By Max Griera and Sarantis Michalopoulos
(EurActiv) — Following an inconclusive election in Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez must decide “quickly” whether he wants to join a coalition with the “extremes” or with “centrists”, a high-ranking European People’s Party (EPP) source told EURACTIV in the aftermath of Sunday’s (23 July) vote.
Although the centre-right PP, part of the EPP family, came out the relative winner, it is unlikely to be able to form a government on its own and Sanchez, who came in second, might stand a better chance, but he would still need coalition partners to stay in power for another mandate.
“As a centrist [Sánchez], does he want to address another centrist – PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo […] – or will he accept the extremes from each side to rule the country?”, the EPP source said, noting that Feijóo will first approach Sánchez’s PSOE for coalition talks.
The source said the PP, as the political force with the most votes, will “lead the negotiations to form a government and the first call will be to the socialist party”.
Asked if this means that the EPP is in favour of a grand coalition, the source replied, “ideally, yes”.
“Spanish people asked for change, stability, and dialogue between the two main political forces”, the source said, adding that the PP will also contact far-right Vox, but stressing that “under no circumstances will Vox be part of the new government”.
The source insisted, though, that the PP prefers PSOE to let it govern in a minority government and then collaborate in relevant pieces of legislation.
The election results yielded a complicated government-forming scenario, where pacts between different political forces will be needed, as no bloc clearly reached the required majority.
To achieve the necessary majority for a centre-left government PSOE (S&D) and Sumar (Left/Greens) would need to count on the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, something the PP has qualified as unacceptable.
At the same time, PP fell short of their desired absolute majority with only 136 seats, and Vox’s underwhelming result with only 33 seats – 19 fewer than in 2019 – made the possible replication of the Italian right-wing model in Spain unviable.
The source, who spoke to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity, said Feijóo is the clear winner of the elections as he managed to skyrocket the numbers of the centre-right compared to the election in 2019.
“Sánchez must decide quickly, as there is also the Spanish EU Council Presidency and the longer it takes to decide, the more instability will be created”, the source added.
For the moment, Feijóo has asked Sánchez on Monday for a state pact on “four or five points” in exchange for letting the PP govern alone in a minority government.
The EPP source explained that Feijóo had a “centrist” attitude during the campaign despite intensive rumours about a coalition with far-right Vox.
How Brussels is affected
Before the election, Feijóo had said he preferred to govern alone, without Vox, but he never explicitly ruled out a coalition with the far-right.
Vox failed massively in the elections which, according to another EPP source, creates a big problem for the EU centre-right leadership, including the party president, German Manfred Weber.
The second EPP source noted that Weber wanted a coalition with Vox in order to overthrow PSOE from the Spanish government.
“Weber lost a big bet […] he was counting on Feijóo getting the power to strengthen his plans in Brussels”, the second EPP source said.
“Weber thought he could replicate the model of Sweden or Finland in Spain too […] but he failed”, the second EPP source noted, adding that Vox’s collapse reshuffles the cards in the EPP too.
Rumours are swirling in Brussels that relations between Weber and European Commission chief, fellow German Ursula von der Leyen, have reached an all-time low.
The clash escalated after Weber – with the cooperation of far-right forces in the EU Parliament – opposed the EU Nature Restoration Law, a vital part of the Green Deal driven by von der Leyen.
Before the Spanish elections, von der Leyen clearly hinted that the EPP should stick to the centre and stop courting the far-right.
“We, the democratic groups of the centre, we have to show that we have a clear idea how we want to address the change that is happening”, she said in a joint press conference with Sánchez on 4 July.
Asked to comment on Weber’s attitude toward Vox, the first high-ranking EPP source said it was a “groundless” argument.
“Is there evidence that Weber wanted a coalition government between PP and Vox [..] if there is, show me”, the official said.
EURACTIV indeed confirmed that at least officially, Weber did not make any public statement in favour of a coalition between Vox and PP, despite the rumours.
The rise of Ayuso?
Meanwhile, Spanish media reported that Feijóo’s failure to get an absolute majority and govern either alone or with Vox puts his leadership to the test.
Critics suggest that Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the chief of Madrid’s community, is already eyeing his position. During Feijóo’s speech in front of PP’s national headquarters after the final election results were announced, the crowd interrupted him by chanting “Ayuso, Ayuso”.
But such a development would have an impact on Brussels too.
“Ayuso is a close ally of former EPP secretary general Antonio López, who was kicked out by Weber when he took over the party’s leadership”, the second EPP source said.
“Ayuso’s rise in PP leadership will change the balances in Brussels too”, the source added, insisting that Feijóo was Weber’s “last hope” to establish his leadership in the EPP.
López, who served as EPP secretary-general for 20 years, is still an influential figure within the party, on the opposite side from Manfred Weber, and getting his ally to lead the biggest Spanish party, or even the government, would shift the balance of power within the EPP.