National coalitions to defend regional interests in the European Parliament: a Spanish case

National coalitions to defend regional interests in the European Parliament: a Spanish case

26 May: the election day

The 2019 European Parliament (EP) election took place in very special circumstances. First and foremost, they concurred with regional and local elections, which, for most Spanish regions, are due every four years. Given that EP elections follow a five-year cycle, this happens only once every 20 years. Hence, this had only happened once, in 1999 (and we must wait till 2039 for the next special election day).

The concurrence of the three elections meant that on 26 May, a sheer amount of power was to be apportioned, ranging from the decisions on construction permits, traffic and garbage collection (made by local administrations) to the provision of health and education (regional governments) and the definition of EU-wide directives (European Parliament). The parties’ future organizational strength was also at stake: more than eight thousand mayors and sixty-seven thousand councilors, nearly one thousand regional MPs and over fifty MEPs were to be elected. To put it bluntly: electoral battles took place simultaneously in multiple areas, and their outcomes significantly reshaped the distribution of power in the next years.

As expected, these circumstances comported a strong boost in participation for the EP elections, which soared from 43.8 in 2014 to 64.3 in 2019 (the mean in the European countries in 2019 was 50.4 percent, so Spain was 13.9 percentage points above). This figure was even slightly higher than in 1999 (63.1) and only somewhat lower than in the first EP election, which took place in 1987 (68.5) in Spain. A second consequence was the likely contagion from one arena to the others, also in terms of electoral turnout. Thus, the participation in local and regional elections was 65.2 percent, just 0.03 percent more than in the 2015 regional and local elections.

Regional parties in the national arena

However, this contagion was not restricted to concurrent elections, since less than a month before, on 28 April 28, the national election had taken place. It led to a clear victory for Pedro Sánchez’ Socialist party (PSOE) but also formed the most fragmented Parliament since the restoration of democracy (5 political parties with more than 10 percent of the vote). This election clearly remarks the quasi-federal Spanish model, with the entrance of 7 regional parties into the Spanish Parliament (two more than in 2016 and with a 4 percent increase in their combined share of the vote comparing to the 2015 and 2016 General elections). Table 1 shows the results of the most important regional parties in April (all those which obtained at least 0.20 percent of the popular vote) as well as those parties conforming one of the coalitions of regional parties in the EP elections. As it is well known, in Catalonia and the Basque Country, regional parties have significant support, being the first or second option in most elections. In both regions, at least one regional party achieved representation in the Spanish Parliament in all of the 14 general elections since 1977. This is also the case of the Canary Islands, with the only exception of 1982. Furthermore, in 6 other regions: Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Galicia, Navarre, and the Valencian Community, regional parties have obtained representation. This shows us the relevance of non-state parties in the Spanish elections. In the Basque Country and Catalonia, but also in Galicia, the existence of a local language (Catalan, Basque and Galician) and certain culture peculiarities explain the stronger identity feelings of some voters towards the region than towards the national state. These feelings, capitalized by regional parties, explain the existence of different party systems in Catalonia and the Basque Country (in Galicia, the National Conservative party, PP, plays the role of a nationalist party).

Table 1. Results of regional parties in the 2019 Spanish general election

Regional parties in the general elections Votes: 28 April Percentages Coalition in the EP elections
Esquerra Republicana 1,044,942 4.01 Ahora Repúblicas
Junts Per Catalunya 497,638 1.91 Lliures per Europa
Partido Nacionalista Vasco 394,627 1.51 Coalición Por una Europa Solidaria
Euskal Herria Bildu 258,840 0.99 Ahora Repúblicas
Compromís 172,751 0.66 Compromiso por Europa
Coalición Canaria 137,196 0.53 Coalición Por una Europa Solidaria
Front Republicà 113,008 0.43 didn’t run
Bloque Nacionalista Galego 93,810 0.36 Ahora Repúblicas
Partido Regionalista de Cantabria 52,197 0.20 didn’t run
Nueva Canarias 36,193 0.14 Compromiso por Europa
Atarrabia Taldea (Geroa Bai) 22,150 0.08 Coalición Por una Europa Solidaria
En Marea 17,726 0.07 Compromiso por Europa
Proposta per les Illes 11,671 0.04 Coalición Por una Europa Solidaria
Coalición por Melilla 6,890 0.03 Compromiso por Europa
Ahora Canarias 3,027 0.01 Ahora Repúblicas
Compromiso por Galicia 2,692 0.01 Coalición Por una Europa Solidaria
Andecha Astur 909 0.00 Ahora Repúblicas
Puyalón 824 0.00 Ahora Repúblicas
Sub-total of listed regional parties 2,867,091 10.99 n.a.
Sub-total Ahora Repúblicas 1,402,352 5.38 n.a.
Sub-total Coalición Por una Europa Solidaria 568,336 2.18 n.a.
Sub-total Lliures per Europa 497,638 1.91 n.a.
Sub-total Compromiso por Europa 233,560 0.90 n.a.
Total valid votes 26,085,641 100.00 n.a.

