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Spain has the EU Presidency. But who will lead Madrid after the snap election?

Berta López Domènech

Date: 05/07/0023
On 1 July, Spain assumed the Presidency of the EU Council. However, at the national level, all attention is now focused on the upcoming general election. Initially scheduled for December, the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, moved forward the vote to 23 July after the poor performance of the Socialist Party in the local and regional elections held in May.

Spain holds the so-called 'golden presidency', the last fully operative presidency before the European elections in June 2024. Therefore, the Southern European country was expected to make progress and finalise several legislative files currently under discussion before the end of the term. Spain aimed, for instance, at securing a deal on the reform of the EU’s electricity market and the fiscal framework.

The political turmoil at the national level and the eventual change of government will not disrupt the technical functioning of the presidency. Still, its legislative capacity will depend on the swiftness of the government’s formation in Madrid.

Under the motto “Europe, closer”, Spain’s main objective will be to strengthen the EU’s unity, deepen the Union’s integration, and widen it, with continued support for Ukraine. Pedro Sánchez demonstrated this commitment by inaugurating the presidency in Kyiv. During the upcoming semester, Spain will focus on advancing in the green transition and promoting social and economic justice. Strengthening the EU’s open strategic autonomy will also be high on the agenda to reduce the EU’s dependency on third countries in key areas while enhancing its relations with strategic partners, namely Latin America.

These priorities will not alter with an eventual change of government. Nevertheless, the political dimension of the Presidency, and the ability of Spain to seize it to strengthen its role at the centre of the EU, will depend on what happens after 23 July and the timely formation of a government. No executive will be formed until at least early September. However, if no candidate manages to secure a majority in the first investiture session, the process could be delayed until the end of the year. In this case, Spain would have an acting government distracted with national politics and with little time to focus on Brussels until almost the end of the semester.

At the national level, what will happen after the elections is uncertain. Polls give victory to the conservative Popular Party (EPP), but the Socialist Party (S&D) has gained strength and reduced the gap in the last week. What is almost certain is that neither of the two main parties will be able to secure an absolute majority of 176 seats in Parliament’s lower chamber. Therefore, there are two possible post-election scenarios: either a conservative government with the support of the far-right Vox or the re-validation of the left-wing coalition formed by the Socialist Party and Sumar (coalition gathering the parties on the left of PSOE, including Unidas Podemos) with the support of the pro-independence and other regional parties.

Berta López Domènech is a Programme Assistant in the European Politics and Institutions programme at the European Policy Centre.

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