SPAIN. AFTER THE GENERAL ELECTIONS, HIGH RISK OF IMPASSE
(August 8th, 2023)
MADRID. After the early general elections of July 23rd, there is a high risk of an impasse which could lead, as we will explain later, to a new popular consultation.
In fact, neither of the two opposing blocs emerged clearly victorious from the polls, being able to dispose of the absolute majority of seats in the Congress of the Deputies.
WHY AN ELECTION IN JULY?
Pedro Sánchez, outgoing President of the Government and Secretary General of the PSOE, is responsible for the decision to call the general elections for Sunday July 23rd after the leftwing coalition he led had suffered a crushing defeat in the local and regional elections on May 28th.
Making use of the prerogatives attributed to it by art. 115.1 of the 1978 constitution, he proposed to King Felipe VI to dissolve the Cortes and call elections a few months ahead of the natural expiry of the four-year mandate.
The cited article reads:
“The President of the Government, after deliberation by the Council of Ministers, and under his exclusive responsibility, can propose the dissolution […] of the Cortes Generales, which will be decreed by the King. The dissolution decree will fix the date of the elections.” 
The objectives that the Premier intended to achieve were at least three:
1. avoid the agony of a legislature now winding down;
2. block in the bud the advance of the right-wing coalition made up of PP and Vox, which, as the results of 28-M demonstrated, had the wind in its sails;
3. forcing the extreme left, formed by various factions fighting against each other to unite in order to avoid disappearing.
In this way, in a few weeks, about twenty parties to the left of the PSOE formed a cartel which, as we’ll see, managed to enter parliament.
As mentioned, two de facto coalitions were confronting each other on the national scene the right-wing one made up of PP and Vox, and the left-wing one made up of PSOE and Sumar.
Alongside these formations, the picture included a vast set of regional lists that have always played an important role on the Madrid political scene.
So let’s see how it went in detail.
Having absorbed the votes of Ciudadanos, a party born about fifteen years ago, of a liberal-centrist orientation, which in recent years has suffered a lethal haemorrhage of votes after reaching the peak of consensus only in 2019, the Popular Party (PP ) collected over 8 million votes, equal to 33.3% of the preferences. His parliamentary group will go from 89 to 137 members, registering an increase of 48 units.
Obviously, on the night of the elections, the president of this party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo claimed the right to be the next head of government because he is the leader of the political force with the most votes.
Feijóo, however,he has to deal with Vox, an ultra-right party, which can bring him important votes and which obviously makes rather onerous political and programmatic demands this party, however, comes out defeated at the polls. It gets 3 million votes, decreases by about 3 percentage points, but leaves 19 seats on the ground, achieving 33.
At present, the conservative bloc can count on 170 votes.
The polls of the day before had predicted a “derrota” of the izquierda which did not happen in reality.
The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) collected over 7 million votes, equal to 32% and elected 121 MPs (one more than in the previous legislature).
Sumar, the coalition hurriedly put together by Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz, managed to collect 12.4% of the ballots and elected 31 MPs.
In this case it is certainly true that Sumar has not even remotely revived the glories of Podemos which only a few years ago won 71 deputies and closely threatened the socialist leadership of the Spanish left, but the risk this time for the various formations of radical progressives was not to elect not even one deputy, since the electoral system, which is not strictly proportional, provides for the allocation of seats to take place on a provincial basis without recovery of the remains.
Consequently, especially in the smaller provinces, with few mandates to be assigned, the bar below which no one is elected can reach 18-20% or even 24% of the ballots. It is no coincidence that the big parties, during the final phase of the electoral campaign, addressing the voters of the provinces with fewer inhabitants, appealed to the so-called useful vote in order to increase the number of elected representatives to the detriment of the lists with fewer following.
Right now, the progressive bloc has 152 votes.
THE REGIONAL PARTIES
To complete the composition of the new Spanish lower house, it is necessary to mention the 28 elected members of the various regional lists.
They come from the Basque provinces, from Catalonia, from the Canary Islands and from Navarra they are bearers of the interests of their areas of reference and they promise their vote to the prime minister candidate who is willing to satisfy their demands.
Consequently, there will be weeks of exhausting negotiations in which everyone will sell dearly and even the single deputy, since the investiture can also depend on the abstention of a single individual will make the requests of Coalición Canaria or Unión del Pueblo Navarro essential which have only one seat.
The elections of 23rd July changed the balance of power in the various regions let’s see the different situations in detail.
The main novelty in this region is the success of EH bildu, the political force that interprets the most radical version of Basque separatism. Arnaldo Otegi’s party collected 6 seats and prevailed over the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) which lost one deputy (it will only have 5).
These two formations are obviously hostile to the neo-centralist line of the PP and Vox and perhaps are willing to facilitate the re-election of Sánchez, but this will not happen without concessions in terms of central administration funding for the Vitoria government.
