activity in Brussels/Strasbourg: the centre- right EPP and the Social Democrats. After all, considering the divisions and the eccentric behaviour or irregular electoral results of their French, British and Italian counterparts during the last few years, the PP and PSOE have almost become the second most-solid members of their respective groups, only behind the German CDU/CSU and SPD.[239]

Actually, what is at stake in these elections in Spain is the extent to which these two big parties are able to resist the erosion of their joint hegemony as a result of the economic crisis and the successive social unrest.[240] And, in contrast to other European countries in which the long- established parties have been challenged and in some cases surpassed by new parties – often eurosceptic or europhobe varieties – it seems that the Spanish party system will not collapse. To be sure, the polls predict that PP and PSOE will lose support compared to five years ago but not to the point of putting at risk their control of the national political arena.

Therefore, if these EP elections incite some expectation vis-à-vis the Spanish voters, it is primarily connected to the curiosity about just how strong this punishment will be. And, despite the attempts by EU affairs pundits to highlight the importance of voting from a supranational perspective (making the case for a truly European campaign with the well-known argument that it is the first elections after the crisis and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty),[241], the truth is  that  national  media,  candidates  and  citizens  in  general  do  not  seem  to  be  particularly interested in the growing legislative powers of the EP. Moreover, they only remotely take into account the theoretical indirect election of the President of the Commission – a development with huge potential for the future politicisation of the EU institutions, but that remains distant and uncertain, as the European Council will yet have to agree on this matter.

Several EU member states will host other elections (national, regional or local) on the same day of the EP voting, but this is not the case for Spain. This fact, along with the tough crisis experienced by Spain during the last six years as a debtor member of the eurozone, should supposedly transport us to a scenario in which the debate is fundamentally about EU issues. However, and in a disturbingly similar way to previous European campaigns in Spain, the debate so far has focused on domestic issues. This is a common feature of all 28 member states but it is perhaps more intense in Spain for two reasons. On the one hand, there is a general consensus that membership of the EU and the eurozone confers certain advantages, with consequent little incentive for national parties to mobilise voters to debate the pros and cons of Europe. On the other hand, and somewhat contradictory to this pro-European  consensus, Spanish public opinion is distinguished by its remarkable lack of knowledge or interest in EU affairs.[242]

As a result of this, all parties prefer to deal with issues on the domestic agenda as the best strategy to reach a good result. The most important cleavage, therefore, will continue to be the traditional division between national left and right, with some space reserved for the always lively centre-periphery debate. Elections will be inward-looking, even dispirited, but without any chance for anti-EU discourse to flourish. Spaniards are certainly no longer naïvely enthusiastic about Brussels or Frankfurt, although they are still consistently in favour of the integration  process. The  trust  on  EU institutions  has  fallen  even  dramatically  but  trust  in national politicians is still inferior. In contrast to what is happening in Greece, not even the North-South  or  creditor-debtor  gap  has  become  truly  important,  although  some  parties (including the Socialist Party) have included a little anti-Merkel narrative in the debate.

The low profile of the campaign also serves to explain the expected turnout, which may well be the lowest in the history of Spanish democracy (around 40%). This trend follows the path of the most recent European elections, in which participation plummeted, not only in Spain, but also in the rest of the EU.243 It is still to be seen what will finally happen, but what it is already clear is that the so-called ‘historical’ elections will not witness any increase in voter turnout.

Salvador Llaudes, Research Assistant, Elcano Royal Institute.
Ignacio Molina, Senior Analyst for Europe, Elcano Royal Institute.

(*) This document is a chapter of Between Apathy and Anger: Challenges to the Union from the 2014 Elections to the European Parliament, edited by Sonia Piedrafita and Anne Lauenroth. This EPIN study brings together contributions from a ​broad selection of member states ​and ​provid​es ​insightful analysis ​into the 2014 elections to the European Parliament on the ground. The report reveals the different factors that impede the development of genuine European elections and the consequences of the ballot in the member states covered by the study​, namely Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the UK​,​ and at EU level. 

[239] During the 7th  European Parliament (2009-2014), the PP has been nearly tied with its Polish and French centre-right partners as the second largest member of the EPP while the PSOE has also been the second-largest delegation in the Party of European Socialists (PES). Similarly, both the PP and the PSOE were the second biggest national delegations of their respective European parties in the previous 6th EP (2004-2009), and they two occupied the third place within the EPP and the PES in the 5th (1999-2004). This stable influence has helped the two big Spanish parties to achieve amendment capacity or office goals in committees, rapporteurships and leadership positions somewhat above the objective weight of Spain. For example, three Spaniards (and four Germans) have been appointed as Presidents of the EP over the last 25 years, as compared with only one Frenchman and no Italian or Briton at all.

[240] The PSOE was in office from 2004-11 (and, thus, it suffered the impact of the first recession following the global financial crisis of 2007-08). The PP won elections in late 2011 when Spain was seriously hit by a second recession produced by the debt crisis in the eurozone. Both parties had to implement unpopular austerity measures and structural reforms.

[241] Daniel Ruiz de Garibay (2014), “The 2014 elections to the European Parliament: Towards truly European elections?”, ARI 17/2014, Elcano Royal Institute, Madrid.

[242] According to Eurobarometer, around 81% of Spaniards say that they are poorly informed about EU affairs.