Category Archives: Spain

EU 2014: Spain and Sweden


Finally, I can wrap up this summer-long analysis of the results of the EP elections in the EU’s 28 member-states, with a final look at the last two member-states in this series – Spain and Sweden.


Turnout: 43.81% (-1.09%)
Seats: 54 (nc)
Electoral system: Closed list PR, no threshold (national constituency)

PP (EPP) 26.09% (-16.03%) winning 16 seats (-8)
PSOE (S&D) 23.01% (-15.77%) winning 14 seats (-9)
Izquierda Plural (GUE/NGL) 10.03% (+6.32%) winning 6 seats (+4)
Podemos (GUE/NGL) 7.98% (+7.98%) winning 5 seats (+5)
UPyD (ALDE) 6.51% (+3.66%) winning 4 seats (+3)
CEU (ALDE/EPP) 5.42% (+0.32%) winning 3 seats (nc)
EPDD (G-EFA) 4.01% (+1.52%) winning 2 seats (+1)
C’s (ALDE) 3.16% (+3.02%) winning 2 seats (+2)
LPD (GUE/NGL) 2.08% (+0.96%) winning 1 seat (+1)
PE (G-EFA) 1.92% (+1.92%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Vox 1.57% (+1.57%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PACMA 1.13% (+0.87%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 4.79% (+2.81%) winning 0 seats (nc)


Map source: Wikipedia

Spain is the EU’s fifth largest economy and also its fifth most populous member-state. Since 2008, Spain has been hit hard by the economic crisis, and the country’s protracted economic and social crisis has had significant political ramifications.

Spain enjoyed several years of solid economic growth at the turn of the century, including five consecutive years (2003 to 2007) of growth over 3%. The roots of this growth – and, subsequently, the collapse and prolonged economic crisis – was a rapid property boom between 1997 and 2007, characterized by an exponential increase in housing prices and a booming construction industry. The housing bubble was caused by a strong push towards home ownership in Spain during the transition to democracy, which was promoted by government policies (15% of mortgage payments were tax-deductible, and the liberalization of land use and construction regulations), low interest rates, the lax terms on mortgage loans granted by banks to individuals and businesses. Between 1997 and 2007, the average price by square metre increased from just over €1000/m² to just under €3000/m². To accede to property ownership, many households became heavily indebted – in 2007, when the bubble burst, household debt stood at nearly 130% of income. Although all the warning signs of a housing bubble and its inevitable explosion had been there for several years, successive governments – both José María Aznar’s conservative People’s Party (PP) government from 1996 to 2004 and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s first Socialist (PSOE) government from 2004 to 2008 – kept whistling the problem away, insisting that Spain’s growth was built on very solid and sustainable foundations, and promoted the myth that Spanish banks were the strongest in western Europe. Politicians, banks, the construction industry and Spanish homeowners in general were all complicit in the bubble. Similar to the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States, Spanish banks – especially the cajas de ahorro (savings banks) – granted mortgage loans on extremely lax terms. Politicians invested heavily in the housing sector, and took advantage of the low interest rates and the cajas‘ terms to indulge in ambitious and lavish pet projects – new highways, new airports, new housing developments, new cultural centres and museums, expansion of the high-speed rail network (AVE) and other projects which have become white elephants, symbols to the optimism and illusions of the bubble years. Regional governments – Spain’s seventeen comunidades autónomas (autonomous communities) account for 35-40% of total spending and have extensive powers on matters such as healthcare and education – borrowed and spent heavily. Some of the regions which became the most heavily indebted were the coastal boom regions of the Valencian Community, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Murcia and Andalusia but also interior regions such as Castilla-La Mancha.

In the 2008 electoral campaign, the governing PSOE ran heavily on the idea that Spain was an economic champion, dismissed the opposition PP’s warnings as fear-mongering and made several promises to voters (notably a cheque bebé  a €2500 grant for every Spanish baby). Pedro Solbes, the Socialist finance minister at the time, repeatedly dismissed all warning signs of the impeding collapse as being extremely exaggerated. In any case, the PSOE was reelected with a plurality of seats, and responded to the ‘deceleration’ of the Spanish economy with a stimulus package which injected millions of euros into the banks, public works projects and goodies. However, with GDP growth collapsing to only 0.9% in 2008, the Socialist government was quickly forced to admit that there was a crisis and to adopt austerity measures, which became increasingly hard-hitting and stringent as time passed and the slowdown became a full-blown crisis. Between the third quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010, for example, the unemployment rate increased dramatically from 11.2% to 17.2%. Several cajas threatened to go under, having invested heavily in the construction industry, and the government intervened to inject liquidity into several of them beginning in 2009. Between 2009 and 2011, the Socialist government passed several austerity packages which included tax hikes (a 2% increase in the VAT to 18% in 2009), wage cuts for public servants, a pension freeze, the elimination of the cheque bebé and spending cuts. In 2010, a labour reform which included a shorter term for severance pay and strengthened the employer’s ability to unilaterally modify working conditions led to a general strike in September 2010. In 2011, finally, the government’s pension reform increased the retirement age to 67.

The PSOE’s popularity collapsed in 2010 and 2011, and the party suffered extremely several loses in the regional and municipal elections in May 2011. In July 2011, Zapatero announced snap elections would be held in November 2011 and that he would not be the PSOE’s candidate for the presidency of the government (in Spain, the ‘Prime Minister’ is known as the Presidente del Gobierno). Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who had been the First Vice President of the government under Zapatero, led a demoralized and pessimistic PSOE into the election. Zapatero left behind a catastrophic economic and social situation: unemployment now stood at over 21%, the deficit had ballooned to 9.6% of GDP (between 2005 and 2008, the government had run a surplus), Spain’s low-ish public debt had increased to 70.5% from 40% in 2008 and growth was going red again after a short-lived period of growth in early 2011 (Spain was in recession in 2009 and 2010, with -3.8% and -0.2%; growth was 0.1% in 2011). In this context, the opposition PP – despite its deadwood leader, Mariano Rajoy, having lost two successive elections (in 2004 and 2008) and the party failing to generate much enthusiasm at all, was the runaway favourite to win. In order to maximize its chances of winning, the right-wing PP promised ill-defined ‘change’ and ‘austerity without pain’ – no tax hikes, a revaluation of pensions or cuts where it would hurt (education, healthcare, social services). In fact, the PP even attacked the PSOE for the government’s cuts to social benefits. Regardless of what one might say about this kind of campaigning, the voters trusted the PP on the issues which mattered (the economy and jobs), and the PSOE suffered an historic rout. The PP won 44.6% and 186 in the Congress of Deputies, giving it an absolute majority and its best result in any election. The PSOE, however, won only 28.8%, its worst result in the party’s post-Francoist history. The election also saw an uptick in support for the United Left (IU), the old radical left coalition around the Communist Party (PCE) – which won 11 seats, up 9; the centrist anti-nationalist Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) led by former Socialist Rosa Díez, which won 5 seats. In the regions, the Catalan Socialists (PSC) suffered an historic defeat at the hands of the moderate nationalist Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition, which had regained power regionally a year prior; in the Basque Country, the abertzale left (nationalist left) Amaiur coalition placed second with an historically high level of support – the nationalist left in Euskadi has been benefiting splendidly from the 2010 cease-fire and now “definitive cessation of armed activity” (since October 2011) announced by the terrorist separatist organization Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), which has signaled the conclusion of violence in the region after over 50 years.

The economy plunged back into recession in the second quarter of 2011, and remained mired in recession until the third quarter of 2013. On taking power, Mariano Rajoy soon had to deal with the harsh reality of power and the Spanish economy. In its first austerity package in December 2011, the government increased income and land value taxes, froze the minimum wage and public sector wages, froze public sector hiring (except in the security forces, education and healthcare) and cut spending by €8.9 billion; but it still had some goodies to offer – a revaluation of pensions by 1%, continuing a €400 subsidy to the long-term unemployed and the mortgage tax deduction. Madrid, for now, was committed to reducing its deficit to 4.4% in 2012 (from 9.6% in 2011), as agreed upon with the EU, but it soon became clear that Spain would miss its deficit target and that the amount of cuts required to meet the target were unrealistic. In March 2012, Rajoy changed Spain’s deficit target to 5.8%. The government’s first budget, announced at the end of March 2012, announcing savings to reduce the deficit by €27 billion – including the largest spending cuts in the history of Spanish democracy. However, while the government cut spending and raised taxes, it doggedly refused to increase the VAT, cut public servants’ wages or touch pensions and unemployment benefits. The government later changed course, and announced a 3% increase in the VAT to 21%, after having previously refused to raise it. In April, the government also announced further cuts worth €10 billion, mostly in education and healthcare (which meant co-pays in healthcare, increased class sizes, increase in tuition fees), and these cuts led to an historic strike by public education employees in May 2012.

The PP government’s labour law reform in February 2012 aimed at increasing ‘flexibility’ by making it easier for employers to layoff employees by further reducing the duration of severance pay (20 days’ pay for each year worked, for a maximum of 12 months for ‘appropriate dismissals’; and down from 45 to 33 days’ wages for each year worked for a maximum of 24 months for inappropriate dismissals), loosening the reasons for which employees may be laid off (employees must now prove that the dismissal was inappropriate), facilitating collective dismissals including in the public sector and allowing for employers to make unilateral decisions on working conditions in certain cases. Considering it as an attack on workers’ rights, all leading labour unions called for a general strike on March 29.

The government faced another major challenge: the banking sector, which was shackled by ‘toxic assets’ and a high number of bad loans, left overs from the ‘debt binge’ of the real estate boom years when households and contractors took out loans on lax terms. After the bubble burst, banks acquired properties from developers before the loans which supported them went bad. Foreclosures mounted as recession set in, leaving Spanish banks as the owners of a very large stock of empty homes. Many felt that Rajoy’s government evaluated the crisis the wrong way – it treated public finances as the cause of the economic crisis, rather than the symptom, and wasted precious time by attacking the deficit when it should have cleaned up the banking sector. In the spring and summer of 2012, Spain faced a banking crisis, which forced the government to take decisive action. Two financial reforms were approved in February and May 2012, both with the aims of cleaning up the banking sector and restructuring the myriad of failing cajas into stronger, larger financial entities. The state had previously been forced to intervene in several cajas, by nationalizing or recapitalizing them, and despite the financial reforms, would be forced to intervene when Bankia – a large bank created by the merger of seven cajas, badly exposed to the housing bubble, in 2011 – needed injections of €10 billion in public funds, which soon spiraled upwards to €23.5 billion and was nationalized by the state. Rodrigo Rato, the former Managing Director of the IMF and Spain’s economy and/or finance minister under Aznar’s government, had previously resigned as president of Bankia. In the wake of Bankia, in a ‘black Monday’, other Spanish banks saw their shares drop and risk premiums reached all-time highs, close to the levels at which Greece, Portugal and Ireland had been forced to seek EU-IMF bailouts; yet, Rajoy insisted that there would be no need for a bailout of Spain’s banking sector. The government’s handling of the crisis was criticized by the ECB’s Mario Draghi and PSOE leader Rubalcaba.

After other banks required public money, an IMF report estimated the total costs of recapitalizing the banking sector at €40 billion. Despite constant claims that there would be no need for a bailout, in early June 2012, the government announced that it had negotiated a €100 billion rescue package for the banks, to be held by the state through the government’s Fondo de reestructuración ordenada bancaria (FROB), the banking bailout and restructuring fund. The money would go directly to the banks rather than through the government, would not count as sovereign debt, would come from the new European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and would be directly supervised by the Troika. Rajoy and his minister of the economy, Luis de Guindos, refused to call the loan a ‘bailout’. The loan agreement did little little to alleviate the crisis and even sparked another credit rating downgrade and a surge in risk premium values to even higher levels. In August 2012, the Spanish government set up a ‘bad bank’ to isolate the toxic assets.

In July 2012, the EC agreed to raise the 2012 deficit objective to 6.3% of GDP, in return for immediate cuts to reach this objective. Rajoy announced another massive austerity package of €65 billion in cuts over two years to reach the deficit targets, including further cuts in social benefits, an immediate increase in the VAT, cuts in long-term unemployment benefits, the cancellation of the mortgage tax deduction and public servants’ Christmas bonus and more tax hikes. The health ministry announced a list of drugs which would no longer be covered by social security and abolished free healthcare assistance for illegal immigrants. The government continued the policy of spending cuts and tax increases in 2013, culminating with a pension reform in late 2013. The reform, opposed by all other parties, dissociates inflation from the calculation of pensions, takes into account the expenses and revenues of social security in a new revaluation formula and adds a ‘sustainability factor’ (life expectancy) to determine the size of the pension.

Despite the relaxed deficit target, Spain’s deficit in 2012 – excluding the cost of the bank bailout – still overshot the target, at about 7% of GDP (10.6% with the bailout). For 2013 and 2013, the EC set looser targets of 6.5% and 5.8%, with the aim being to achieve the EU’s 3% deficit limit in 2016. In 2013, Eurostat reported the deficit at 7.1% and the EC projects a 5.6% deficit in 2014.

The last few months of 2013, however, saw the first signs of a very fragile economic recovery. The last two quarters of 2013 saw positive quarter-on-quarter growth rates, and official statistics indicate the growth is steadily picking up – the EC predicts 1.1% growth this year and 2.1% growth in 2012, which means that Spain will finally exit its prolonged economic slump after over two years in recession. Unemployment increased during the año negro of 2012, from 22.6% in the last quarter of 2011 to a peak of 26.9% in the first quarter of 2013. Unemployment has been declining, slowly, since early 2013, falling to 24.5% in the second quarter of 2014, the lowest in two years. However, with over 5.6 million unemployed, Spain has the second highest unemployment rate in the EU after Greece. And, like in Greece, it will take years for unemployment to return to pre-crisis levels (8%) – the EC projects 24% unemployment in 2015. Exports have been growing, turning the external current account from a deficit to a surplus, suggesting that Spain is regaining competitiveness and providing the backbone of recovery. In December 2013, after receiving €41.3 billion, the ESM bailout program for Spanish banks ended on schedule.

Given that Spain’s autonomous communities account for a good deal of public spending in Spain, and that many of them became heavily indebted and were running large deficits when the crisis hit, they too have faced a tough time as they try to reduce their debts and deficits. On the latest figures, the total debts owed by Spain’s 17 regions was equivalent to 21.7% of the national GDP; while their deficits in 2013 represented 1.5% of the country’s GDP – down from 2.9% in 2010 and 2011. The most heavily indebted communities remain the Valencian Community (34.8% of regional GDP), Castilla-La Mancha (33.5%), Catalonia (31%), the Balearic Islands (27%) and Murcia (23%); while the regions with the largest deficits in 2013 were Murcia (3.2%), the Valencian Community (2.3%), Castilla-La Mancha (2.1%), Aragon (2.1%) and Catalonia (2%). The region’s failures to meet the deficit targets set by the central government contributed heavily to Spain’s budget overshoots in the last few years. The central government pressed the regional governments to make major cuts and reforms to reduce their debts and deficits to Madrid’s target, a tough task somewhat simplified by the fact that there was less central-regional feuds because most regions are governed by the PP since 2011. However, the PSOE government of Andalusia and the CiU government of Catalonia both argued that the targets set by Madrid were unrealistic and excessively rigid, and that meeting them would require them to make even deeper cuts. Regional governments – especially those in Catalonia, the Valencian Community or Castilla-La Mancha (among others) – have implemented stringent austerity measures, cutting benefits, public spending, selling public assets and rising taxes as they could. Yet, most regions, like the central government, have continuously overshot the targets.

The government’s austerity measures have been unpopular and led to several protests. After the general strike in March 2012 and the historic general strike in public education in May 2012, several sectoral strikes and anti-austerity protests followed in 2012, ending with another general strike in November 2012. Some movements took even more radical actions – in Andalusia, the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadores (SAT), a Andalusian nationalist and anti-capitalist union whose most prominent figure is Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, an IU regional deputy and mayor of the anarcho-syndicalist/communist stronghold of Marinaleda since 1979, organized spectacular ‘Robin Hood’ raids on supermarkets in the region, ‘expropriating’ basic foodstuffs or school supplies to redistribute to poor families. The increase in the number of evictions since the housing bubble burst has led to social despair and several highly-publicized suicides.

Education minister José Ignacio Wert’s education reform (LOMCE) in late 2013 has extremely unpopular on the left and with students. The new reform is criticized for introducing standardized testing at the end of each educational level, the greater place given to religious education in the curriculum, the central government’s power to determine subjects and curricula and the reduced place for co-official regional languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician). Coming during the debate over an independence referendum in Catalonia, Wert’s declaration in October 2012 that his aim was to españolizar a los niños catalanes (‘hispanicize Catalan children’) added fuel to the fire, providing the Catalan nationalists with yet another example of how Catalonia is allegedly mistreated by the rest of Spain. The left, which has promised to repeal the LOMCE if elected, has claimed that the PP is ‘dismantling’ public education. The cuts and the PP’s enthusiasm for controversial schemes to contract out managements of hospitals to private companies has led to claims that the government is out to dismantle public services.

Adding to the growing social discontent and dissatisfaction with both major parties have been a series of high-profile corruption cases, involving both major parties but also the monarchy.