Regional players in the EU arena employing a cross-regional electoral strategy

In 2019, Spain elected 54 MEPs. Although no legal threshold is required in Spain for this election, the relatively low number of MEPs would have represented most regional parties in the European Parliament, had they presented themselves individually. Interestingly, in the 2014 EP elections, the smallest party or coalition obtaining a seat was Primavera Europea, with 1.92 percent of the vote (a mark obtained only by Esquerra Republicana in Table 1), and the largest party unable to secure a seat was Vox, with 1.57 percent of the vote (only below Esquerra Republicana and Junts per Catalunya).

Regional parties in Spain were aware of this situation and engaged in a high degree of elite-level coordination, which resulted in four big coalitions of regional parties. Table 2 shows the names and labels of each of the parties conforming those coalitions, their EP groups in 2019 (if they belong to one), the region or regions where the parties have significant support, and their ideological orientation.

The first coalition, Ahora Repúblicas, includes several left- or radical left-wing parties that defend the right of Spanish regions to secede from Spain. Its most important members represent Catalonia (ERC), the Basque Country (EH Bildu), and Galicia (BNG). It also includes much smaller partners form the Canary Islands, Asturias, and Aragon.

The second coalition, Coalición por una Europa Solidaria (CEUS), is formed by an ideologically heterogeneous group of left, center-left, center and center-right parties. It is led by the parties from the Basque Country (PNV) and Canary Islands (CC/CCa). Again, it also includes much smaller parties from Galicia, the Balearic Islands, and the Valencian Community.

The third one, Lliures per Europa, although formally a coalition, is made up of different brands of what may be regarded as the same party, Puigdemont’s led Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) being the most recent of them. This new coalition of parties could be viewed as a split of the Catalan parties from CEUS, due to the changes (both leadership and ideological) of the traditional Covergència i Uniò (CiU), now known as JxCat.

Finally, Compromiso por Europa is another coalition of left- or radical left-wing nationalist parties from all corners of Spain (Valencia, Galicia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands, Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Ceuta, Melilla, and some others). Most of them are previous allies of Podemos. However, because of the leadership and electoral twin crises of Pablo Iglesias’ party, they decided to compete under the leadership of Compromís and, to a lesser extent, En Marea and CHA.

Table 2. Coalitions of regional parties in the 2019 European Parliament election in Spain

Spanish party name Label EP Group, 2019 Region Ideology
Ahora Repúblicas
Esquerra Republicana ERC EFA Catalonia, Balearic Islands and Valencia left
Euskal Herria Bildu EH Bildu Basque Country and Navarre left
Bloque Nacionalista Galego BNG EFA Galicia left
Ahora Canarias Canary Islands left
Andecha Astur Asturias left
Puyalón Aragón left
Coalición Por una Europa Solidaria CEUS  
Partido Nacionalista Vasco PNV ALDE Basque Country centre-left
Coalición Canaria CCa ALDE Canary Islands centre
Compromiso por Galicia CxG Galicia left
Proposta per les Illes El Pi Balearic Islands centre-right
Demòcrates Valencians DV Valencia centre
Atarrabia Taldea (Geroa Bai) ATALADEA Navarre centre-left
Lliures per Europa
Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya CDC Catalonia centre-right
Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català PDeCAT Catalonia centre-right
Junts Per Catalunya JxCat Catalonia centre-right
Compromiso por Europa
Compromís EG Valencia left
En Marea Galicia left
Chunta CHA EFA Aragon left
Més per Mallorca Balearic Islands left
Partido Castellano PCAS-TC Castille-Leon, Castille-La Mancha and Madrid left
Izquierda Andalucista IZA Andalusia left
Iniciativa del Pueblo Andaluz Andalusia left
Nueva Canarias NCa EFA Canary Islands left
Caballas Ceuta Ceuta left
Equo Iniciativa EQUO EG Spain left
Coalición por Melilla Melilla left
Verdes de Europa Spain left

