Explaining the EP election results: Spain

Spain’s two-party system gets a warning and populists join the fray

Spain’s two-party system gets a warning and populists join the fray



Turnout was one percent higher than in 2009, but this is due to a spectacular rise in Catalonia (9 points) where people is deeply mobilized on secession. In the rest of the country, turnout was lower than in 2009.

The Campaigns

The campaign focused on austerity versus growth, typical left-right issues, with no “more or less” Europe debate.

Winners, Losers, and Eurosceptics

The biggest story in Spain is the victory of the governing party (PP). After three years of austerity, corruption scandals, and massive unemployment, they've lost a lot of support but at 26% they have survived.

The drama is for the Socialist Party, which has failed to capitalise on the discontent with austerity and haemorrhaged votes to the left. With only 23% of the vote, the Socialists are heading for an internal crisis that will make a general election win next year difficult.

Whereas citizens usually use European elections to penalize governments, here they've used to tell the opposition that they haven't forgiven them for their years in government and their failure to renew their leadership.

The big novelty in terms of parties is PODEMOS , a party which grew out of a fraction called “Anti-capitalist Left” and counts with important influence from the Latin American left. With 5 seats, they claim to work “to stop Spain being a colony of Germany and the Troika”. This has been a shock to the system because people thought that United Left (part of Tsipras' GUE) would do well. 


Spain has traditionally had a strong bi-partisan system, in which the two main parties enjoyed more than 70% of the vote. But in this election, they have only managed to get 49% of the vote. Citizens have thus sent a clear message that they are tired of the two-party system. The conservatives got 24 MEPS in 2009 and now they are at 16, and the Socialists were at 23 and they are at 14.  Is this a warning to the two main parties that have governed Spain since 1982 to fix themselves or is it the final nail on their coffin? We will see next year.

Read the views from the other European capitals here

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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