Spanish monarch Juan Carlos I, who abdicated shortly after the EP elections on June 2 in favour of his son Prince Felipe, has seen his legendary popularity tumble following royal missteps and corruption scandals, most notably his ill-advised hunting trip to Botswana in 2012 (in addition to revelations of his womanizing). The former King’s daughter, Infanta Cristina de Borbón, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin have been embroiled in a major corruption scandal relating to kickbacks Urdangarin received from regional governments. The infanta Cristina was charged with corruption in January 2014.

Over the last few years, several politicians from both major parties have been accused of corruption. In the Valencian Community, a stronghold of the PP, the regional president Francisco Camps – an ally of Rajoy – was finally forced to resign in June 2011 after years of scandal surrounding his involvement in a huge kickbacks-for-contracts scheme (Caso Gürtel). Camps was later acquitted, but the Caso Gürtel continues to linger in the background. In the same region, millions in international development funds were embezzled by businesses and fraudulent ‘NGOs’ with the cooperation and support of a high-ranking member of the regional government and local PP, who was finally sentenced to jail in May 2014. In Andalusia, which has been ruled by the PSOE since the creation of regional government in 1978, millions of euros were fraudulently siphoned off in government-subsidized illegal early retirement deals. The PP had hoped to benefit from the EREgate scandal and Andalusia’s catastrophic economic situation in the March 2012 regional elections, and polls indicated that Javier Arenas’ PP was on track to win an historic absolute majority in the left-wing stronghold. However, the PP, albeit winning the most votes in a regional election for the first time in its history, failed to win a majority and PSOE incumbent José Antonio Griñán was reelected in coalition with IU (which made significant gains). The PP’s surprise ‘defeat’ in Andalusia was seen as an early warning sign for Rajoy.

Controversially, judge Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most famous magistrate who led judicial investigations into domestic and international cases (most notably the attempted persecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet), was expelled from the judiciary in 2012 for illegally wiretapping conversations (ruled as perverting the course of justice) between inmates and their lawyers in the Caso Gürtel. This sparked an outcry on the left, judging that the ruling against Garzón was excessive and that he was being persecuted by his peers and other enemies in the judiciary.

The biggest scandal, however, has been the caso Bárcenas, first revealed to the public eye in January 2013. El País published handwritten notes belonging to Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of the PP (until 2009), then under investigation in the Caso Gürtel (where he was accused of pocketing millions in illegal donations from businessmen). These notes indicated the existence of a parallel, illegal financing system in the PP between 1990 and 2009 and suggested that regular cash payments had been made from a slush fund (whose donors were mostly construction magnates) to several leading members of the PP including current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Rajoy himself allegedly received €25,000 a year for eleven years; other leading figures of the PP including former Prime Minister José María Aznar, Rodrigo Rato (finance minister under Aznar), Ángel Acebes (interior minister under Aznar), Javier Arenas (labour minister, later minister of the presidency under Aznar, and current leader of the Andalusian PP), Jaime Mayor Oreja (MEP and former interior minister under Aznar from the PP’s far-right) and María Dolores de Cospedal (current president of Castilla-La Mancha and secretary-general of the PP) are also suspected of having benefited from illegal party bonuses. Although the bulk of those suspected denied involvement, their credibility was dealt a blow when Pío García Escudero, the president of the Senate, admitted that he had received a bonus from the PP.

Rajoy desperately tried to avoid making a statement on the scandal, and repeatedly denied having taken illegal funds. However, the proof he presented was widely judged to be unconvincing and still left much to be desired. The PP tried to its best to make the scandal go away, but it made a comeback in July, with juicy admissions from Bárcenas that the PP had been financed illegally for the last 20 years and revelations by El Mundo that Rajoy was in contact with Bárcenas until March 2012 in the form of text messages privately lending support to Bárcenas (even after it was made public that Bárcenas had millions of euros stashed away in a Swiss bank account). Forced to respond, Rajoy again denied allegations and obviously refused to resign.

Major corruption cases such as the Caso Gürtel, the Caso Bárcenas and EREgate revealed a corrupt system, involving all governing parties (in Catalonia, the CiU has also been involved in scandals, with allegations that the current President of the Generalitat Artur Mas and Jordi Pujol, the former leader of the region, both have secret Swiss bank accounts), characterized by opaqueness in the awarding of contracts and toxic ties between politicians and businessmen. The responses of both parties to such cases have been quite terrible – denying all involvement or loudly denouncing a ‘conspiracy’ against them. For instance, in the Bárcenas scandal, Rajoy implicitly accused anyone who believed Bárcenas’ accounts of a lack of patriotism and threw his former party colleague under the bus, calling him an inveterate liar just months after he had offered him his private backing. It appears as if the public has become much less tolerant of political corruption since the economic crisis.

Since 2011, the issue of domestic Basque separatist terrorism and ETA has slowly faded away, but the final fate of ETA and particularly ETA prisoners in Spanish jails continues to be a highly contentious issue. Historically, the PP has tended to favour a very tough hard line against ETA, refusing any negotiations with the terrorist organization unless it disarms and repents. In good part, Rajoy’s government has continued on the same general line – refusing to extend a hand to ETA unless the organizations dissolves itself, to the chagrin of many Basque nationalists – including the moderate and anti-violence Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has always had an ambiguous and conflicted attitude towards ETA. However, Rajoy’s government has shied away from being overly hawkish, leaving many of its most conservative anti-ETA supporters quite disappointed. In 2012, the PP and PSOE defeated a UPyD motion to ban Amaiur, the abertzale coalition in the Cortes Generales which is seen by many opponents of ETA as the latest political front for the terrorist movement. In doing so, the PP began viewing the issue of ETA as being both military and political, which it had not done in the past. The government has supported a strategy of conditional ‘individual reinsertion’ of ETA prisioners, which is opposed by the Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), an association for victims of terrorism and staunch opponents of any negotiations with ETA. Nevertheless, the government publicly manifested its disapproval after the Constitutional Tribunal lifted the ban on Sortu in 2012, a political party banned in 2011 as it was seen as the latest incarnation of ETA and its illegal political wing Batasuna. Other members of the PP were even more acerbic in their reactions to the decision – Esperanza Aguirre, the then-president of the Community of Madrid, mulled abolishing the Constitutional Tribunal; ABC, a very conservative newspaper, proclaimed that the Tribunal surrendered to ETA supporters.

The prospects for negotiations between the government and ETA’s remnants are low. The government insists that ETA dissolves, disarms and apologize to their victims; ETA’s prisoners have renounced violence and embraced democratic ways, but seeks amnesty, self-determination for Euskadi and does not want a ‘one-sided’ apology which they insist ignores the victims of state repression, the Spanish government’s ‘dirty war’ against ETA in the 1980s and the fate of ‘political prisoners’ (like Arnaldo Otegi, the former spokesperson of Batasuna and current secretary-general of Sortu, who remains imprisoned).

Politically, the abertzale left, which has unambiguously rejected any kind of violence – including that of ETA – and seeks a democratic path to a ‘socialist, independent Euskal Herria’, has met unprecedented success at the polls since 2011, united under the electoral coalition Euskal Herria Bildu (EH Bildu). EH Bildu includes Sortu, the old left-wing/anti-violence Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) founded in 1986 by PNV dissidents, the left-wing/anti-violence Aralar founded in 2001 by Herri Batasuna members who opposed ETA’s violence and intransigence, and Alterniba (a splinter from what was then the local Basque section of IU, EB-B). In the 2012 Basque regional elections, EH Bildu won 25% and 21 seats – placing a very strong second behind the old PNV, which won 34.6% and regained control of the Basque autonomous government (which it had lost, for the first time since its creation in 1980, to the Socialists allied with the PP in 2009). Successive local, provincial, national and regional elections since 2011 have confirmed that the abertzale left, at unprecedented levels of support, has established itself as the second largest party in the Basque autonomous community after the PNV but ahead of both the local Socialists (PSE-EE) and PP.

Unquestionably, however, the most pronounced challenge to the Spanish state has come from Catalonia and a spectacular upsurge in a more explicitly separatist and assertive brand of Catalan nationalism. This represents a sea change in Spain’s peripheral nationalisms – historically, Catalan nationalism was seen as the most moderate and pragmatic (seny catalá) while Basque nationalism was more radical, violent and polarizing. In the historical tradition of the nationalist Catalan bourgeoisie, Jordi Pujol’s Convergence and Union (CiU) nationalist alliance – which controlled the Generalitat (the autonomous government) between 1980 and 2003 – was deliberately ambiguous about the question of independence/sovereignty for Catalonia and instead always sought more devolution and powers for Catalonia, applied a stringent linguistic policy to promote Catalan over Spanish in public and cultural life, used sabre-rattling nationalist rhetoric (Espanya ens roba – ‘Spain robs Catalonia’). This differentiated the CiU from the old Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), which has always explicitly supported the independence of the greater Països Catalans (Catalan-speaking territories including the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands and Northern Catalonia in France).

Catalan nationalism received its first boost in June 2010, with the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal on the new Statute of Autonomy adopted by the Catalan government (made up of the Socialists, ERC and radical left/eco-socialist ICV-EUiA) in 2006. The PP had appeal the new Statute after its approval by the Spanish Congress and in a Catalan referendum; the PP took issue with the definition of Catalonia as a ‘nation’, the preferential status for the Catalan language, the further devolution of powers and the ‘bilateral principle’ (bilateral talks between Madrid and the Generalitat, excluding other regions) among other contentious clauses. The Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the declaration of Catalonia as a nation lacked legal standing, struck down 14 articles as unconstitutional (notably the decentralization of justice) and 27 were upheld. Although the ruling did not mark a loss of autonomy, the Catalan reaction was livid – it was widely seen as the decision of a partisan, ‘Spanish’ court which was the final straw on top of ‘anti-Catalan’ campaigns from the Spanish right. Shortly after the ruling, a large nationalist rally in Catalonia, Som una nació. Nosaltres decidim, supported by the governing parties and CiU rallied between 500k and 1.5 million people. However, the ruling was the final blow to the much-weakened PSC-led Tripartite government. In the November 2010 regional elections, the PSC was badly defeated by Artur Mas’ CiU, with 62 out of 135 seats. Mas’ CiU had campaigned on the Catalan people’s right to decide (derecho a decidir, or dret a decidir) and his landmark promise was a ‘fiscal pact’ with Madrid, which would allow Catalonia to raise and administer its own taxes – similar to the Concierto Económico held by Navarre and the Basque Country.

The economic crisis has reignited Catalan nationalism. The old issue of the ‘fiscal deficit’ – Catalonia’s old complaint that it pays more in taxes to the central government than it receives in investments, representing an estimated ‘loss’ of 6-9% of the regional GDP and often seen as ‘subsidizing’ poorer region – has returned to the forefront of political debate. Many nationalists feel that an independent state would offer relief from the Spanish recession. With the Generalitat struggling to reduce its deficit and the debt asphyxiating the region, Mas has been accused of opportunistically shifting towards nationalism to distract attention from his unpopular austerity policies and the region’s bad economic situation – arguing that the current financing of autonomous communities is unfair, and Catalonia would recover quickly if its taxes weren’t being used by Madrid to subsidize poorer regions. On September 11, 2012 – the Diada, Catalonia’s national day (commemorating the loss of Catalan autonomy with the 1714 defeat of the pro-Habsburg Catalan forces by the Spanish Bourbons during the Spanish War of Succession), the huge size of the nationalist rally (Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa) organized by the extra-parliamentary separatist Catalan National Assembly (ANC) took Mas by surprise – between 600,000 and 2 million participants turned out. After Mas failed to get Rajoy’s support for his ‘fiscal pact’ and using the nationalist momentum of the Diada, Mas called for early elections for November 2012. Mas announced that he would hold a referendum (even if he lacked legal backing) within the term of the next legislature on Catalonia’s institutional future, and the Catalan Parliament adopted (before its dissolution) a motion calling for a consultation on Catalonia’s future. Mas failed to win an absolute majority – the CiU even fell back, losing 12 seats; but the elections saw strong gains by the separatist ERC (21 seats, up 11 and second in seats ahead of the PSC) and the election of 3 members from the far-left separatist Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP). The elections, however, also showed a polarization of political opinions – the divided PSC, defending a vague and unappealing federalist ‘third way’, was crushed (an all-time low of 14.4% and 20 seats), while the staunchly anti-independence Catalan PP (19 seats, up 1) and Ciutadans (C’s, 9 seats, up 6) made gains.

In December 2012, Mas signed a deal with the ERC, in which the ERC supported Mas’ reelection as president in return for the ERC’s input on a referendum to be held as soon as possible. In January 2013, the Catalan Parliament approved a motion recognizing the Catalan people as ‘sovereign’ and holding the ‘right to decide’, with the votes of the CiU, ERC and the left-wing Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA) and the opposition of the PP, C’s and 15 deputies from the PSC. The Constitutional Tribunal struck down the motion in March 2014. After another highly successful nationalist show of force on the Diada in 2013 (an impressive human chain stretching the entire length of Catalonia), Mas announced in December 2013 that a referendum would be held on November 9, 2014 and that voters would answer two questions: “do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and “in case of affirmative answer, do you want this state to be independent?” The two-question structure of the referendum was widely criticized, as were the very ambiguous questions set by the Generalitat – there is no straight up question on sovereignty (a word which Mas is still not keen towards) or separation, and the words ‘state’ and ‘independent’ can be rather ambiguous and twisted different ways. The ERC and CUP wanted a straight up yes/no question on independence, but the ICV-EUiA and the moderate junior party in the CiU (Josep Duran i Lleida’s conservative autonomist Democratic Union of Catalonia, UDC) opposed a straight choice. Nationalists insist that Catalonia would remain in the EU and Eurozone following independence, but most agree that, in the eventuality of Catalan independence, Catalonia would not automatically remain in the EU.

The Spanish government immediately announced that the vote would not take place. The PP, joined by the PSOE, UPyD and C’s, argues that the organization of such a referendum in unconstitutional. On this matter, the Constitution is quite clear: only the Spanish State has the authority to organize a referendum (Article 149.1) and national sovereignty resides in the Spanish people (Article 1.2). The PP denies the Generalitat’s claim that Article 150.2, which allows for the transfer or delegation of the State’s powers to autonomous communities, can be read as allowing for the State to authorize a referendum in Catalonia.

The referendum debate has succeeded in one thing, at least: deeply dividing the PSOE and PSC. The national PSOE has been less centralist than the PP, especially under Zapatero, but has strongly opposed any attempts to hold referendums on independence or declarations of a region’s ‘right to decide’; the PSC, on the other hand, has always been at the very least Catalanist (supportive of a Catalan national identity and extensive self-government) and a significant minority within the PSC has openly supported the ‘right to decide’, the organization of a referendum and even supporting full independence. The PSC’s hapless leader, Pere Navarro, has defended a quite vague and unappealing idea of a federalist ‘third way’ and opposed the organization of a referendum. In January 2014, 3 PSC deputies in the Catalan Parliament voted in favour of the Generalitat’s petition to organize a referendum, disobeying the party line; the PSC deputies in the Congress disobeyed the PSOE’s party line in February 2013 by supporting a CiU-ERC-ICV resolution calling on the government to negotiate with the Generalitat on the organization of a referendum. Some members of the PSOE, notably veteran Socialist leader Alfonso Guerra (the Vice President of the government between 1982 and 1991 under Felipe Gonzáles), openly supported breaking ties with the PSC and founding a clearly anti-independence section of the PSOE in the region. In July 2013, to paper over the cracks, the PSOE adopted the Declaration of Granada, supporting federalism with clearly defined responsibilities, a federalist reform of the Senate and a reform of the financing of the regions. However, federalism has failed to convince many people, and the divisions remain – the PSOE is unwilling to loudly proclaim its federalist conversion by fear of alienating more centralist types in its base and membership, while the PSC supports federalism but some are tempted to go even further. In October 2013, the PSOE voted in favour of a UPyD motion proclaiming that ‘the right to decide resides with all Spaniards’, rendering the PSC (which abstained) even more uncomfortable and kind of casting doubts on what the PSOE’s federalism really means.

The government created another firestorm with justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s changes to the abortion law. In 2010, Zapatero’s Socialist government, as part of its series of socially liberal reforms which alienated the PP and the Catholic Church, removed all restrictions on abortion (which was legal in cases of danger to the mother’s physical or mental health, rape and fetal malformations or defects since 1985), legalizing it on demand in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and allowing minors 16-18 to have an abortion without requiring parental consent. In 2011, the PP’s platform promised to amend the abortion law and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón reiterated the new government’s commitment towards changing the law. In December 2013, the government announced its draft law – abortion would be illegal except in cases of rape and ‘serious risk to the physical or mental health’ of the mother (malformation of the fetus by itself would not be grounds for an abortion, unless the mother proves that it has a serious impact on her mental health), two doctors (who would not perform the abortion or work for the clinic where it is performed) would judge if these conditions exist, minors will require parental consent and only doctors would be punished for the ‘crime’. The government claimed that its law defends the rights of the unborn and protects mothers, but the new law – which has yet to be passed by Congress – is widely unpopular. Many criticize the PP for starting a useless ‘culture war’ only to satisfy its restless and critical hard-right base (which is less than enamored with most of Rajoy’s policies), and Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón’s popularity has dwindled, making him the second least popular minister, after Wert. The abortion law came alongside a new public safety law from interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz which would give the police to fine ‘offenses or insults to Spain’ or dissolves unauthorized rallies in front of the Parliament buildings.