Notes: ALDE: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe EG: European Greens; EFA: European Free Alliance.

Switching alliances: the results of Spanish regional coalitions in the 2019 EP election 

The Catalan conflict, involving an independence referendum in Catalonia in 2017 organized without the permission of the Spanish Government, ended up with the suppression of Autonomy in the Catalan region for eight months and with some Catalan secessionist leaders in jail. This conflict completely changed the political dynamics in Spain. On the one hand, the traditional conservative Catalan coalition CiU broke up and Convergència, its main party, adopted a new discourse and political style, now focused on the Independence of Catalonia. These developments also marked the end of its viability as a partner for building accords with the two traditional mainstream Spanish parties, the conservative PP and the socialist PSOE.

The regional coalitions built for the EP elections were also affected by these developments. On the one hand, and in order to maximize their electoral results, the 2014 EPDD (mainly ERC) and LPD (mainly EH Bildu and BNG) coalitions merged into a single coalition in 2019, Ahora Repúblicas. However, as Table 3 shows, they obtained the same number of seats (3) with somewhat less support. On the other hand, the 2014 coalition Coalición por Europa (CEU), formed by the Catalan CiU, the Basque PNV, the Canarian CC, split into two formations, Coalición por una Europa Solidaria (CEUS) and Lliures. The aggregate result of these both coalitions in 2019 was 7.36 percent of the votes. It was 1.94 percent more than in 2014 and meant the same number of MEP mandates for their candidates (3). The overall percentage of votes for the Spanish regional parties in 2019 was 14.34 whereas in 2014 it was 13.43. However, in 2019 they obtained one seat less, i.e. 6 instead of 7, as the coalition Compromiso por Europa did not maintain the seat that it gained in 2014.

Table 3. Results of the 2019 European Parliament election in Spain

Spanish party name 2014 2019 Difference 19-14
% votes Seats % votes Seats % votes Seats
PP 26,09 16 20,11 12 -5,98 -4
PSOE 23,01 14 32,82 20 9,81 6
Ciudadanos 3,16 2 12,2 7 9,04 5
Podemos + IU /Unidas Podemos (1) 18,01 11 10,06 6 -7,95 -5
EPDD/ Ahora República (EPDD + LPD) (2) 6,09 3 5,68 3 -0,41 0
Vox 1,56 0 6,21 3 4,65 3
Coalición por Europa (CEU)/ Coalición por una Europa Solidaria (CEUS) 5,42 3 2,73 1 -2,69 -2
Lliures (Junts) n.a. n.a. 4,63 2 n.a. n.a.
PACMA 1,1 0 1,31 0 0,21 0
Compromiso por Europa (3) 1,92 1 1,3 0 -0,62 -1
UPyD 6,51 4 n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a.
TOTAL 54 54
% Turnout 45,83 64,35

* In 2014 Podemos and IU ran in the 2014 EP election separately, now, they formed the Unidas Podemos coalition;

* We consider the 2019 Ahora Repúblicas as the merge of the 2014 EPDD (led by ERC) and LPD (led by EH Bildu and BNG).

* We consider the 2019 Compromiso por Europa as the successor of the 2014 Primavera Europea.

Despite the Catalan conflict, the results in the 2019 European Parliament election in Spain are more stable than one could expect, In general, the current distribution between the regional and national parties is quite similar to that of the 2014 European election.

NoteAndrés Santana and José Rama are researchers at the Political Science and International Relations Department of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

Image: © Kiryl Kascian.

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