Equally significant changes have taken place in Catalonia, the region that in 2014 and 2017 celebrated two referendums, not recognized by Madrid, to break away from Spain and proclaim an independent republic.
As had already partly happened during the local elections in May, the independence front suffered setbacks.
Esquerra Republicana (ERC), the formation that today leads the Barcelona government, loses half of its seats in Madrid and Junts for Cat, the most radically secessionist alignment leaves a mandate on the field, while the Catalan socialist party (PSC) reaches 34% of votes.
This happens at a time when the separatist movement seems to be losing support today, opinion polls say, only 42% of Catalans want to separate from Felipe’s kingdom, while 52% prefer the status quo.
The more radical separatists offer their votes to Sánchez if an amnesty law is enacted for Carles Puigdemont and other exponents of hard and pure separatism still self-exiled abroad.
However, this request is inadmissible for the PSOE which has always fought the secessionist outbursts. A channel of dialogue with Catalanism could be a plan by Madrid to cover the enormous debt accumulated by Barcelona towards the central administration 78 billion euros. Overall, the autonomous communities and cities owe the state 187 billion.
In the end, a second vote could be reached with JuntsxCat deputies abstaining, which would allow Sánchez to remain in Moncloa, but it will be necessary to negotiate until the end some sectors of Junts, in fact, already before the elections would have preferred a PP- Vox based on the slogan tanto peor, mejor. but others are more reasonable.
After the elections, the institutional machine is slowly getting into motion, which at the moment has only one fixed date 17th August.
On that day the new Cortes will be officially sworn in, articulated in the Congreso de los Diputados, (350 seats), the true political driving force of Spain, and by the Senate, (265 seats, of which 208 elected on a provincial basis with universal suffrage and another 57 chosen by the assemblies of the different territorial entities).
The two assemblies will elect their respective presidents. After that, the parliamentary groups must be formed within five days.
Around 24th August, the President of the Congress should be able to communicate to the King the list of groups and their respective spokespersons (group leaders)at that point, pursuant to art. 99 of the aforementioned constitution, the procedure for the designation of the new President of the Government will start, which the fundamental law outlines as follows:
“1. After each renewal of the Congress of Deputies […] the King, having heard the representatives designated by the political groups with parliamentary representation, and through the President of the Congress, proposes a candidate for the presidency of the Government.
2. The candidate proposed pursuant to the previous paragraph will present the political program of the Government that he intends to form and will ask for trust.
3. If the chamber, with the vote of the absolute majority of its members (176 out of 350, NDR), gives confidence to the candidate, the King will appoint him President. If this majority is not reached, the same proposal will be put to the vote again 48 hours later and confidence is deemed granted if it obtains a simple majority.
4. If, after the aforesaid votes, confidence is not granted, the subsequent proposals will be treated according to the procedures set out in the preceding paragraphs.
5. If after two months from the first investiture vote, no candidate has obtained the confidence of the Congress, the King will dissolve both Houses and call new elections with the approval of the President of the Congress.”
The constitutional provision does not impose time limits
• the King could conduct even more than one round of consultations to mature a more certain decision to obtain parliamentary consensus;
• the candidate designated by him, before presenting himself to Congress, could hold meetings with individual deputies, in order to guarantee himself the votes he needs for election either on the first or on the second ballot.
Finally, it should be noted that the votes for the investiture of the President of the Government take place by open roll call this avoids the all-Italian phenomenon of snipers.
In short it could take many weeks to get at an actual investiture.
Assuming that Felipe opens his talks with the parties at the end of August, the first debate on confidence could take place within the first half of September. Should it end badly, from that moment those sixty days would begin to flow beyond which, if a head of government is not elected, the Cortes must be dissolved and the electors reconvened, which could happen in early January 2024.
As you recall, there were two general elections in 2015-16 and 2019 in the rapid span of a few months.
Not only that in January 2016 the candidate for President proposed by the sovereign, the then leader of the Popolars Mariano Rajoy, refused the job because he declared “I don’t have the votes to be invested.”
Let us add that the 1978 constitution introduced constructive distrust into the Spanish legal system, as envisaged by the basic German law.
Congress may pass a motion of censure against the incumbent Premier, indicating in writing who is to replace him. The motion is considered accepted if it obtains 176 votes, the absolute majority of the members of the Congress.
in June 2018, for example, such a motion was approved, resulting in the fall of the last Rajoy cabinet and the installation of socialist leader Pedro Sánchez in his place.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE SPANISH PREMIER AND HIS ITALIAN COLLEAGUE
The often mentioned constitution of 1978 attributes to the head of the Spanish government prerogatives that his Italian colleague does’nt gets.
As we have seen, the tenant of the Moncloa can propose, if necessary, to the King the dissolution of the Cortes and the calling of general elections.
Furthermore, he can remove members of his cabinet or give them different portfolio.