There have been regional elections in five regions since 2011 – Andalucia, Asturias (both in March 2012, both resulted in PSOE governments), Galicia and Euskadi (in late 2012, the reelection of the PP majority in Galicia and the PNV’s return in Euskadi) and Catalonia (see above); these EP elections are the first national elections since the 2011 general election, and it kicks off a series of high-stakes elections in 2015 – regional and municipal elections around May, followed by a general election before December 2015. Parties are clearly gearing up for the 2015 elections, which are likely to be the most open-ended, unpredictable and exciting elections in modern Spain. Dealing with a recession, one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU, a terrible deficit, the unpopularity of its austerity policies, controversial legislation, a ‘separatist threat’ in Catalonia, corruption all around and corruption within the government itself, the PP has seen its support fall significantly since 2011. From an all-time high of 45%, the PP’s support fell to about 29-32% in the polls, which would be the PP’s lowest level since the early 1990s (around the time when the old AP shifted away from Manuel Fraga’s toxic past association with Franco, and José María Aznar’s successful construction of a big tent party after 1990).

In opposition, the PSOE has continued to struggle after its all-time low result in 2011. The PSOE’s leader (at the time of the EP elections), Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, has been a very unpopular opposition leader who has struggled to find a voice for the PSOE in opposition and define a new path for the PSOE after the Zapatero era (which is, fairly or unfairly, widely judged to have been a trainwreck by voters). Rubalcaba’s support in the PSOE has also been less than unanimous: Rubalcaba was elected leader of the PSOE at the party’s XXXVIII Congress in February 2012, with 487 delegates against 465 delegates for Carme Chacón, a popular defense minister under Zapatero and a Catalan Socialist. Rubalcaba was supported by the bulk of the PSOE’s old guard – former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzáles, the old regional barons José Bono (Castilla-La Mancha), Manuel Chaves (Andalusia), Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra (Extremadura); Chacón, the outsider, was supported by the likes of Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Josep Borrell, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Tómas Gómez and Susana Díaz (who became leader of the Andalusian PSOE and president of Andalusia in September 2013). Rubalcaba has generally moved the party towards the left, opposing the PP’s austerity policies (but many remember that Zapatero was the one who began austerity, and many compare the government’s austerity policies to those of the PSOE), supporting bank and wealth taxes, less power for the Catholic Church and – as aforementioned – a fairly vague ‘federalism’. In polls, the PSOE was at or below its 2011 result – 25 to 28%, which meant that the PP remained ahead of the PSOE in all but a handful of polls (although the gap closed significantly in early 2014).

The IU and UPyD, nationally, have achieved strong polling numbers since 2011 – the IU’s support peaked at nearly 15% before coming down a bit to 10-12% in early 2014; UPyD increased to about 7-11%.

The PP leadership appointed Miguel Arias Cañete, Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (until his resignation on April 28 to run in the EP election) as the PP’s top candidate. Arias Cañete, one of the most popular members of the government (although still in the red), was fairly uncontroversial in his job and has EU experience in dealing with the Common Agricultural Policy. Ramón Luis Valcárcel, the PP president of Murcia from 1995 to 2014, was sixth on the PP’s list. The PSOE leadership appointed Elena Valenciano, the deputy leader of the PSOE and a Rubalcaba ally, who served in the EP from 1999 to 2008, as top candidate. Ramón Jáuregi, a Basque Socialist politician and Minister of the Presidency (2010-2011) was second; Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the top candidate in 2009 and former Minister of Justice (2004-2007), was fourth.

La Izquierda Plural (The Plural Left) was the coalition spearheaded by the IU, led by two-term PCE/IU MEP Willy Meyer. The IU is the old coalition of the Spanish radical left, in which the Communist Party (PCE) has always been the largest although not necessarily dominant component. Since 2008, under the leadership of Cayo Lara, the PCE has regained the upper hand in the IU, after the eight-year leadership of Gaspar Llamazares, who was more independent of the PCE. Under Cayo Lara, the IU has further distanced itself from the PSOE (Llamazares had less confrontational relations with the Socialists) and proclaimed the IU as anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal.

In Catalonia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the Initiative for Catalonia Greens (ICV) and the United and Alternative Left (EUiA), with the ICV’s Ernest Urtasun as the third candidate on the national list. ICV, the largest of the two, grew out of the old Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC) in the 1980s and transformed into an ecosocialist centralized party – more independent of the national IU – in the mid-1990s. EUiA, which has been ICV’s perennial electoral ally since 2003, was founded in 1998 by traditionalist communists (notably the anti-Eurocommunist PCC and a faction of the old PSUC hostile to the green shift of the ICV) and it is the official Catalan wing of IU. The ICV-EUiA supports Catalan self-determination, but the ICV is split between federalists and separatists. In Galicia, La Izquierda Plural was led by the new alliance of the local United Left (EU) and Anova-Irmandade Nacionalista. Anova is an alliance of Galician regionalist/nationalist left-wing parties born from factions which split from the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) after Xosé Manuel Beiras – a leading figure of Galician nationalism and former leader of the BNG – lost an internal election to the dominant Union of the Galician People (UPG) in 2012. Led by Beiras, the EU-Anova alliance (Alternativa Galega de Esquerda, AGE) in the October 2012 regional elections in Galicia did very well, winning 14% and 9 seats – third ahead of the BNG, a result made more impressive if one considers the weakness of the communist movement in the conservative region. In Euskadi, the local branch of IU (Ezker Anitza, after a nasty split in 2012) was allied with Iratzarri, a small splinter of Aralar; in Navarre, IU was allied with Batzarre, a far-left nationalist party whose roots can be traced to the two major obrerista splinters from ETA during Franco’s regime (ETA Berri in 1966 and ETA-VI in 1970). La Izquierda Plural, finally, also included some members from tiny green parties.

UPyD’s list was led by its sole incumbent MEP, Francisco Sosa Wagner. The centrist liberal UPyD is strongly pro-European, arguing in favour of deeper European integration (it proposes a common immigration policy, banking union, abolishing the inter-governmental European Council to promote EU supranationalism, integrated European defense etc) and warning of the dangers of nationalism. In Spain, UPyD is a fierce opponent of peripheral nationalists – it supports reducing the powers of the autonomous communities, clearly setting out the powers of all levels of government, abolishing the foral rights (conciertos) of Euskadi and Navarre and creating a symmetric, centralized federal state. However, because of its stances, UPyD has been described by critics as centralist and Spanish nationalist. The party has common ground with the PP on issues such as terrorism, centralism and even some structural reforms in the economy but the UPyD’s secularism, mild social liberalism and more centrist economic policies are off-putting to many populares. The party’s reputation is mixed, many accusing it of populism and personalism behind UPyD’s founding leader, former PSOE MEP Rosa Díez.

UPyD is nearly indistinguishable from the Ciudadanos-Ciutadans (C’s), with the exception that the C’s have tended to be a regional party in Catalonia with little presence outside the region, although that is changing. The C’s, like UPyD, are anti-(peripheral) nationalist and support greater centralization, and has also taken strong stances in favour of equal bilingualism between Spanish and Catalan (the Generalitat has tended to heavily promote and favour Catalan). A minor force in Catalan politics until 2010, the party benefited from the polarization of opinion around the issue of independence to gain 6 seats in the 2012 regional elections, winning a record 9 seats. It has provided C’s with an impetus to expand outside of Catalonia and consolidate its new strength in Catalonia. Compared to UPyD, C’s is a bit Eurosceptic and left-leaning – in 2012, C’s took rather populist and left-wing positions on socioeconomic issues; but the main difference remains one of personalities – C’s leader, Albert Rivera, doesn’t get along with Rosa Díez.

The moderate peripheral regionalist and nationalist parties – led by the CiU and the PNV – formed the Coalición por Europa, the same name as a similar alliance for the 2009 EP elections. The coalition included the CiU – more accurately, its two component parties, Artur Mas’ larger nationalist Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC) and the autonomist conservative Democratic Union of Catalonia (UDC), with the former in the ALDE and the latter in the EPP and the PNV, which is with the CDC in ALDE. The coalition was joined, like in 2009, by the Canarian Coalition (CC) – a makeshift coalition of various insular parties (Canarian politics are extremely insular) which is the governing party in the Canaries since 1993 which, unlike the PNV or CiU, is not as much a nationalist party (although it defines itself as one) as an autonomist and Canarian regionalist party seeking various concessions from the central government. In Galicia, the coalition was joined by Compromise for Galicia (CxG), a small centre-left nationalist party (1% in the 2012 regionals) founded by another faction of BNG dissidents in 2012 (from the Máis Galiza faction of the BNG) and small nationalist parties (the liberal PNG-PG, notably). In Catalonia, the Reagrupment – a small separatist movement – joined the coalition, after moving towards the CDC in 2013. Incumbent MEP Ramon Tremosa (CDC) was the lead candidate, followed by Izaskun Bilbao MEP (PNV) and Francesc Gambús (UDC).

The ERC allied with two small Catalan nationalist parties (Catalunya Sí and Nova Esquerra Catalana – a party led by Ernest Maragall, the brother of former PSC President of the Generalitat Pasqual Maragall) to form L’Esquerra pel Dret a Decidir (EPDD, ‘The Left for the Right to Decide’), running on a strongly nationalist platform endorsing Catalan independence within the EU. The ERC had previously mulled an historic broad nationalist front with the CiU or an alliance with the Basque EH Bildu.

EH Bildu formed a coalition with the Galician BNG (weakened by splits, and led by the communist UPG), a small Canarian separatist party (ANC), the Asturian nationalists, the Aragonese nationalist Puyalón and another small party; the list, led by EH Bildu’s Josu Juaristi, was called Los Pueblos Deciden (The Peoples Decide, LPD). Interestingly, EH Bildu-LPD’s platform was not as separatist as anti-neoliberal and left-wing, with much of it devoted to a left-wing critique of neoliberalism and the economic crisis rather than nationalist calls for self-determination (although they were in there).

Primavera Europea (PE, European Spring) was a coalition spearheaded by the left-wing/green Valencian regionalist Coalició Compromís, a young (2010) alliance of various Valencian nationalist (BLOC) and regional left-wing or green parties. Compromís, which has adopted the ‘third way’ between the warring theoretical schools of Valencian nationalism (Joan Fuster’s pan-Catalanism and the anti-Catalan blaverismo), has been quite successful electorally – 7% and 6 seats in the 2011 regional election, the election of one deputy to Madrid in 2011. It allied, as in November 2011, with EQUO – Spain’s new, but rather unsuccessful, green party; the Chunta Aragonesista (CHA), Aragon’s main left-wing nationalist party; and other small parties.

In January 2014, several academics and civil society actors founded Podemos (‘we can’), a left-wing, anti-establishment movement which would oppose Madrid and the EU’s austerity policies and seek to build on the Spanish indignados movements. Podemos’ list was led by Pablo Iglesias, a 35-year old polisci professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and a regular guest on TV shows; Iglesias’ face was the logo chosen by Podemos to identify itself on ballot papers, a decision which Podemos justified by Iglesias’ greater notoriety and name (face?) recognition. Pablo Iglesias, who was named after the founder of the PSOE and the UGT Pablo Iglesias (1850-1925), was a member of the PCE’s youth wing between the ages of 14 and 21.

Podemos’ platform focuses on six overarching themes: economic recovery, ‘conquering liberty, fraternity and equality’, redefining sovereignty and recovering the land. On economic issues, Podemos supports job creation through public policies and public investments (it opposes the PP’s labour and pension reforms, and calls for a 35-hour workweek and a retirement age at 60, a higher minimum wage and a new maximum wage; it would promote SMEs), an audit of the debt, democratization of the ECB (which would be focused on creation of ‘decent jobs’ and the public financing of member-states by directly buying public debt on the markets), reorienting the financial system to consolidate ‘ethical and cooperative’ banks, public ownership in strategic sectors (communications, energy, food, transport, health, education, pharmaceuticals), subjecting all privatizations to a referendum, cracking down on tax evasion and tax fraud by multinationals, wealth taxes and a minimum basic income.

On the theme of ‘conquering liberty’, Podemos advocates for tougher anti-corruption measures, greater use of legislative initiative referendums and direct democracy, electoral reform, participative budgeting, control of  lobbyists, campaign finance regulations, anti-monopoly measures in communications, the defense of basic freedoms (freedom of speech, assembly, association etc), abolishing ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation which restricts civil liberties and LGBTI rights. On the issue of ‘conquering equality’, Podemos supports defending social and cultural rights, defending public services, gender equality in the workplace, a right to free universal healthcare throughout the EU, a right to free public and secular education including university, a right to decent housing (a moratorium on mortgage debts for low-income families, freezing evictions, legalization of squatting in unoccupied places), defending sexual and reproductive rights and a right of free and secure access to information. By ‘conquering fraternity’, Podemos argues in favour of increasing citizen participation, pro-immigration policies, increasing immigrants’ rights, self-determination (right to decide) and a foreign policy based on international development and peace. Podemos supports abrogating the Treaty of Lisbon, abandoning TAFTA, renegotiating free-trade agreements, mandatory popular ratification of all constitutional amendments and various political reforms (transparency, term limits, possibility for recall, less generous benefits and salaries for politicians). Finally, Podemos endorses a new sustainable development policy for the EU, a right to access water, food security, reducing GHG emissions by 55% by 2030, green energies (45% of energy must be from renewable sources by 2030) and rural development. Similar to Italy’s Beppe Grillo, although with much less radical and inflammatory rhetoric, Podemos presents itself as a new party ‘close to citizens’ and not professionals politicians. Several media reports have noted the importance of social media to Podemos.

Podemos’ list was supported by several small parties, the most notable of which was the far-left Trotskyist Anticapitalist Left (Izquierda Anticapitalista), a small movement which was a part of IU from 1995 to 2007.

The PP faced a challenge to its right from a splinter party founded in 2013, Vox. The party was founded by some right-wing rebels in the PP. The party’s right has been uneasy or on bad terms with Rajoy since 2008, when the right unsuccessfully tried to remove him as leader following the PP’s defeat in 2008. Since taking power, some members of the PP’s right have decried Rajoy as a ‘sellout’, a ‘pansy’ and even a ‘social democrat’ – they dislike his tax increases, his handling of Catalonia and his less confrontational stance with terrorism. Vox seeks to return to the PP’s roots – neoliberalism/Thatcherism, visceral opposition to peripheral nationalism and strong support for ‘national unity’. The party’s leader and most prominent figure is Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a three-term MEP and leader of the Catalan PP from 1991 to 1996. A leading opponent of Catalan nationalism and Jordi Pujol’s CiU governments in the 1990s – comparing its linguistic policies to apartheid – and recently called on the Guardia Civil to intervene if Mas’ government continued its ‘rebellion’. Vox was also joined by Santiago Abascal, a former Basque regional deputy (2004-2009) close to former Basque PP leader María San Gil; and José Antonio Ortega Lara, a ETA hostage for 532 days in the 1990s. Other members of the PP’s right, somewhat estranged from the leadership, such as Esperanza Aguirre (who resigned as president of the Community of Madrid in 2012) and Jaime Mayor Oreja (the PP’s top candidate in the 2009 EP elections who declined to run for reelection) have not joined the new party.


The major losers of the election were Spain’s two major parties – the PP and PSOE – who lost over 15% of the vote each from the 2009 EP election. Together, the two parties won just 49.1% of the vote compared to 73.3% in 2011, 80.9% in 2009 (EP) and 83.7% in 2008. It is the first time in the history of modern Spanish democracy that the two largest parties (the PP/AP and PSOE since 1982, the PSOE and UCD from 1977 to 1982) in the country have not won over 50% of the vote. Falling even lower than its disastrous 2011 result (28.7%), the PSOE’s puny 23% sets another record as the PSOE’s lowest result in any national election. The PP’s result – 26.1% – is down 18.5% from 2011 and it is the PP’s lowest result in any national election since the 1991 municipal elections (25.3%). El País summarized the elections with the headline pierde el bipartidismo (the two-party system loses) – as far as summaries go, it’s a very good one given that the election has confirmed what polls have said since about 2012 – Spain’s two-party system (at a national level, mind you) which has endured since the Transition is at its lowest ebb, with both the right and left feeling pressure from new parties, peripheral nationalists and parties to their left.

The PP can take some solace (and it has) in that it placed first – a Pyrrhic victory, but the PP has said that a victory is a victory and it has expressed much satisfaction (publicly) with its result. As far as it’s concerned, the PP managed to place first and beat the PSOE – which remains its only serious rival for government – in a midterm election despite unpopular austerity policies, recortes (cuts) and a difficult economic situation. The PP hopes that the nascent recovery will help it improve its poll standings, although it is another question whether most voters are actually feeling a recovery and if they’re willing to re-embrace the PP after everything. The other good news for the PP is that, despite its major loses, it still faces no major challenge on its right flank – Vox won only 1.6%. If anything, polls indicate that the PP’s loses have come from more centrist voters, while it has held on to more conservative supporters.

