The EP Elections in Spain: A New Composition of the Radical-right?

Several people during a rally calling for the contra la amnistía resignation of Pedro Sanchez, at Plaza de Cibeles, on March 9, 2024, in Madrid, Spain. Photo: Oscar Gonzales Fuentes.

The elections to the EP in Spain largely reflect the broader trends occurring at the European Union (EU) level but also have unique dynamics and consequences. Notably, the evolution of the radical-right space is crucial; it appears divided yet shows potential for growth. The expansion of the Eurosceptic radical-right should concern all pro-European parties. It seems logical for mainstream parties to consider whether incorporating radical-right ideas contributes to their normalization and electoral success.

By Hugo Marcos-Marne*

A major concern before the European Parliament (EP) elections was the electoral strength of the radical right and, relatedly, the ability of mainstream parties to resist electorally. Overall results for the 27 member states indicate the consolidation of radical-right parties as a significant electoral force, but also show that mainstream center-left and center-right parties retained enough power to secure a majority in the EP. However, aggregate results often mask different or even divergent dynamics, highlighting that EP elections have had heterogeneous outcomes across European Union (EU) countries. This commentary focuses on the results and effects of the EP elections in Spain.

The elections held on June 9th took place after a polarized electoral campaign in which national issues occupied a prominent role. As a textbook example in this regard, the main opposition party (Partido Popular, PP) framed the campaign as a plebiscite against the Prime Minister (Pedro Sánchez), and there were abundant references to “internal issues” such as the amnesty law affecting the Catalan procés, alleged corruption cases affecting the Socialist government, or the government’s decision to recognize the Palestinian state. The relevance of national issues in the EP elections is well reflected in data gathered just before the elections by the Spanish Center for Sociological Research (CIS). Only 29% of the respondents declared that EU and EP topics would be key for them to cast their vote, a figure that reaches 63% when they were asked about the importance of national politics. Furthermore, more than 50% of the respondents declared to be little or no informed at all about EU issues, and only 4.8% of the sample assigned the highest importance to the EP elections (CIS study 3458). This is in line with an interpretation of the EP elections as second-order, which can also be seen in the low(er) turnout rates.

The elections’ main results had been anticipated by most polls. The PP won the elections with roughly 34% of the valid votes (22 MEPs), followed by the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) with 30% of the votes (20 MEPs), and the radical-right VOX occupied the third place with 9.6% of the suffrages (6 MEPs). The fourth place was to the electoral coalition Ahora Repúblicas (Now Republics), formed by left-wing peripheral nationalist parties such as EH-Bildu, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) or the Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG) (4.9% and 3 MEPs). A divided state-wide radical-left won approximately 8% of the votes and 5 seats in the EP (SUMAR 4.9% and 3 MEPs, Podemos 3.3% and 2 MEPs), and the candidatures by Junts and CEUS (lead Partido Nacionalista Vasco and Coalición Canaria) secured one MEP each. 

The 61 seats that Spain had in the EP were completed with the 3 seats (4.6% of the valid vote) gained by the anti-politics/outsider candidature Se Acabó La Fiesta (SALF, The Party Is Over). SALF is led by Luís Pérez (commonly known as Alvise Pérez), a former political advisor retrained into social media activist with a discourse combining anti-feminist, anti-immigration, nationalist, and anti-party ideas, the latter mostly directed against PSOE and left-wing forces. Pérez has also incorporated strong authoritarian ideas in his (quickly formed) electoral platform, such as building a macro jail for 40,000 people, restating forced labor, or allowing security forces to kill drug dealers.

There is an overall intuitive connection between the general results at the EU level and those from Spain. The main representatives of both the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) family come in first and second place, respectively. The liberals lost many votes, to the extent that Ciudadanos disappeared from the EP (0.7% of the votes, 0 MEPs). The stablished radical-right party VOX improved their results to a certain extent, and a new outsider platform (SALF) strongly aligned with radical-right ideas emerged and secured 3 seats in the EP. Therefore, the results of the elections in Spain evidence the strength of mainstream parties, suggest a general movement towards the right, and leave a divided space in the radical-right camp that is now occupied by two forces. 

In fact, more than 50% of SALF supporters had voted for VOX in the past general elections, which raises the question of what the main differences between those are who remained loyal to VOX and those who switched to SALF. It initially looks as if the electorate of SALF is (even) more masculinized, younger, more educated, and self-position comparatively less to the right on the left-right scale (CIS Study 3458). It is notable that the most popular points on the ideological scale among those who intended to vote for VOX were 8 and 10, with more than 52% choosing one of these options. For those who intended to vote for SALF, the most popular points were 5 and 7, with more than 56% selecting one of the two. Various interpretations may explain this phenomenon, including a less radical electorate casting protest votes regardless of the electoral platform, a less informed electorate that does not interpret the left-right scale in the same way, or an electorate influenced by desirability biases, choosing not to identify with the radical right while supporting policies typically associated with that space. Future analyses are needed to determine if SALF resorts to populist ideas, but preliminary evidence suggests its discourse resembles that of other politicians who use strong anti-elite rhetoric without constructing a benevolent and homogeneous definition of the people.

The elections to the EP have had significant consequences in some member states, such as Belgium, where the Prime Minister resigned, and France, where legislative elections have been announced. In Spain, the effects were less dramatic but still notable. Yolanda Díaz, founder of SUMAR, resigned her position as party general coordinator, although she remains the vice-president of the government and Minister of Labor. The election results may also impact the ongoing formation of a government in Catalonia, where the PSOE was the most voted party on June 9th, following Salvador Illa’s success in the May 2024 regional elections.

The elections to the EP in Spain largely reflect the broader trends occurring at the European level but also have unique dynamics and consequences. Notably, the evolution of the radical-right space is crucial; it appears divided yet shows potential for growth. The expansion of the Eurosceptic radical-right should concern all pro-European parties. It seems logical for mainstream parties to consider whether incorporating radical-right ideas contributes to their normalization and electoral success.

(*) Dr. Hugo Marcos Marné is an Assistant Professor at the University of Salamanca.

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