Briefly, his legal status is that of a superior with respect to ministers and secretaries of State.
Someone has compared his legal figure to that of the German Chancellor he too is elected by the Bundestag, he can be removed, through a constructive no-confidence motion, he can dismiss unwelcome ministers, he can propose the early convocation of federal elections.
(In Germany the election of the BundesKanzler takes place by secret ballot by the Bundestag).
As is known, the Italian Prime Minister cannot do any of these things he does not have the power to dismiss ministers and cannot propose the dissolution of the Chambers. In the event of no confidence voted by one of the two chambers, he must resign, leaving the Head of State with the option of appointing a successor or disolving the two houses of Parliament in view of new elections.
We say that the PCM is a primus inter pares in the past it was certainly like this, even if in recent decades the legal figure of the tenant of Palazzo Chigi, in practice, has become a little more similar to that of a prime minister.
All the Presidents of the Spanish Government sooner or later proceeded to more or less profound cabinet reshuffles and many called early general elections since the reconquest of democracy (1975) and the launch of the constitution (1978) there were 15 general elections and a number of administrative and regional polls.
Also since 1975, Moncloa has had 8 premiers the record for the term of office belongs to the socialist Felipe González Márquez who remained premier for 14 years (1982-96); the most ephemeral, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo (1981-82).
In Italy, as is known, governments are less lasting (68 from 1946 to today) and the presidents of the Council of Ministers who have succeeded one another at Palazzo Chigi since the proclamation of the Republic have been around thirty.
The longest-lived politically, Alcide De Gasperi (1945-53), the more ephemeral Ferdinando Tambroni Armaroli (March-July 1960).
WHY WAS THE SPANISH VOTE SO IMPORTANT AND EXPECTED
The media from all over the world have paid great attention to the developments in the Spanish affair because less than a year after the renewal of the European Parliament (6-9 June 2024) there was fear that the right, indeed the ultra-right, would rise to the government of one of the most important countries of the EU.
The citizens of the country were also aware of this reality and in fact they went to the polls en masse, registering a participation rate among the highest in recent years, over 70%.
This has probably clipped the wings of the conservative coalition that had won the local elections in May hands down.
In addition, the concrete risk of the election of a right-wing government almost fifty years after the death of Francisco Franco has influenced the behavior of both voters and parties adverse to the advance of the blu-black combination.
For example, Steven Forti, professor of contemporary history at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and one of the most acute analysts of the Vox phenomenon, shares this opinion. Interviewed by avvenire.it the day after the vote of 23 July, he explains «The possibility of having the extreme right within the government has remobilized the progressive electorate who, instead, had remained more on the sidelines during the regional and municipal. In particular, there has been a strong position taken by women in the face of the risk of seeing some laws on gender-based violence modified. Furthermore, Abascal (the leader of Vox, NDR) has focused heavily on the so-called slogan echar al sanchismo, expel Sanchismo, also repeated by the popular. Not Sánchez but Sanchismo. an invented category, which would include all the so-called enemies of Spain socialism, communism, independence, globalism, feminism. The idea was sold that the PSOE government was supported by terrorists, above all by pro-ETA Basque groups, which obviously was not true. Vox was so focused on this frontal attack that he forgot to present his idea of a country. Apart from the rhetoric, he almost never spoke about the program and this, in the end, weighed.
And for Europe, what message is coming from Madrid?
It is no mystery, we add, that the campaign for next year’s EU elections has already begun practically everywhere and it is well known that the various right-wing parties in government in many member countries, including Sweden, Finland, Poland, Hungary, Greece and Italy are trying to create a coalition that will lead the EPP to agree with the right-wing groups present in Strasbourg to elect a president of the commission next year with a conservative nationalist orientation, so as to create the Europe of Nations of which it speaks openly the Italian premier Giorgia Meloni. The consequence would be a Europe in which individual states would, much more than today, prevail over community needs. A large market, where, however, the 27 would always have the possibility of setting limits and obstacles to the movement of goods and people.
Above all, a Europe that is increasingly an earthenware pot compared to the many iron pots already acting on the world stage China and the United States first of all.
The result of the Spanish vote marks a setback for this project, but in the autumn there will be votes elsewhere and it is not said that in Poland, Slovakia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands the national conservative lists will not win and will not come to power.
Furthermore, as we have seen, not even in Spain can we be sure that there will be no voting again in a few months, calling into question the interlocutory outcome that we have described previously, but which nonetheless leaves glimmers open for the constitution of a pro-European majority and reformist.
PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI
 Constitución del Reino de España, 6 December 1978, art. 115, apartado 1;
 Constitución del Reino de España cit. art. 99;
the translation from the original Spanish is mine.
 L. Capuzzi, «Da Madrid un chiaro monito per le Europee: l’idea di spostare il Ppe a destra è un rischio», avvenire.it, 25 July 2023.