Never mind that its first place showing owes more to the division of its opponents in general and the left in particular, and never mind that the PP’s results hide some very preoccupying (negative) trends and indications – the PP would like to think that its ‘victory’ of sorts in the EP election shores up Rajoy and is good omen for 2015. The PP likely seeks to distract attention from its very severe loses, which saw its raw vote fall from 6.670 million in 2009/10.866 million in 2011 to only 4.098 million votes in 2014. The PP’s results are only decent when compared to those of the PSOE.

If there can be only one loser of these elections, it is undeniably the PSOE. The Socialists suffered an historic defeat – just 23% and 3.6 million votes in the whole of Spain – and this despite being the leading opposition party during an economic crisis (oftentimes, regardless of the actual competence or strength of the main opposition party, it is in a good position to be the main beneficiary of a government’s unpopularity in a midterm vote – ask the Portuguese PS right now). The PSOE has been unable to make a clean break with Zapatero’s toxic legacy (Rubalcaba hasn’t helped matters), and many voters still blame Zapatero and the PSOE for Spain’s economic mess. Despite shifting to the left since 2011, the PSOE still lacks credibility and legitimacy to many voters, and its leftwards shift has mainly come off as opportunism and insincere (many remember Zapatero’s own austerity policies). Additionally, the PSOE has been badly divided since 2011, and the issue of Catalonia’s derecho a decidir and the territorial organization of Spain has been a huge headache for the PSOE.

Following the EP election, PSOE leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba announced his immediate resignation as secretary-general and that he would not be a candidate in the presidential (prime ministerial) primaries planned for November 2014. His leadership had clearly become unsustainable and un-salvageable following the EP thumping. An extraordinary congress to elect his successor was held on July 13. Pedro Sánchez, a 42-year old deputy (2009-2011, and since January 2013) who worked with José Blanco (one of Zapatero’s allies) in the centrist wing of the party, was elected with 48.7% against 36.3% for Eduardo Madina (who is 38), a Basque Socialist who has led the PSOE group in Congress since 2009. José Antonio Pérez Tapias, from the party’s most leftist faction, took 15.1%. Pedro Sánchez, who has promised to build the grassroots and transform the PSOE into the party of ‘change’ for 2015, had strong support in all federations – even in Euskadi – but crucial to his victory was his above-average support in Andalusia, the powerhouse in PSOE politics, where Sánchez was supported by Susana Díaz, the regional president who is becoming one of the new major barons in the PSOE. Sánchez, an economist, was a fairly obscure backbencher until not so long ago; one of his first decisions was to instruct PSOE MEPs not to vote for Jean-Claude Juncker’s confirmation. So far, polls have not indicated much of a ‘leadership boost’ for the PSOE after Sánchez’s victory. The PSOE’s next major event will be the presidential primary in November 2014, where it is possible that Carme Chacón will return from her political hiatus (teaching in Miami), although her position has been rendered more fragile with the Catalan situation and the PSC’s decrepit state.

Both the PP and PSOE were significantly overestimated in the polls – according to the last polls, the PP stood at about 31-34% while the PSOE was between 26% and 30%. Both parties’ poor performance on election day was the first major surprise.

The PP and PSOE lost many – if not most – of its 2011 support to abstention, with over half of Spanish voters not showing up to vote. But, with turnout nationally down only 1% from 2009, the PP and PSOE both lost support to other parties, who were, taken as a whole, the main winners of the election.

The major winner was Podemos, which won a remarkable 8% and 5 MEPs. Podemos’ success was quite unexpected – although some late polls had given it up to 1 (even 2) MEPs and about 2-3% of the vote – because few people believed that it would manage to do all that well. Podemos achieved its result despite few financial resources, and a campaign largely built on social media appeal, word of mouth and Pablo Iglesias’ personal notoriety. The new party has been said to have taken a good chunk of the Socialist vote, but Podemos’ success is also cause for concern for IU – without Podemos, many of its supporters would likely have supported IU.

Podemos appeals because it presents a fresh, left-wing and anti-establishment image, and there is definitely a market for Podemos’ anti-politician, anti-system creed. The PSOE is discredited and lacks legitimacy, still licking its wounds from 2011 and trying to figure out where to go from there. IU has gained support thanks to the PSOE’s sad state and the loss of left-wing voters who had supported the PSOE in the first decade of the 21st century, but IU has problems of its own – it is a fairly bureaucratic traditional party itself, it is quite divided internally and its lacks a charismatic or popular leader with Alexis Tsipras (or Pablo Iglesias)’ stature (Cayo Lara is not very popular). Podemos represents a real threat to the PSOE, because it potentially has what it takes to seriously challenge the PSOE’s ‘leadership’ of the broader Spanish left. Podemos is bad news for both IU and UPyD, because it steals both of these parties’ anti-bipartidismo thunder. Its fourth place showing in the EP election already caused UPyD to fall into fifth place. This also frustrates IU and UPyD’s bids to establish themselves as kingmakers ahead of next year’s open-ended municipal, regional and general elections.

Polls taken since the EP election have shown that Podemos came out of the EP election with the most momentum and has become a ‘phenomenon’. It has surged into third place and double digits, ranging between 12% and 15% in most polls, sending the IU into fourth with only 6-8% and UPyD into fifth with 5-7%; the PSOE polls between 21% and 24%.

The most recent poll by CIS (July 2014), often considered as a gold standard in Spanish polling, had the PP leading the PSOE by 8.8% – 30% to 21.2%, with Podemos a strong third with 15.3%, followed by IU (8.2%) and UPyD (5.9%). In the ‘spontaneous’ answers, including undecideds/non-voters, the PP leads Podemos by 0.9% (12.8% to 11.9%), with the PSOE in third (10.6%). Over 80% of respondents still rate the economy as bad or very bad, a bit less than half think that the economy has neither improved nor worsened in the past year and only 25% think it will get better in the next year. Two-thirds of respondents rate the PP government as bad or very bad, and over 85% have little or no confidence in Rajoy.

Although because of the little ideological proximity it has with the PP, Podemos does not threaten the PP directly, but the PP has been leading the charge to kill it in the egg. Esperanza Aguirre has accused Iglesias of being a friend of castrismo, chavismo (one of Podemos’ main figures, fellow polisci prof Juan Carlos Monedero, is a chavista and in fact a former adviser to Chávez) and ETA and some in the PP have alleged that Podemos is financed by Venezuela (Podemos says it is financed through crowdfunding). Rosa Díez has said that she sees elements of SYRIZA, the Italian M5S and the FN in Podemos.

IU, with 10%, actually won its best result in any national election since 1996 (10.5%) and significantly improves on its catastrophic 2009 EP result (3.7%). IU’s gains in the 2011 election – it won 6.9%, up from 3.7% in 2008 – ended a near-constant decline which begun in 1994. UPyD won 6.5%, which is also the party’s best result in its short history, while C’s won 3.1% of the vote. However, the success of IU and UPyD was overshadowed by the Podemos phenomenon, and the surprising result of Podemos – and its implications for both IU and UPyD – tampered the optimism and enthusiasm of these two parties. With at least 1% of the vote in all regions except Euskadi, and at least 2% in 11 regions, C’s showed that they too have national appeal outside of their Catalan cradle.

Overall, the radical left – IU and Podemos – won about 18% of the vote, a record high result for parties to the radical left in Spanish history. Together, UPyD and C’s won 9.7%, also something of a record.

The regionalist and nationalist parties performed, in general, quite well. The biggest success, and one of the more remarkable result, came from Catalonia. In the turbulent region, turnout was up 9.3% from the 2009 EP election (when only 36.9% voted) and reached 46.2%. The increased turnout came as a result of higher nationalist mobilization to defend the planned November 9 referendum, after nationalist parties had called on voters to turn out in large numbers to bring European attention to the referendum and the Catalan issue. The victor was the ERC, with an historic result of 23.7% (9% in 2009) and its first victory in Catalonia since 1936 (during the Second Republic). CiU, with 21.8% – down from a mediocre result of 22.4% in 2009 – did poorly, although Mas tried to spin the issue away by emphasizing the convincing victory of nationalist parties – together, ERC and CiU won 45.5%, compared to only 31.6% in 2009; with the addition of ICV, the pro-referendum vote reaches no less than 55.8% (compared to 37.7% in 2009). In the 2012 regional election, the ERC-CiU-ICV referendum majority won a similar result (which goes up to 58% if the CUP, which didn’t run in the EP election, is included). The ERC won three provinces – Barcelona (21.9%), Tarragona (25.3%) and Gerona (32.9%) while the CiU narrowly won Lleida (31.8% vs. 29.7% for ERC). In the city of Barcelona itself, ERC won 21.8% against 20.9% for the CiU; third place went to ICV (12.6%) ahead of the PSC (12.2%). The main loser in Catalonia was the PSC, whose 14.3% is the lowest result in the PSC’s history (even lower than 2012) and is down massively from the 36% the Socialists took in the region in 2009.

On the anti-nationalist side, the PP did poorly as well (9.8%, its worst national result), losing about half of its support from 2009 (when it did well with 18%) but not as bad if compared with its 2012 result (13%). C’s failed to beat the PP or PSC, as some regional election polls have suggested it may do, but did quite well with 7% of the vote – down slightly from the 7.6% it won in 2012. UPyD won only 1.1% in the region. Podemos, with 4.7%, had one of its worst results in the country.

ERC did well in the Balearic Islands as well, taking 7.3% in the region, where it was supported (unofficially) by Més per Mallorca, a left-wing regionalist coalition on the island of Majorca. The PP won 27.5% against 22% for the Balearic PSOE.

In Euskadi, the results confirmed the new political dispensation which began in 2011. The PNV placed first, with 27.5%, an average result (for an EP election, the PNV does far better in regional elections) down about 1% from 2009 and tied with its 2011 general election showing. In second place, EH Bildu won 23.4%, at the lower end of what the abertzale left has been polling in Euskadi since 2011 (24% in 2011, 24.6% in 2012); but up from the 16% won by a comparable list supported by the illegal abertzale left in 2009 (the Iniciativa Internacionalista, 16% in Euskadi). At the provincial level, the PNV was only victory in Bizkaia, the heartland of moderate Christian democratic Basque nationalism, with a 12-point victory over EH Bildu (31.7% to 19.9%); EH Bildu won by 6.6% in Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist province and hotbed of the abertzale left forever (with 31.2% against 24.6% for the PNV) and took a narrow victory in Álava/Araba, with 18.9% to the PNV’s 17.2%, in the least nationalist and most ‘Spanish’ of the three provinces of Euskadi. In Navarra, EH Bildu was – by far – the dominant Basque nationalist party, with a strong second place and 20.1%, while the PNV won only 2.5% – the PNV has been a tiny rump in Navarra since the 1980s, after being badly hurt by the EA/PNV split in 1986 and the PNV’s participation in a pact with the Spanish and Navarrese right (both strongly opposed to Navarra’s unification with Euskadi). In Euskadi, both the PSE-EE and PP did poorly – with 13.8% and 10.2% respectively – down from 27.8% and 16% in 2009 and 18.9% and 11.6% in 2012.

The CDC and PNV suffered a significant group in the ALDE group, where they were unable to block the admission of UPyD’s 4 MEPs and C’s 2 MEPs to the group, despite the ALDE’s past statements in favour of the Catalan referendum. The CDC and PNV were the only ALDE members to oppose the two Spanish centralist parties’ admission to the group.

In Galicia, where the PP won 35.2% to the PSdeG’s 21.7%, the IP-Anova nationalist left did quite well (10.5%) and Podemos (8.3%) arrived ahead of the BNG (7.9%), which ran a weak and shoestring campaign. Allied with the CiU and PNV, the CxG won only 1%. In the Canaries, the CC placed a poor third with 12.2%, against 23.3% for the PP and 22.2% for the PSOE. Even in the CC stronghold of Santa Cruz de Tenerife province, the CC won only 14.8%. Podemos, with 11% of the vote in the Canaries, won one of its best results in the country. In Aragon, CHA, in the PE coalition, won only 4.5%. In Ceuta, PE won 9%, thanks to the support of Coalición Caballas, a left-wing party representing the city’s significant Arab-Muslim population.

The PP won the Valencian Community with a 7.5% margin, but the results in what has been one of the PP’s major strongholds since the mid-1990s were terrible. With 29.1%, the PP won its worst result in the Valencian Community since the 1991 regional elections (the last election in which the PP did not top the poll in the region). In the last regional election, the PP won yet another absolute majority with 49.4% (despite the Caso Gürtel) and it did even better (53.3%) a few months later in the general election. The EP results confirm what the polls in the region have been saying: the PP leads, but is down significantly from its pre-2011 levels; the Socialists have utterly failed to benefit, winning only 21.6% (an historic low), with the main winners being IU/EU (10.4%), UPyD (8.5%), Compromís (7.9%) and – this year – Podemos (8.2%). If replicated next spring in the regional elections, the PP would lose its absolute majority in the Corts, which it has held since 1999. While the Socialists would remain the leading opposition party, because of the division of its opponents, it could potentially form a coalition with EU, Compromís and potentially UPyD (and now Podemos?).

Another result which should be cause for panic is Madrid, which has been governed by the PP since 1995 and with an absolute majority since then (excluding the first, disputed, regional election in May 2003). In 2009, the PP won 48.6% and it won 51.7% in the 2011 regional elections. This year, the PP’s support collapsed to only 29.9% – although, because of the PSOE’s decrepitude, it still won the region by over 11%. The PSOE, with 18.9%, won its worst ever result. Significantly, Podemos placed third in the Community of Madrid, taking 11.3% against 10.6% for UPyD and 10.5% for IU. With 4.8%, C’s won their best result outside of Catalonia. Madrid was also Vox’s best region (with 3.6%), although it won 6% in the small North African city of Melilla, where Vox was endorsed by a local party of PP dissidents represented in the local assembly.

The PP also did badly in Murcia, one of the PP’s safest regions, but where the populares crumbled to 37.5% – they had won 61.5% in 2009 and 64.2% in November 2011. Although of less symbolic importance and national weight than the populares bastions of Madrid and Valencia, the numbers indicate that the PP could lose its absolute majority in the Regional Assembly in 2015 (it has governed the region with an absolute majority since 1995). It’s a similar story in other regions where the two-party system has historically been extremely dominant – in the conservative stronghold of Castile-León, where the PP and PSOE won about 90% of the vote in 2009, the PP’s support fell from 52% in 2009 to 37.6% in 2014, and combined with the PSOE (23.4%), won only 61% of the regional vote (with UPyD, IU and Podemos each winning about 8%). In Castila-La Mancha, where the two parties took 91% in 2009, they accounted for only two-thirds of the vote in 2014 – with 37.7% for the PP and 28.7% for the PSOE. In Cantabria, where the PP+PSOE won 90% in 2009, they won only 59% this year, split between the PP (34.7%) and the PSOE (24.3%). If replicated in regional elections, the PP’s absolute majorities in several regions would crumble down, leaving them all vulnerable to opposition coalitions.

One of the few bright spots from the PSOE came from the left-wing citadel of Andalusia, where the PSOE won by 9% against the PP – taking 35.1% (a poor result, but comparable to its 2011 and 2012 results) against only 25.9% for the PP, successfully warding off a PP offensive. With 11.6%, IU did well, although it would have done even better without Podemos coming into the picture (with 7%, tied with UPyD). The PSOE was the largest party in every Andalusian province except Almería, the conservative stronghold in the region. The PSOE even won over 40% in Jaén and Huelva provinces, and 37.2% in the Socialist powerhouse of Seville province. The PSOE only managed to be the largest party in two other regions, both of them traditionally left-leaning: Extremadura, which the PP gained from the PSOE for the first time ever in 2011, taking 38.7% to the PP’s 35.5%; and the northern region of Asturias, governed by the PSOE in a tenuous and unstable coalition since 2012, where the Socialists won 26.1% against 24.1% for the PP. With 13.7%, Asturias – an old communist stronghold – was also Podemos’ best region, and IU (12.9%) also won its best national result in the region (where it is in government with the PSOE).

The national and regional results all confirm El País‘ headline – pierde el bipartidismo. Història Electoral, the leading archive for Spanish election data, has projected the potential results of a general election if the EP results were to be replicated: the PP won win 139 seats (its worst result since 1989), the PSOE would fall again to only 105 seats (110 in 2011, already its worst result) while IU would win a record 25 seats, Podemos would send 19 deputies and UPyD 10. In Catalonia, the ERC would elect 15 members against 13 for the CiU (and the C’s would elect 4 deputies). From the Basque parties, EH Bildu would gain one seat (to win 8) while the PNV would gain 2 (to win 7). In Valencia, Compromís would increase its representation to 2 seats. The remaining seats would be split between CC (2) and Vox (1, in low-threshold Madrid). While the PP will likely perform better, and the PSOE may consolidate some of the left-wing vote as well (if it resists to Podemos), it looks very unlikely that either the PP or PSOE will win a majority or even a large enough minority to govern without a coalition or formal confidence-and-supply deal with small parties. Thus, the 2015 regional and general elections will be exceptionally interesting.


Turnout: 51.07% (+5.54%)
Seats: 20 (nc from Lisbon)
Electoral system: Semi-open list PR, 4% threshold (national constituency, may cast a preference vote for a candidate)

S (S&D) 24.19% (-0.22%) winning 5 seats (-1)
Mp (G-EFA) 15.41% (+4.39%) winning 4 seats (+2)
M (EPP) 13.65% (-5.18%) winning 3 seats (-1)
Fp (ALDE) 9.91% (-3.67%) winning 2 seats (-1)
SD (EFDD) 9.67% (+6.4%) winning 2 seats (+2)
C (ALDE) 6.49% (+1.01%) winning 1 seat (±0)
V (GUE/NGL) 6.3% (+0.65%) winning 1 seat (±0)
KD (EPP) 5.93% (+1.26%) winning 1 seat (±0)
F! (S&D) 5.49% (+3.27%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Pirates (G-EFA) 2.23% (-4.9%) winning 0 seats (-2)
Others 0.73% (-3.0%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Sweden 2014 - EP

The Swedish EP elections came only a few months before general elections (local and county council elections are also held the same day) on September 14.

Since 2006, Sweden has been governed by a four-party centre-right coalition (formally known as the Alliance for Sweden, colloquially known as the ‘bourgeois bloc’) led by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the senior governing party, the Moderates (M). In the past, Reinfeldt had been very much on the right, authoring a book highly critical of Sweden’s mythical cradle-to-grave welfare state and calling for neoliberal reforms in the 1990s; but following the Moderates’ disastrous performance on the back of a botched low-tax platform in 2002 (15.3% of the v0te), Reinfeldt won the party’s leadership and moved to reinvent the party. Under Reinfeldt, the Moderates, traditionally the most right-wing party in the country, moved to the centre and focused their policies on fine-tuning and reforming, rather than dismantling, the welfare state by encouraging employment through tax reforms. The Moderates have taken to calling themselves ‘the New Moderates’, similar to Tony Blair’s New Labour and presenting themselves as a centrist, modern, competent, responsible and compassionate party. In the 2006 election, Reinfeldt, who had formed a pre-election coalition with three other parties on the right – the Liberal People’s Party (Fp), the Centre Party (C) and the Christian Democrats (KD), defeated Prime Minister Göran Persson’s tired Social Democrats (S), who had governed Sweden since 1994.

In power, the centre-right has largely been pragmatic and moderate, aiming to present an image of ideological moderation and responsibility. The government’s landmark policy achievement, which has been quite popular, is the earned income tax credit, a tax credit targeting low and middle-income workers which reduces the tax to be paid on income from employment. The government’s goal was to increase the after-tax income of those who work compared to those reliant on transfer payments and social benefits – in short, to increase the incentives for those outside the labour market (the unemployed) to proactively look for a job and ultimately increase employment. At the same time, the government tightened the criteria for unemployment benefits, trimmed the numbers on sickness benefits, increased employee contributions to unemployment funds and abolished tax credits for trade union or insurance fund membership – policies which were unpopular in the short term and caused a severe slump in the right’s poll ratings after taking office in 2006. The Alliance government, in its first term, also abolished a wealth tax and replaced a state property tax with a tax at the municipal level.

Although Sweden is often depicted as a left-wing, socialist utopia because of its famously generous universal welfare regime, the ‘Swedish model’ has gone through a lot of changes in recent years – to the point where free-market reformists, such as The Economist, often look to Sweden as an example. The size of Sweden’s public sector has been significantly reduced – Social Democratic governments in the post-war eras famously created a large public sector and in the mid-1990s, government spending accounted for over 65% of GDP. Today, it accounts for 50% or so of GDP. The top marginal tax rate, still very high by international standards, has been reduced significantly since the 1980s, corporate tax has been cut to 22% recently while wealth and inheritance taxes have been scrapped. The retirement age in Sweden is 67, which is high compared to many other EU member-states.

In 1992, school vouchers were introduced under a previous right-wing government (led by Carl Bildt, who has returned to politics as Reinfeldt’s foreign minister) and Swedish parents now have the choice to send their children to public schools or publicly-funded but privately-run free schools which may operate as non-profit or for profit. Much has been made of the centre-right government’s reforms to ‘make work pay’, and Sweden has been cited as inspiration for similar reforms (notably ‘free schools’) under David Cameron’s government in the United Kingdom. However, education remains a hot topic of debate in Sweden to this day. It is playing a major role in this year’s electoral campaign, after the last PISA schools ranking showed that Sweden has fallen quite a bit.

The ‘marketization’ of public services – such as education and healthcare – has also not been without controversy in Sweden. In 2013, there were several scandals about privately-run (but with taxpayer funding) aged care facilities which cut back on staff and services to increase their profit margins, opening a major political debate on profit in the welfare sector. The centre-right parties are generally favourable to for-profit activities by these private companies in the welfare sector, but the Social Democrats (S) resolved to significantly limit profit and allowing municipalities and counties to determine whether they want for-profit companies operating services and the Left Party (V) wants to ban profit in welfare altogether. Outside of V, however, few politicians left or right question the private sector’s role in providing some welfare/public services. Generally, voters still tend to side predominantly with the left when it comes to defending the welfare state.

In 2008-2009, the Alliance was badly hurt by the economic crisis which saw Sweden fall into a two-year recession (-0.6% and -5% growth in 2008-2009, and rising unemployment) but the government was saved by a spectacular economic recovery in 2010, which saw Sweden’s economy grow by 6.6% – the highest growth rate in the EU that year. Running on the creed of sound, responsible stewardship of the economy, the Reinfeldt government roared back in time for the 2010 election. The government was helped by the centre-left opposition’s sorry state. The Social Democrats, who have been the largest party in every general election since 1917 and have been one of Europe’s most successful parties (in the post-war era, the Social Democrats governed – often without coalition partners – from 1936 to 1976, 1982 to 1991 and from 1994 to 2006), had a tough time finding a leader after their 2006 defeat as many A-list candidates declined (notably Sweden’s well-liked then-European Commissioner Margot Wallström) and they settled on Mona Sahlin, who quickly lost popularity when she faced scrutiny. She built a formal alliance, the Red-Greens, with the Green Party (Mp) and the Left Party (V); the inclusion of V, which grew out of the old Communist Party and is still derided as communist by its opponents (although since 1990 it is a more modern and progressive radical left rather than paleo-communists – although former V leader Lars Ohly had a communist past and was widely depicted as a secret communist sympathizer), was controversial and scared centrist middle-class voters away from S. The opposition presented a botched alternative budget in early 2010, which proved to be its undoing. The centre-right took the lead, with S’ support collapsing and M surging. In 2010, S saved face by placing first, but with only 30.7% the party won its worst result since 1911, while the Moderates won 30.1% – the party’s best result since 1914.

The other major result of the 2010 election was the success of the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), who won 5.7% of the vote and elected its first 20 MPs to the Riksdag. The SD’s success meant that, while the Alliance won more votes than the Red-Greens (49.3% against 43.6%), it lost its absolute majority in the Riksdag and was reduced to a minority government. Unlike the far-right/populist right in Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors – which emerged from anti-tax movements (Norway and Denmark) or agrarian protest (Finland), the SD – founded in 1988 – finds its roots in openly racist or neo-Nazi movements (although SD itself was never Nazi, it did have Nazi sympathizers in its ranks), but the SD moved away from the beyond-the-pale far-right towards the FN/FPÖ far-right in the mid-to-late 1990s, and SDs current leader, Jimmie Åkesson (since 2005) has continued to modernize the party to make it more respectable (for example, the old torch logo is now an innocuous-looking anemone hepatica flower). The party’s support increased to 3% in 2006 and they finally broke through in 2010, much later than most of the Scandinavian populist right. Sweden has a large foreign-born population, making up about 15 to 20% of Sweden’s entire population, and the past decades have seen an increase in immigration from the Middle East (notably Iraq, the second-largest immigrant population behind Finns); Swedish immigration and asylum policies have been quite liberal. The integration of immigrants has been problematic in Sweden – many (non-European) immigrants live concentrated in high-rise apartments or social housing projects in low-income and neglected neighborhoods of the major cities and their suburbs (Rosengård in Malmö, Spånga-Testa in Stockholm, Botkyrka outside Stockholm), areas which concentrate many social and economic problems (poverty, unemployment, low education, criminality) and which have sometimes been called ghettos. Non-European immigrants in Sweden make up about half of the unemployed, and about 4 out 10 are poor. The Sweden Democrats are against multiculturalism, seeks to significantly reduce immigration and insists that immigrants should assimiliate fully with Swedish culture; the party is also socially conservative, anti-EU, anti-Euro and defines itself as democratic nationalist (while affirming that they are non-racist and their nation is culturally rather than ethnically-based). The SDs have seen their support increase to new highs since 2010, despite some controversies, but the party remains widely despised by a vast majority of Swedes who often describe it as racist and xenophobic. The SDs have tried to sanitize its image and make itself more respectable, but the media and other political parties remain very much against SD (although the parties can be more pragmatic if needs be); compared to Denmark’s DF and Norway’s Frp, the SD appear to be more radical and less respectable although it is tough to say if this is a result of their policies or the different national environments (both Danish and Norwegian political cultures have become far more accepting of their populist right). For example, despite being in a potential kingmaker situation, SD has been unable to push the Alliance government to more hardline immigration policies (like DF did with the Danish right) – in fact, Reinfeldt preferred to deal with the Greens on immigration and asylum issues, much to Åkesson’s displeasure.

After its 2010 defeat, the Social Democrats went through some very tough patches. Mona Sahlin resigned in March 2011, and after a convoluted and chaotic process, the party selected Håkan Juholt (mostly known for supposedly being S’ defense specialist) as her successor. Juholt turned out to be a dud who dragged down S’ numbers with his gaffes, before he was finally forced out in January 2012 with a scandal concerning an allowance he received from Parliament to pay for his apartment (he received too much money and was forced to pay back some of it. Under Juholt, S’ support in polls fell to as low as 22%. He was replaced by Stefan Löfven, the former head of the metalworkers union in the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), the largest trade union and an informal ally of the party. Löfven has successfully kept a low-profile, not attracting controversy and appearing as reassuring, competent and pragmatic.

One of the centre-right government’s strongest points in the past had been its responsible stewardship of the economy – often emphasizing that Sweden was, compared to other EU member-states, performing very well economically. Both Reinfeldt and his popular finance minister, Anders Borg, have received high marks from voters when it comes to economic management. Since 2010, however, while Sweden has been performing well, there has been a clear economic slowdown because of lower demand and a strong krona hurting Swedish exports. The economy grew by only 0.9% in 2012 and 1.6% in 2013. Unemployment has remained higher than at pre-recession levels – frustratingly stable at about 8% (about 2% higher than in 2006, when the right won) and youth unemployment is very high (23.5% for those under 25, above the EU-28 average of 22%). While the centre-right government’s reforms to the welfare state have been lavishly praised by some, they’ve come under lots of criticism from the centre-left in Sweden, which argues that the government has prioritized tax cuts over welfare and that many people risk getting stuck in a ‘poverty trap’ with unskilled, low-wage jobs or unable to find a job altogether (therefore risking social exclusion). The Social Democrats have made youth unemployment, education and limiting profit in welfare services their key priorities in the September 2014 campaign.

Other scandals have taken their toll on the government’s popularity recently. The purchase of a Dutch energy company Nuon by state-owned energy company Vattenfall for 89 billion SEK in 2013 sparked controversy earlier this year, when it transpired that Vattenfall had likely paid more for Nuon than what it was worth (and that the government had actually been advised that the deal would be unprofitable, and Borg/Reinfeldt’s hardly believable claims that the deal was made by a former cabinet minister, former C leader Maud Olofsson, without their knowledge); in 2012, the defense minister was forced because of a secret deal where the Swedish government helped Saudi Arabia build a weapons factor.

One problem for the Alliance is that, in 2010, the centre-right’s success came only as a result of M’s strong showing (+3.8% and 30.1%) while its three junior partners all lost votes: the Fp (7.1%, -0.5%), C (6.6%, -1.3%) and KD (5.6%, -1%). Although all four centre-right parties came from different traditions and histories, they have lost their distinctiveness in recent years and it has become increasingly tough to tell them apart except in the details: M has become more similar to the liberal Fp, C sells itself as a ‘green libertarian party’ to appeal to an elusive and small young urban clientele while KD is hardly ‘socially conservative’ and is just a standard conservative party nowadays; generally, they have largely become differentiated by their niche clientele and issues. The old Nordic agrarian Centre Party went through a tough patch recently with a botched attempt to transform itself into low-tax (quasi-Thatcherite), pro-immigration libertarian party (egged on by a youth wing often seen by outsiders as being hardcore libertarian), which led to significant infighting and terrible polling numbers. C’s leader Annie Lööf, once seen as a young rising star (at 31) has definitely not lived up to the hype (while she hasn’t been a disaster, her leadership has been pretty poor at best and she was hurt by the infighting and libertarian-shift).

EP elections in Sweden tend to see different results than general elections – generally with the major parties weaker in EP elections and minor parties quite a bit stronger. In 1995, as the leading anti-EU list in Sweden’s first elections after joining the EU, the Greens (Mp) won 17.2%; the Left Party (V) peaked at nearly 16% in 1999; in 2004, the Eurosceptic June List won 14.5% but collapsed to 3.5% in 2009; in 2009, the Pirates surged to win 7.1% but the party’s support petered out by the time the 2010 general elections rolled around. In contrast, both S and M have done poorly – S has never won over 30% in a EP election, while M won only 18% or so of the vote in 2004 and 2009.

The Social Democrats topped the poll this year, although with only 24.2% of the vote – a very mediocre result down 0.2% (but up about 125,000 votes) from 2009, when S had already done poorly with only 24.4%. While the Social Democrats will do better in September, and remain the favourites to win the election and lead the next government, the party’s support has been declining for a few months now – from pre-campaign heights of 33-34% to only 29-31% today. As the campaign heats up and voters scrutinize the parties more closely, a few are finding S’ pragmatic, inoffensive and generic platform to be a bit uninspiring. The party has bled support to the Greens and Feminists (F!), so its lost votes seem to be staying within the broader left-wing coalition rather than spilling over to the unpopular government. It is likely that S’ performance in September will be quite mediocre – hardly higher than its bad result in 2010 (30.7%) in any case.

The major losers of the election, however, were the Moderates. The government, which continues to trail the combined left by at least 10% if not more, is rather unpopular – the economic slowdown, concern with unemployment and the left’s renewed ability to find popular issues with the electorate haven’t helped, but what seems to be the general opinion in Sweden is that the government is out of steam, out of ideas and largely running on empty. Reinfeldt and Borg remain somewhat popular, but they have lost their advantage over the opposition’s leader (Löfven) and their personal appeal no longer suffices. The Moderates in particular have been out of steam, with the party’s electoral campaign – if one even exists – largely consisting of rehashing the government’s successes, vaguely promising to keep doing what has worked and little else. Their EP campaign was said to be terrible, and the end result was that M collapsed to 13.7% and third place (down about 5.2% from the last EP election) – an unexpectedly horrible result. While M will do better in September, it won’t do much better – the party, which resisted fairly well in polls for a long stretch, is collapsing with support down to 19-23%. The liberal Fp, who had won a strong 13.6% in 2009, failed to benefit from M’s collapse, as they too fell back to 9.9%.

The only silver lining for the Alliance is the strong performance from the Centre and Christian Democrats, two parties which were hovering dangerously close to (or even below) the 4% threshold for parliamentary representation, leading to fears that one or both of these parties may find themselves thrown out of the Riksdag in September. With their positive EP results – 6.5% and 5.9% and up from 2009 – their position in the Riksdag is looking far more secure. While it is too early for them to celebrate, polls have been showing C consistently above the threshold now and KD is also looking more likely than not to make it as well. Optimistic C and KD supporters joked that they might be the ones who’ll need to vote strategically to save M (M voters have sometimes tended to vote strategically for C or KD to allow them to pass the threshold). KD is pro-EU while C has traditionally been rather Eurosceptic – it still opposes the Euro and its platform was titled ‘a leaner yet sharper EU’.

There were three winners in this elections: the Greens (Mp), the Sweden Democrats (SD) and the Feminist Initiative (F!). The Greens surprised many by placing second, with 15.4% of the vote. Voters, from the left mostly but also (it would seem) from the right, rewarded the Greens for their clear focus, their realistic EU-focused campaign and the publicized work of Green MEP Isabella Lövin in changing the EU’s fisheries policies. Unlike many of its allies in Europe, the Swedish Greens are historically quite Eurosceptic and while they now support the EU, they remain EU-critical and opposed to European federalism and the adoption of the Euro (however, with the Eurozone crisis, Sweden has rallied massively behind the krona and the issue of the Euro has been dropped, including by its original advocates such as Fp and M).

The far-right SD did extremely well – a record high 9.7% and nearly 360,000 votes. The far-right is clearly on the rise in Sweden, although it still has a fairly low ceiling compared to similar parties in the rest of Scandinavia and Sweden is not really on the verge of living a ‘Danish/Norwegian scenario’ where the far-right is able to push the government towards adopting hardline immigration policies. Few politicians have been moving towards the SD on immigration issues – the centre-right parties and most of their activists remain strongly opposed to SD and retain pro-immigration positions (in 2002, Fp famously proposed language tests for immigrants, but Fp is back to being strongly pro-immigration), the centre-left remains broadly pro-immigration (although the former S mayor of Malmö Ilmar Reepalu proposed ‘conditional’ citizenship for new immigrants, setting up a probationary period where these newly-naturalized ‘citizens’ could still be stripped of their citizenship and deported). The SDs likely benefited from several days of rioting in immigrant-heavy low-income suburbs in Stockholm back in May 2013, during which several cars were burned and properties vandalized (allegedly by outside vandals). SD’s two new MEPs have joined the EFDD group, along with Denmark’s DF. SD was sometimes cited as a member of Marine Le Pen’s EAF, although I believe that SD never officially joined her alliance and only SD’s youth wing was active in the EAF. Joining the EFDD instead of teaming up with Le Pen is likely an attempt by SD to further normalize and clean up its image.

The Feminist Initiative (F!), a party founded in 2005 by former V leader Gudrun Schyman (who was forced to resign V’s leadership in 2003 for a tax fraud offense and left V a year later) which won just over 2% of the vote in the 2009 EP election but less than 1% in the 2006 and 2010 elections despite the significant domestic and foreign attention the party attracted in 2006. F! is a left-wing/radical left feminist party – its general orientation on issues should be fairly obvious, opposing male dominance of politics, gender inequality, gender norms and heteronormativity. It has a detailed platform, but the main areas of focus for F! tend to be fighting discrimination, sexual liberation, reproductive rights/sexual health for women, LGBTQ rights, fighting the patriarchal economic structure, very strong support for liberal immigration and asylum laws and addressing violence against women. F! appears to be broadly pro-European although critical of the EU’s workings, with its European policy focused on increasing women’s rights across Europe, democratizing the EU and liberalizing asylum policies in the EU. F! calls itself feminist and anti-racist; its critic often describe it as living up to the stereotype of radical left-wing feminists held by right-wingers (in the past, F! proposed to abolish marriage in favour of a new form of cohabitation which would possibly open itself to polygamy). F! surged during the EP campaign, likely because of significant media attention on gender issues and a active campaign by Gudrun Schyman (who, however, did not run herself); F!’s virulently anti-SD rhetoric may also have helped pick up a few voters on the left who hate the SDs. F!’s new MEP is Soraya Post, who is of mixed Jewish and Roma ancestry. She has joined, somewhat surprisingly, the S&D group over the GUE/NGL.

The Pirates, the big sensation of 2009, collapsed to 2.2% and lost both their seats, as was widely expected. The Pirates’ short-lived success in 2009 was associated with events at the time (the Pirate Bay trial and the guilty verdict in the district court in April 2009, and other domestic events related to intelligence, privacy and copyright laws) and on the back of young protest voters – some of whom may now be voting SD. The party’s star faded quickly and in 2010 it won just 0.7%.

The results in September will certainly be more ‘normal’, but the centre-left opposition (Red-Greens, even if there is no formal alliance) are the favourites to win and are still leading the Alliance by at least 10% in all polls. Mp and V are both likely to increase on their 2010 results (7.3% and 5.6% respectively), all four Alliance parties will likely lose votes (M being the main victim, but with KD still not totally in the clear with the threshold) and SD will likely repeat its result from the EP election or even break 10%. The Alliance could, like in 2010, close the gap further – but, one month or so out, it seems too late for them to turn the ship around barring a surprise. F! is a wildcard – the EP result gave them momentum, and polls in June indicated that F! could win over 4%, but the latest numbers in July and early August suggest that F!’s momentum is already fading and they are unlikely to win over 4%. Certainly the Red-Greens would prefer that – a fourth left-wing party would only complicate things for them.

The main question remains whether or not, with SD doing so well, the Red-Greens will win an absolute majority. A S-Mp-V victory is likely, but it could very well end up only with a minority, with SD in a strong position between the two blocs and creating a chaotic situation. For the first time, it looks very unlikely that S will form a government alone – the most likely option is a S+Mp government, with V providing critical support from the outside (V may seek to join cabinet itself, but both S and Mp seem to be hostile to that idea – and V being outside serves S better). There is also a lot of speculation about the odds of one of the junior Alliance parties defecting – Fp is seen as the likeliest candidate (C has seemingly gone too far down the libertarian road), because Fp leader Jan Björklund has talked about cooperating with the centre-left on some issues. It is worth noting that C governs with S+Mp in Gävleborg County; Fp governs with S+Mp in Södermanland County; Mp governs with the Alliance in Halland, Jönköping, Scania, Värmland and Västernorrland counties. However, nationally, after eight years in the Alliance, Fp (or C) would likely find it hard to jump over – and that might require change of leadership in the parties.

Finally, for the first time this year, the new Prime Minister will require a formal vote of confidence, replacing Sweden’s negative parliamentarianism, which allowed one to govern until a majority votes against the government. Therefore, Reinfeldt will not be able to hang on in the case that no alliance has a majority – unless, of course, he manages to get the Greens over to his side, but that is very unlikely in 2014.

The broad patterns of Swedish electoral geography were unchanged, the odd results of the election notwithstanding. The Social Democrats owned the north, with over 40% of the vote in Norrbotten County, 39.8% in Västernorrland County, 34.9% in Jämtland County and 32.8% in Västerbotten County. It also polled well in inland central Sweden – over 30% in Västmanland, Örebro and Värmland counties. This traditional pattern corresponds to the diffuse nature of Sweden’s resource-based industrialization – meaning that most major industrial centres are outside the major cities (Stockholm never really was, and certainly isn’t today, an industrial city). Remote and sparsely populated northern Sweden is an old industrial region (mining, forestry, steel and iron works; nowadays the public sector is the main employer), making it a blue-collar and fairly poor region which has leaned heavily left (with the exception of the liberal tradition of the free churches, a pattern which has mostly died out anyhow).

Stockholm County is usually the right’s stronghold, but even there M failed to place first. The Greens won first place with 19.4% against 17.6% for M (its best result in the country) and 17.1% for S (its worst result in the country); in Stockholm itself, the Greens won 21.8% against 16.3% for M and 15.1% for S. With 10.5%, F! broke double-digits in the Swedish capital. M retained first place in the county’s most affluent suburban municipalities – Danderyd (36.5% M), Lidingö (30.2% M) and Täby (27.5%); but looking at the results in these places, and specifically the strong gains made by the Greens (as well as C and KD), we can presume that Mp gained some M (and Fp) voters from 2009, as did C and KD. Inside Stockholm itself, M remained ahead in the very affluent central Norrmalm-Östermalm-Gamla Stan district and the affluent Bromma-Kungsholmen district; the Greens’ best result came from Södermalm-Enskede district (Södermalm is a gentrified central district and traditional Green stronghold), with 26.3% – with F! in second with 14.8%. The Social Democrats topped the poll in Yttre Västerort district, with 26.1% against 18% for the Greens; that outer district includes the low-income immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Spånga-Testa and Rinkeby (areas where S often wins over 50%, if not 60%, of the vote). Outside the city, S also topped the poll in Botkyrka (31% S) – the north of the municipality is a large immigrant-heavy area and in Södertälje (28.5%).

The Greens and Feminists did well in Uppsala County (18.4% and 6.8% respectively) – specifically in the university city of Uppsala (Greens largest party with 21.3%, F! at 8.4%), with the Greens and Feminists again doing well in the same kind of places (university residences/student districts especially – where Mp and F! were often first and second!).

The Sweden Democrats did best in Blekinge County (14%) and Scania/Skåne County (13.4%). Scania, at the southern end of Sweden, is one of the country’s most distinctive regions and tends to have a strong regional identity; it has undergone major demographic transformations in recent years, suffering from deindustrialization in parts while other more affluent parts are increasingly suburban and attracting cross-Øresund commuters/immigrants from Denmark. The SDs’ first successes at the polls, prior to 2010, came from Scania and it can be considered as SD’s main stronghold (Blekinge County, which borders Scania, is quite small). SD performs best in lower middle-class suburban areas (with low percentages of foreigners) and old industrial towns (which have swung hard against the left/S) – generally (and simplifying a lot), as in other Scandinavian countries, SD attracts young blue-collar males with low education who are frustrated about immigration, taxes and/or jobs. SD does poorly in highly-educated places – for instance, SD won only 6% in Lund (a major university town).

On a final, lighter note, the record of write-in votes in the election is quite hilarious: a handful of votes for the ‘Satanist Initiative’ (not sure if this is a parody of F!), a few for Jesus, a number of ‘out-of-the-EU’/’no to EU’/’EUSSR’/’fuck EU’ type protest ballots, a number of write-ins for the pan-European parties or EP groups (ALDE, Greens, G-EFA, PES, EPP), 2 for a ‘Hell’s Angels Freedom Party’… and 3 votes for UKIP!

This concludes my review of the May 2014 European Parliament elections – with much delay, unfortunately, but it’s done as it should be: each country analyzed separately in their own national context. I hope you’ve enjoyed the analysis provided, and that you’ll forgive me for missing a number of elections along the way: I will try to cover a few of them in the next few weeks, without making promises! Enjoy the summer or winter!

Catalonia 2012

General elections were held in Catalonia on November 25, 2012. There are 135 seats in the Parliament of Catalonia (Parlament de Catalunya/Parlamento de Cataluña), elected by d’Hondt closed list proportional representation in the region’s four provinces. There is a 3% threshold in each province to win seats.

The province of Barcelona elects 85 deputies while the provinces of Girona, Lleida and Tarragona elect 17, 15 and 18 deputies respectively. The province of Barcelona, where some 73% of the region’s population lives, is underrepresented to the benefit of the three, smaller, provinces who hold 41% of the seats in the Parliament but only 27% of the region’s population. The Catalan Parliament elects the President of the Generalitat, the government of the autonomous community.

The last regional elections took place in fall 2010 and they resulted in the victory of the Convergence and Union (CiU), a centre-right Catalan nationalist party led by Artur Mas, who became President of the Generalitat. Mas’ CiU had won 62 seats and a healthy plurality of seats, but they fell short of the 68 seats required for an absolute majority.

My Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election offers some background on Catalonia and its history, of particular relevance to the current situation.

Catalonia is Spain’s second most populous community and has long been the industrial motor of Spain, to this day it accounts for 18.6% of the Spanish GDP. Catalonia, which has a strong national identity, is often portrayed as the “civilized” counterpart to Euskadi: Catalan nationalism is expressed peacefully and politically, while Basque nationalism is expressed (in part) through terror and violence. Catalan nationalism is one of the most enduring and potent political issues in Spain and Catalonia is a key piece in the economic, political and social makeup of Spain. The population of Catalonia is 7,535,251 (INE 2011). The capital of Catalonia is Barcelona and the community is composed of the provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona.

Catalonia has never been a kingdom or a powerful empire of its own, but its language alongside a long history of cultural splendor, political power and prominent role in what became Spain has been a key element in the construction of a Catalan national identity, a national identity which is shared by the vast majority of Catalans to this day. As the Franks pushed the Muslims back in the 8th and 9th centuries, a plethora of vassal counties emerged in present-day Catalonia, with the county of Barcelona becoming the leading force of these increasingly independent counties. In 987, the Count of Barcelona’s refusal to swear loyalty to Hugh Capet of France sealed the division of Catalonia from the Frankish realms. Under the reign of Ramon Berenguer I, Barcelona rose to a position of economic and political prominence in the region. In 1137, the marriage of Ramon Berenguer IV with Petronilla of Aragon (well, technically, she was one year old. Royals were sickos) united the crowns of Barcelona with that of Aragon. While the future ‘counts’ were known as kings of Aragon, Catalonia was very much the driving force. Catalonia’s rising embryo of a future urban bourgeoisie became a very potent political force, organized in parliament (the Corts, a kind of Estates-General) and a governing body, the Generalitat. Catalonia’s economic opulence and cultural influence during this era (13-14th century) was a contributing factor in the early development of a sort of proto-national identity. However, the accession to the Aragonese throne of a Castilian branch in 1410 led to the slow decline of Catalan influence and political power and most of the region’s initial rights were surrendered to the growing power of Castile – especially after the dynastic union of 1469. In 1652, a Catalan revolt aided by France was crushed. In the War of Spanish Succession, the Catalans sided with Archduke Charles, the Habsburg claimant, over the eventual winner, Philip V of Bourbon. Catalonia chose the wrong side and was totally destroyed. In 1716, the institutions of Catalan self-government were abolished. In the next hundred years and more, Catalans showed extraordinary resilience despite losing their particularities, power, influence and wealth. During the nineteenth century, Catalonia experienced rapid industrialization based around the textile industry. Textile production started inland in mills powered by mountain rivers, and later expanded into a large, sprawling textile empire in and around Barcelona. Until the development of Basque industry in the late nineteenth century, Catalonia was the only part of Spain which had entered the new world order of industrialization and even after Basque industrialization it remained an industrial powerhouse in a feudal country where most lived lives of misery in unprofitable and nonviable agriculture. Is it a surprise that Catalans increasingly started perceiving Madrid and the rest of Spain as an uncivilized feudal backwater which seemed to be controlled by creaking old nobles in cahoots with the landed class which profited from the super-protected nonviable feudal agrarian Spanish economy?

Influenced by European Romanticism, Catalonia underwent a cultural rebirth in the late nineteenth century – the Renaixença. The Renaixença represented the creation by the Catalan intelligentsia of a Catalan national identity distinct from Spain, which they viewed with much frustration. The Renaixença placed a role in the birth of Catalan nationalism (sometimes called ‘Catalanism’) as a political movement. The main actors of Catalan nationalism at the turn of the century were Catalonia’s middle-class industrialists, the Catalan elites who aspired to expand their industrial empire to the rest of Spain. Their goal was to increase the power and prestige of Catalonia and Catalan industry within Spain, eventually taking the reins of power in Madrid from the hands of the landed gentry whose interests laid primarily in the feudal agrarian system. Regionalism was used as political tool to gain power and extract concessions from the dominant interests. For obvious reasons, they were certainly not separatists and in fact the Lliga Regionalista used to talk in terms of a “greater Spain”. This moderate, pragmatic stream of Catalan nationalism which seeks power and influence for Catalonia, not separation, and values compromise and dialogue with Madrid exists to this day in the form of the Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition. However, this moderate “we only care about your cash”-type of nationalism did not appeal to the more radical intellectuals, who would slowly go on to form a far more radical, sometimes separatist or sometimes federalist, republican stream of Catalan nationalism which exists to this day in the form of the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). The ERC was the driving force of Catalan nationalism during the Republic and Civil War, but the moderate stream emerged victorious as soon as 1977 under what would become the CiU, the heir to the Lliga.

Catalonia accounts for 18.7% of Spain’s GDP, making it the second largest economy in Spain after the Madrid region. Historically, of course, industry was the motor of the Catalan economy and by consequence a motor for a lot of the Spanish economy. Under the inspiration and leadership of Catalonia’s industrious middle-class, the region developed a booming secondary sector based around the production and entire industry of textile. The Catalan textile world used to be concentrated up in the valleys, far inland; but in the 1800s it took its present base in and around Barcelona along the Mediterranean coast. It later diversified beyond textiles into automobiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs or shipbuilding. While industry used to account for up to 40%, it accounts for only 18% of Catalonia’s GDP today. Like most western economies, services (72%) now concentrate most employment. Catalonia is a major financial and banking centre and it is a prized tourist destination (specifically the coasts). Catalonia has long turned industry into wealth, and it has historically been a “shining beacon” of prosperity within a feudal Spain. The region’s GDP per capita of €27,053 places it in fourth place.

As much as Catalonia was a “shining beacon” of prosperity in Spain for a very long time, that shouldn’t be tailored to mean that Catalonia enjoyed wonderful social peace. It didn’t. Influenced by Barcelona’s history of federalism, Barcelona and Catalonia was an anarchist bastion for most of the first half of the twentieth century and Catalonia was often at the heart of labour disputes, notably between 1916 and 1923. Socialism never really gained a foothold in Catalonia until the transition, in fact (when it gained a stronghold).

But to many poorer Spaniards, Catalonia was a ”shining beacon” of prosperity and hope. Its industrial sector needed cheap labour, so it attracted a lot of internal migrants mostly from Andalusia and the poor regions of southern Spain. Immigration from southern Spain to Catalonia was particularly important under Franco’s regime, at the end of which one could talk of Barcelona as “Andalusia’s ninth province”. The Andalusian Party (PA) ran in the 1980 Catalan elections and actually won two seats (and 3% of the vote in Barcelona province). Today, there is little immigration into Catalonia from within Spain. Rather, immigration to Catalonia these days is mostly foreign. Besides South American and Romanian immigration, Catalonia has a very large Muslim North African (Moroccan) community. Many Moroccan and North African youths are attracted to Barcelona by the fabled FC Barcelona (and also economic reasons, of course). 16% of the Catalan population is foreign-born. Today, most Catalans are born in Catalonia itself (77% in a 2010 study). But when Catalans are asked where their parents were born, that same study showed that only a minority – 44-45% – said that their parents were born in Catalonia. Up to 27% said that their parents were born in Andalusia. These people have integrated in Catalan society and culture remarkably well, but it is still common to speak of their parents as “other Catalans” – Catalans, yes, but different. Most of the “other Catalans” came to work in the industrial suburbs of Barcelona and settled in the industrial ‘C’ which surrounds Barcelona.

Catalanism as an ideology whose basis is the recognition and promotion of Catalan national ideology is embraced by a vast majority of Catalan voters and all but two of the current parties in the Catalan Parliament (PP and C’s). The Catalan Socialists (PSC) by far and large embrace the Catalan national identity and support a federal vision of Spain which includes national recognition for Catalonia and Senate reform. It was the PSC-led government of Pasqual Maragall who spearheaded the ambitious 2006 reform of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy. The PSC, however, is unambiguously against Catalan independence. The governing CiU is in practice a pragmatic, moderate nationalist party whose goal is to give Catalonia full fiscal autonomy (like Euskadi) and self-determination within Spain, not independence. Of the parliamentary parties, only the ERC and Joan Laporta’s SI support Catalan independence from Spain. In contrast to Euskadi, the expression of Catalan nationalism has rarely taken a violent form. The terrorist organization Terra Lliure dissolved itself in the early 1990s and it never carried out acts of violence equivalent to ETA’s actions. That is why Catalan nationalism is always described as a “civilized” thing, whose expression is democratic and political. One of the reasons for this is that the issue of nationalism (though obviously not the issue of independence) is not as polarizing in Catalan society as it is in Basque society. ‘Catalanism’ has long been supported by a huge majority of Catalans, and there is a long history of national identification in Catalonia – unlike in Euskadi.

The official languages of Catalonia are Catalan and Spanish. Catalan is, like Spanish, an Ibero-Romance language. It is easy to pick up for a Spanish-speaker and quite similar to Spanish overall. Catalan is close to Occitan, which was spoken in southern France, and as such it appears as an intermediate language between Ibero-Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese) and Gallo-Romance languages (Occitan, French). Roughly 95% of Catalans understand Catalan and around 75% of them can speak it (a lower percentage can write it too). However, Catalan is the primary language of identification for only 32% of Catalans: 50% identify with Spanish, 7% with both Catalan and Spanish and 9% with another language. The use of Spanish, understandably, remains pervasive in media and business. However, the Catalan government is extremely stringent on linguistic policy. Catalan is defined as the “preferred” language of administration, public business, education and cultural activities. All city names are official only in their Catalan forms (for example, Gerona become Girona and Lerida became Lleida). Public servants must speak Catalan and it is the preferred language of business in government. All students must be proficient in both Catalan and Spanish in order to graduate, and Catalan is by far the top language of education in Catalan schools. The government also spends large sums of money on promoting Catalan culture in movies, television, radio or print media. There is some opposition to the very stringent pro-Catalan policies of the Generalitat: the PP and C’s both oppose the current state of language legislation and instead lobby for ‘bilingualism’ which means full equality between both languages, as well as equal education in both Spanish and Catalan. The former leader of the PP in Catalonia and incumbent MEP Alejo Vidal-Quadras described the linguistic policies as some sort of ‘apartheid’. On the other hand, Catalan nationalists claim that tough promotion of Catalan in the public sphere is necessary to preserve the language and prevent Spanish from gaining the upper-hand in everyday life. Spanish is already preferred over Catalan in everyday life situations. Some of the most radical nationalists are opposed to bilingualism. Rather, they would want to see Catalan recognized as the sole official language with the use of Spanish being a “right of individual citizens”.

It is important to note that this system of bilingualism is not universal in Catalonia. The mountainous northwestern territory of the Val d’Aran speaks Aranese, an variant of Occitan. The Val d’Aran has its own directly-elected legislature (general council) and a special status of autonomy. Aranese is co-official there with Catalan and Spanish.

Catalans are ticket-splitters. In general, municipal and European elections they are loyal to the Socialists (PSC). The PSC has been the largest party in all general elections, and has been the largest party in all but one municipal and European election (2011 and 1994 respectively). In 2008, the PSC won 46.1% of the vote against 21.26% for the CiU, 16.65% for the PP, 7.95% for the ERC and 5% for the ICV. The PSC’s landslide – beating even its previous high in 1982 – played a major role in the reelection of the Zapatero government in Madrid. Catalans, also worried in large part of the effects of a new PP government (the PSC did similarly and abnormally well in 1996), rewarded the Socialists for their role in the reform of the Statute in 2006. The CiU’s utter weakness and pitiful state in general elections is a new phenomenon, however. In 2004, the 5.4% margin between the PSC and CiU turned into 18.9% margin in the PSC’s favour and increased to a record-high 24.8% margin in 2008. Between 1986 and 2004, however, the CiU had a high stable vote ranging between 29% and 32%, with the margin between them and the PSC being between 5% and 9%. The PSC also has the edge in municipal and European elections. Most importantly, the PSC has controlled Barcelona’s city hall between 1979 and 2011. During the 1990s, the Socialist-controlled Barcelona was a major counterweight to Jordi Pujol’s control of the Generalitat. Pasqual Maragall was mayor of the Catalan capital between 1982 and 1997.

In elections to the Catalan Parliament, however, voters are far more likely to support the CiU (and to a lesser extent the ERC) at the expense of non-nationalist parties like the PSC or PP. In 1980, despite a poor performance in the 1977 and 1979, Jordi Pujol’s newly-founded nationalist coalition CiU emerged as the strongest force to the PSC’s dismay with 27% and 43 seats against 33 seats for the PSC and 25 seats for the communist PSUC. Pujol, an intelligent, charismatic, competent and shrewd politician would go on to become the embodiment of Catalonia and Catalan nationalism. In 1984, the CiU won 46.8% and an absolute majority in the Parliament which it held on to in 1988 and 1992. By 1995, Pujol’s star had begun fading and he was reduced to a minority. In 1999, Maragall’s PSC won slightly more votes (37.9% vs. 37.7%) though Pujol won more seats. Pujol held on for a final term with the votes of the PP. In 2003, support for both the CiU (now led by Artur Mas) and the PSC fell but Maragall took power from the CiU with an historic tripartite coalition with the ERC and ICV. This coalition was reelected in 2006, though the CiU won more votes and seats. In 2010, the PSC collapsed to a record-low 18.4% and 28 seats, while Artur Mas’ CiU won 62 seats – almost an absolute majority.

The PSC’s base in Catalonia is Barcelona province, which concentrates 73% of the region’s population (though only 63% of seats in the Catalan Parliament). Barcelona has the heaviest concentration of so-called “other Catalans” – Catalans whose parents (oftentimes) were born outside Catalonia and came to work in the industrial hinterland of Barcelona. These voters, though they may feel Catalan, do not identify with Catalan nationalism. Besides, most of them being poor and working-class do not naturally identify either with a right-wing party like the CiU. Industrial suburbs of Barcelona or old working-class towns like L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Badalona, Terrassa, Sabadell, Santa Coloma, El Prat or Manresa are some of Catalonia’s largest cities and strongholds of the PSC (over 50% in good years). The CiU’s vote is concentrated in rural areas, where Catalan remains the dominant language, and in affluent towns (most of the Catalan middle-class is nationalist) like Sant Cugat. The CiU was the largest party in general elections between 1986 and 2004 in the provinces of Girona and Lleida. Perhaps a trend which should worry the PSC (or is it an ephemeral fad linked to the poor state of the Socialists?) is the rise of the PP and the far-right in its working-class strongholds. Most PP gains in 2010 came from these type of areas, where the economic crisis has prompted anti-immigration feelings (immigrants to Catalonia being largely North African) which are exploited by the PP but also the PxC, a far-right party based in the old textile town of Vic (where it is the second largest party on council behind the CiU). In 2011, the PP won Badalona, the region’s third-largest city and a PSC stronghold.

Catalan politics have evolved rapidly and dramatically since this profile was written last summer. Catalan nationalism, which for decades had been seen as the “civilized” and consensual peripheral nationalism (the so-called seny catalá) in contrast to the Basque Country’s acrimonious, polarizing and violent brand of nationalism. Today, the situation has been reversed. Even as Euskadi elected a nationalist regional government last month, the new Basque government seems to prefer consensus and accommodation rather than confrontation with Madrid over a nationalist agenda. On the other hand, the Catalan government has moved towards is actively pushing a nationalist – many would say downright separatist – agenda, in the process creating a polarizing and divisive national debate within Catalonia and Spain as a whole.

The backdrop to the new crisis between the Generalitat and la Moncloa is the economic crisis, which has played a huge role in the revitalization of Catalan nationalism. Spain’s central government has a big public debt and deficit, but many of the country’s 17 autonomous communities – Catalonia included – have also contracted large debts through years of reckless and profligate spending by careless governments. Their huge debts are coming back to haunt them, and nowhere is this truer than in Catalonia; Spain’s economic powerhouse and traditionally the wealthiest region in Spain.

The central government has pressured regional governments to dramatically reduce their debts and deficits, given that the debt contracted by Spain’s regional governments is one of the major factors weighing on the country’s economic and fiscal situation. The regions, notably Catalonia and Andalusia, have argued that they cannot cut their debt to the threshold imposed by Madrid.

Catalonia’s debt was 21% of the GDP in the first quarter of 2012, up from 14% in the first quarter of 2010; this the largest debt both in raw and percentage terms for any region in Spain (the Valencian Community’s debt is 20.2%). In response, the Generalitat passed strict austerity measures, which aim at reducing the region’s deficit from 4.22% in 2010 to the 1.3% deficit threshold in 2012. These austerity measures have included deep spending cuts, major job cuts in the public sector (notably in education, healthcare or social services), a 5% pay cut for regional government employees, some tax hikes and a commitment to sell public assets. While the government has been fairly successful in its attempts to reduce the deficit, the region’s debt has kept growing because markets have lost trust in Catalonia (a credit rating agency recently downgraded the region’s credit rating). Asphyxiated by debt, the regional government was forced to seek a bailout from the autonomous liquidity fund to stay afloat. The CiU’s campaign promise to reduce unemployment has amounted to hot air, given that the region’s unemployment rate has increased from around 17.5% when the CiU was elected in 2010 to 22.56% today (still below the national average of 25%).

The economic crisis has reignited Catalan complaints about the “fiscal deficit” – the idea that Catalonia pays more to the central government (in taxes) than it gets back (in investments), which means that Catalan taxpayers are “subsidizing” the poorer regions of Spain. The central government has recognized the existence of the fiscal deficit and it has been evaluated at 6 to 9% of the region’s GDP.

Artur Mas’ austerity measures have been fairly unpopular, but they have not caused the same level of social unrest and discontent as the PP government’s similar measures in Madrid. Additionally, Mas’ popularity did not fall significantly, quite unlike Mariano Rajoy. There are two explanations for his party’s resilient support. The first explanation is used by most governments around the world these days: blame the bad stuff on the guys who were there before you. In Catalonia, the CiU government has claimed (with good reason – to an extent) that the tripartite PSC-ERC-ICV coalition which was in power between 2003 and 2010 was a disaster which left a huge deficit.

The other claim which the CiU has made in order to justify its policies is that, as noted above, the current financing of autonomous communities is unfair. The Catalan nationalists have been very good at exploiting the idea that Catalans are getting robbed by Spain (their tax money being used to “subsidize” the poorer regions in the south). These feelings were, of course, present long before the economic crisis but there has unarguably been a surge in nationalist sentiments in Catalonia. People have offered differing explanations to account for this surge, though most will agree that the economic crisis and the ‘fiscal deficit’ have played a major role.

Catalan nationalists, again, have been successful at presenting the situation in simple terms: Catalans are being robbed because of a broken and unfair regional financing model, and that Catalonia, one of Spain’s richest regions, could recover very quickly if its taxes weren’t being used by Madrid to subsidize poorer regions (and if it was an independent country within the EU). With the economic crisis, people have lost their bearings while a lot of Catalans – most of whom are very attached to their cultural identity and proud of it – are seeing Spain as a broken and decadent state. In this context, the offer of independence as an easy fix-all solution to Catalonia’s catastrophic economic situation has proven quite attractive.

The size of the pro-independence rally on the Diada (Catalonia’s national day on September 11, which commemorates the day in 1714 when the pro-Habsburg Catalan forces were defeated by the Spanish Bourbons during the Spanish War of Succession; a symbol for the loss of Catalan autonomy) this year surprised both the CiU and the opponents of Catalan independence. The organizers estimated that around 1.5 million turned out to march in support of Catalan independence, opponents said the number was below 1 million (but still quite high).

Whether or not Mas supports the independence of Catalonia as a nation-state is not entirely clear, because he has a noted aversion to the use of the word ‘independence’ but it is nonetheless quite clear that Mas’ tends towards full independence, or falling short of that, very extensive autonomy for Catalonia in Spain. The days when the CiU sought to extract advantages (some kind of “devo max” similar to what Alex Salmond’s SNP might be aiming for in Scotland) from Madrid while standing as a bulwark against the radical separatists are gone. Mas and the CiU argues that circumstances have changed because of the economic crisis and the Spanish government’s “recentralist” attitudes (for example, the courts striking down the controversial parts of the 2006 reform of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy).

The economic crisis has exposed flaws and cracks in the country’s 1978 constitution which had been the product of careful compromise between conflicting groups. Peripheral nationalists, primarily Catalan nationalists, have long been clamoring for extensive constitutional reforms. Now, several mainstream Spanish politicians on the left (notably the PSOE’s hapless boss, Alfredo Peréz Rubalcaba) have converted to federalism. On the other hand, any reform of the constitutional model remains unacceptable for the Spanish right. For them, the economic crisis has revealed that regional governments are careless toddlers who cannot be trusted with the purse.

Mas’ core demand is a new “fiscal pact” which would allow Catalonia to raise and manage its own taxes (paying Madrid only for the services provided by the central government in the region), an arrangement which would be akin to that which Euskadi and Navarre currently have (the Concierto Económico). In Euskadi and Navarre, this constitutionally-entrenched concierto has allowed the regional government to keep more of its taxes and invest them in the region (they also do not participate in the Spanish form of equalization payments).

Negotiations between Rajoy and Mas on the fiscal pact foundered in September. The PP is ideologically inclined towards centralization rather than devolution, so it had no appetite for Mas’s schemes – which Rajoy rejected as being unconstitutional. Rajoy agreed to a renegotiation of the autonomous financing system, last negotiated in 2009, but he also vowed to oppose any moves contrary to the constitution or actions which would disturb the country’s political stability. Even if Rajoy has carefully eschewed provocative language, many in his entourage and his party have a knack for such language. Martin Prieto, in the very conservative La Razón newspaper, recently accused Mas of “high treason”.

Mas was surprised by the strength of the Diada rallies, and he chose to latch on to the nationalist train. He announced early elections September 25, and stated that he would hold a referendum within the term of the next legislature on Catalonia’s institutional future. Prior to its dissolution, the Catalan Parliament voted a motion calling for a consultation on Catalonia’s future. Mas said that he would seek to hold a referendum within the legal framework, but he would still hold a referendum even without legal backing. The referendum, he argued, should go forward regardless.

The Spanish constitution is not clear about many things when it comes to regional autonomy, but it does make clear that only the Spanish Parliament has the authority to organize a referendum (Article 149.1) and that sovereignty resides in the Spanish people (Article 1.2). Some feel that Mas could settle for a “devo max” arrangement with Madrid, because he has shied away from using the word independence. However, the way in which he talks about the referendum makes it is clear that his goal would be Catalan statehood. In this election, for example, Mas said that he was seeking a mandate to turn Catalonia into “a state within Europe”. Catalan nationalists have insisted that if all went well, the new Catalan state would automatically become a member-state within the EU. The reality is not as straightforward  Most feel that Catalonia would not automatically retain EU membership if it became a “state”.

It is unclear whether Mas supports sovereignty in the traditional sense of the term, or if his scheme is closer to that proposed by Juan José Ibarretxe, the former Basque regional president, in 2003. Ibarretxe’s plan would have created a sort of confederal Spain in which Euskadi would hold a statute of free-association with Spain and would have very wide powers, including representation in EU institutions. He too had sought to hold a referendum on his plan, but the Spanish parliament rejected his demand as unconstitutional and the plan collapsed after he failed to win a popular mandate for it in snap regional elections. Ibarretxe’s plan represented an unusual and novel notion of “post-sovereignty” which sees many sources of sovereignty and authority rather than a single source, as in traditional definitions. By some of his statements, Mas has given hints that his project falls in this category. He noted that “independence” and “sovereignty” are outdated concepts, because of supranational structures such as the EU. Some in the CiU have also stated that their goal would be similar to that of the United States, with the EU being the US federal government and Catalonia being a state within the larger confederation. On the other hand, he has been much clearer than Ibarretxe was in some of his statements and it appears as if he favours independence.

In the short-term, both the CiU and the PP saw a debate over Catalonia’s institutional future as a politically lucrative solution. By placing the referendum and the issues it entails at the core of the campaign, the CiU (and the PP) could distract attention away from the economic crisis. The CiU could awake nationalist sentiments and ensure that voters were not reminded of its unpopular austerity measures. The PP could use the CiU’s nationalist campaigns to mobilize anti-nationalist energy against the CiU, while also ensuring that voters forgot about Mariano Rajoy in Madrid and the PP’s support for the Generalitat’s austerity policies in Barcelona.

The campaign turned into a polarized debate on Catalonia’s future, with the economy and the crisis being relegated to a secondary role. The polarization of the debate favoured the parties with strong and clear positions on the issue, while hurting those parties whose standing was more ambiguous. On the nationalist side of the equation, the CiU’s objective was to win an absolute majority in Parliament which would give it a strong mandate to hold a referendum, even over Madrid’s refusal (there is basically no chance that Rajoy would let a Catalan referendum go ahead). The party’s campaign took a clearly nationalist tone, with Mas’ messianic promise to lead Catalonia to the promised land of statehood within the EU. At his huge rallies, the senyera – the traditional Catalan flag which is the official flag of Catalonia – was replaced by the estelada – the senyera defaced with a star in a blue triangle, and a flag associated with separatism. At the outset, it appeared as if the CiU would be successful. It was helped out, unintentionally, by the Rajoy government. José Ignacio Wert, the PP education minister, said that he wanted to “hispanicize” (españolizar) Catalan children; a provocative statement which fanned the flames of Catalan nationalism.

The CiU is not the only avatar of Catalan nationalist. The Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which had experienced a huge surge in support in 2003-2004 but who had seen its support go down fairly dramatically since that high point (only 10 seats in 2010), openly supports independence. Under a new leader, Oriol Junqueras (a local mayor and former MEP), and an even more nationalist orientation, the ERC’s platform included a road map towards independence including a referendum on independence in 2014 to be followed by a ‘constituent phase’. On other issues, the ERC’s platform was social democratic and used keywords such as reindustralization, the knowledge economy and the green economy. During the campaign, Junqueras and the ERC avoided direct criticism of Mas.

The Initiative for Catalonia Greens-United and Alternative Left (ICV-EUiA), a permanent coalition of the smaller EUiA (which is the IU’s local branch) and the ecosocialist ICV (a successor of the old PSUC, refounded in the late 1990s as a New Left ecosocialist party), has often been considered as a nationalist party. The party supports “plurinational” federalism and rejects what it calls the PP’s “recentralization”, but it also strongly supports the Catalan people’s “right to decide” of their institutional future – including independence – in a referendum. It does not see independence and federalism as competing projects, because it views them as two models which recognize the right to self-determination. The common enemy is centralism. As such, ICV’s 10 deputies backed the CiU motion calling for the organization of a referendum. Agreement with the CiU, however, stops there. ICV, led by Joan Herrera, campaigned under the slogan “right to decide, yes; social rights too!”. It presented itself as the strongest left-wing opposition to the “right’s” (CiU and PP) austerity policies.

On the left, ERC and ICV faced competition from the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), an old medley of left and far-left nationalist independents. The CUP, which has no party hierarchy or leadership but is rather a broad assortment of local assemblies functioning on the base of participative democracy, has been around since the 1980s but it had never run in elections above the municipal level. In the May 2011 local election, the CUP did very well – taking over 2% of the vote and 104 seats. The CUP strongly supports the independence of the “Catalan Countries” and is far to the left on economic issues, supporting a “planned economy based on solidarity” and nationalization of public utilities, transportation and communication networks. The CUP’s candidate, David Fernández, said that he wanted a “Trojan horse for the lower classes” in Parliament.

At the other end of the spectrum, the PP and the Citizens (C’s) represented the staunch opponents of Mas’ nationalist gamble. The Catalan PP, led by Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, sought to benefit from a polarized campaign fought around the divisive idea of Catalan independence. The Rajoy government’s austerity policies are unpopular and the PP voted in favour of the CiU’s austerity policies at the regional level, so the PP ran a more low-key campaign which focused its attacks on Mas, whom they presented as a ‘coward’ who was dead-set on the divisive idea of separation and was unwilling to deal with urgent social and economic problems, including unemployment. Sánchez-Camacho presented her party as the only national party “which defends without shame that Catalonia is part of Spain”.

The Ciudadanos-Partido de la Ciudadanía (C’s) was founded in 2006 and it obtained only 3 seats in both the 2006 and 2010, with about 3% of the votes nationally. In the same ideological tradition as UPyD, the C’s are a centre-left liberal party viscerally opposed to further decentralization, let alone independence. In the liberal tradition, C’s places emphasis on individual rights and claims that only individuals have rights, not political territories. In the past, the C’s, led by Albert Rivera, had functioned as something of a one-issue for anti-nationalists, placing most emphasis on the government’s linguistic policies (active promotion of Catalan in the media, education, public sector etc) and called for ‘equal’ bilingualism. In this campaign, the C’s broadened their focused and discovered a new, more left-wing side. To differentiate themselves from the PP, with which they share their attachment to the current Spanish constitution and their opposition to Catalan nationalism, they took strong positions on corruption (Mas and Jordi Pujol have been accused of having Swiss bank accounts;the C’s criticized CiU the most while castigating the PSC and PP for their passivity) and launched attacks on banks and austerity measures. For example, the party’s program talked of “rescue the citizens, not the banks” or “healthcare, education and social services are right, not a business”.

Stuck between these two poles is the Socialist Party (PSC), traditionally Catalonia’s dominant non-nationalist party and one of the most powerful and important federations in the Spanish Socialist party (PSOE). In 2010, weakened by seven years in government (the tripartito), the PSC won only 18% and 28 seats – its worst result. Its troubles did not end there. The party has been divided between its federalist faction, which opposes independence but supports federalism; and the more nationalistically-inclined catalanista faction, which is sympathetic to some of the nationalist left’s (ERC and ICV) ideas. Pere Navarro, the mayor of Terrassa and a member of the ‘federalist’ faction, won the internal primary and was the PSC’s candidate. Navarro and the PSC platform defended a vague brand of federalism and opposed Mas’ referendum idea. The PSC’s federalist proposal is fairly vague, but it seems to propose some kind of symmetric federalism with a federal Senate which represents the constituent units of the federation. Notably, the party drew on Germany and Canada as examples (Canada is often used by both sides in Catalonia, with the nationalists drawing on the experience of the Canadian federal government recognizing the legitimacy of Quebec’s referendums on independence). However, with a vague and middle-of-the-road federalist proposal, the PSC tried to focus the campaign on economic and social issues – it has called Mas’ referendum gambit a smokescreen to hide its ‘failures’ on economic policies (austerity, unemployment etc).

Turnout was 69.56%, up over 10 points since 2010 (58.78%) and the highest turnout in Catalan regional elections since the advent of democracy. Voters were motivated and mobilized by the high stakes of the campaign, in which most parties – CiU and PP most notably – had stressed that these were the most important elections ever. The results were:

CiU 30.68% (-7.75%) winning 50 seats (-12)
ERC-Cat Sí 13.68% (+6.68%) winning 21 seats (+11)
PSC 14.43% (-3.95%) winning 20 seats (-8)
PP 12.99% (+0.62%) winning 19 seats (+1)
ICV-EUiA 9.89% (+2.52%) winning 13 seats (+3)
C’s 7.58% (+4.19%) winning 9 seats (+6)
CUP 3.48% (+3.48%) winning 3 seats (+3)
PxC 1.65% (-0.75%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SI 1.28% (-2.01%) winning 0 seats (-4)
Others 2.78% (-1.68%) winning 0 seats (nc)

CiU won the election on paper, but in reality it lost the election. This result is very far from the strong mandate which the CiU had set at its objective, but even when the CiU’s chances of obtaining an absolute majority looked dim in the last days of the campaign, most had predicted that the party would win a strong result – at least similar to or only minimally less than its 2010 result. Mas had sought a strong mandate from voters to push for his referendum, but he received a stark rebuke from voters. The CiU lost 12 seats and its vote share fell by nearly 8 points compared to the 2010 election, leaving the CiU far ahead of the pack but also with a much smaller and weakened minority in Parliament.

What happened? In the final days of the campaign, the CiU and Mas had been facing an onslaught of corruption allegations concerning secret offshore (Swiss) bank accounts held by Mas and Jordi Pujol, Mas’ political mentor. These allegations are linked to the old Palau case and the recent allegations were spearheaded by El Mundo, Spain’s main conservative newspaper. The newspaper cited a police report linking him and other high-ranking figures in his party (the CDC, which is the dominant component of the CiU) to secret offshore bank accounts where they received illegal funding from Catalan entrepreneurs and businessmen. The CDC has claimed that it is the victim of a dirty war led by its opponent, and Mas is suing El Mundo for libel. Did the controversy related to the case of the allegations of a ‘dirty war’ against the Catalan nationalists influence voters in the final days?

Did voters reject Mas’ nationalist/separatist schemes and his referendum agenda? While the CiU did badly, the broader nationalist constellation (CiU, ERC, ICV, CUP) nonetheless won the elections and together they still retain over three-fifths of the seats (87 seats, up 1 from 2010). The election can hardly be described as a rebuke of the broader Catalan nationalist agenda.

In the obligatory “where did we cock up?” article (see here), pollsters lay the blame on the unexpectedly huge increase in turnout (which favoured the anti-nationalists) and the buzz related to the offshore accounts scandal/anti-CiU ‘dirty war’.

The CiU suffered its heaviest loses in the greater Barcelona area – the city’s working-class and historically Socialist hinterland. Turnout was particularly strong in the area (over 10 points higher than in 2010), and CiU suffered some very heavy loses in the area (where it has historically been weak, outside a few cities) – between 10 and 14 points lower than in 2010. In L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, the second largest city in Catalonia, the CiU’s vote share fell by over ten points from 24.7% to only 14.3% while the PSC lost 5 points (from 29.6% to 24.8%). In Badalona, the CiU lost almost 12 points (31% to 19%) while the PSC lost about 3, down to 19.5% (regaining first place, but with an all-time low result). The PSC was able to hold up better in Terrassa, where Pere Navarro has been the mayor since 2002. The PSC vote increased by 3 points (to 23.5%) while the CiU lost nearly 13 points (down to 24.8%).

In the comarca of Baix Llobregat (Barcelona’s western working-class suburbs), the CiU vote fell 12 points to a mere 19.8%, collapsing to its lowest point since 1980 while the PSC lost about 3 points, falling to 20.1% (also an all-time low for the party, which had won 48% there in 1999…). Turnout increased by 11 points.

In all of these cases, the beneficiaries of the CiU (and, to a lesser extent, the PSC)’s collapse were the smaller parties – ERC, ICV and C’s – while the PP’s support remained stable at fairly high levels. The ERC gained, on average, a bit more than 5 points and was victorious in Sant Vicenç dels Horts (with 23.5%), the town where Oriol Junqueras is the mayor. The ICV, traditionally strong in Barcelona’s proletarian hinterland on the traces of the old PSUC, gaining about 2-4 points and winning 13% in Baix Llobregat, 12.3% in Barcelonès comarca and 11.6% in the Vallès Occidental. Undoubtedly, however, the most impressive gains were made by the vehemently anti-nationalist C’s, whose support increased from 4.9% to 10.8% in Baix Llobregat and from 4.2% to 9.8% in the Vallès Occidental. The C’s, likely feeding off the PSC’s decline (in part) and reaping the electoral benefits of their new left-wing political orientation, won strong support in Barcelona’s proletarian suburbs: 13.6% in Viladecans, 11.6% in Cornellà de Llobregat, 11.4% in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, 10.6% in L’Hospitalet and 10.1% in Badalona etc.

Outside of the greater Barcelona conurbation, the CiU’s loses are smaller. While it did lose a fairly substantial amount of support around the city of Tarragona, in the heavily nationalist rural areas of Lleida and Girona (the CiU vote fell by 3.9 and 2.1 points respectively in these provinces, against -7.6 in Tarragona and -8.7 in Barcelona). In some small and solidly nationalist comarcas, the CiU vote even increased by a tad. Throughout these rural and Catalonophone nationalist comarcas, the CiU and ERC took first and second while the PSC and PP placed distant thirds or fourths with single-digit results.

The ERC (and also ICV)’s gains in Barcelona’s working-class hinterland make it hard to attribute the CiU’s collapse to a broader collapse of the nationalist brand in regions which have been the most reticent towards Catalan nationalism in the past. The turnout surge in these places certainly benefited the anti-nationalists, but rather than a substantial collapse in the broader nationalist vote there was instead a strong mobilization and motivation of the anti-nationalist vote. The CiU’s collapse can be attributed to either unease with Mas’ referendum plan or discontent with the Generalitat’s austerity policies (these lower-income towns have been hit the hardest by the austerity policies) – though the latter option appears more likely.

The ERC was the biggest winner of the night. They won 21 seats, which far surpassed even their wildest expectations, and stole the symbolic second place from the PSC (but only due to malapportionment which favours the smallest provinces). The party had been fairly optimistic of its chances to regain the ground it had lost in 2010, which had marked the lowest ebb for the party since the 1980s; despite fears that Mas’ nationalist campaign could hurt them.

By playing up nationalist rhetoric, Mas had certainly hoped to capitalize on the nationalist mobilization which followed the Diada, in an attempt to win an absolute majority to pursue his own agenda (despite his weak economic record and the unpopularity of his austerity policies). It almost worked, but the ERC, by expanding its campaign to talk about social issues, was able to reach out to nationalist voters who flirted with Mas in the first days of the campaign but who remained uneasy with the Generalitat’s austerity policies. In the final stretch, the possible corruption cases surrounding the CiU likely also took their toll on the CiU and encouraged a large transfer of votes from the CiU to the ERC.

Oriol Junqueras, the new leader of the ERC, was able to inject new energy and hope in a party organization which had been demoralized by a series of electoral humiliations in 2010-2011 and internal squabbles between its hapless leadership. The ERC’s result this year is similar to what it had won in 2006 and a bit below its historic 2003 result, but nonetheless an excellent performance.

The PSC’s result cannot be described as anything other than catastrophic. In 2010, with only 18% and 28 seats, it had already won its worst result ever. This year, it managed to do even more pitifully than in 2010, with barely 14% and 20 seats. True enough, the election could have been even more disastrous for the PSC, which had polled as low at 16 or so seats during the course of this campaign. Strong turnout in its old strongholds and the successful motivation and mobilization of the anti-nationalist electorate probably allowed it to save face with the best possible performance, though it remains a catastrophe. In a polarized campaign which profited to the ‘extremes’ of both the nationalist and anti-nationalist coalitions, the PSC, with a vague and unappealing ‘federalist’ proposal, was squished in the middle and its voice muted by the confrontation between the nationalists and their most vocal opponents (PP, C’s). A vague and unappealing platform, a national party which is going down the drain, a party wracked by very public internal divisions as of late and a bad campaign led by a man with little charisma: all factors which sealed the PSC’s fate.

The PSC’s annihilation in its old strongholds – Barcelona’s working-class suburbs (a region with a large population of migrants from other regions of Spain or their descendants) – is quite something. In places such as L’Hospitalet, Badalona, Terrassa, or Sabadell, the PSC used to regularly win over 40-50% of the vote in most elections. Now, the PSC has now collapsed to the low 20s (or even lower in certain cases) in these towns. It placed second in Barcelona province but placed a distant third in Girona and fourth in Tarragona. In the city of Barcelona – which they governed for over 30 years until 2011 – the PSC placed fourth with 12.2%.

The PP added an extra seat to the 18 they held after the 2010 election, and although this is a good result for Alicia Sánchez-Camacho’s party, it falls below their expectations. The PP had hoped to capitalize on the polarization of the electorate in the wake of Mas’ new nationalist agenda, with the stated aim of becoming the second largest party in Parliament (to form the largest opposition party). Although the PP’s result is the party’s best result in a type of election which is usually the most difficult for the PP (it polls much better, up to 20%, in general elections), it had been hoping for a clearer success. The party was likely dragged down by the unpopularity of Mariano Rajoy’s austerity policies in Madrid. The C’s, with their similarly strong anti-nationalist message plus its leftist anti-austerity stance, profited the most from the polarization of the electorate.

The PP were nonetheless very pleased by Artur Mas’ major setback, who they accuse of having paralyzed and divided Catalonia with his nationalist agenda.

ICV-EUiA, like the PP, did quite well – taking 13 seats and nearly 9% of the vote, its best result since 1995 – but again, like the PP, it found its result slightly disappointing. Presenting itself as the strongest voice on the left against Mas’ economic policies, as the party which participated in every protest against cuts in social services or education, Joan Herrera’s party had hoped to capitalize on social discontent against Mas’ austerity policies. To a certain extent they did so, regaining votes from the PSC or other parties in Barcelona’s working-class suburb – the traditional base of the post-communist left in Catalonia. However, they had likely hoped for a slightly stronger performance.

The C’s, however, can hardly be disappointed by their tremendous performance. As noted above, the party, which in the past had focus its virulently anti-nationalist campaigns on narrow issues such as the government’s linguistic policies and the “positive discrimination” in favour of the Catalan language, expanded its message to talk about corruption (which the main parties – CiU, PSC and PP – were reluctant to mention) or the effects of the austerity policies implemented by the Generalitat and la Moncloa. Albert Rivera’s unambiguous anti-nationalist rhetoric, combined with his criticism of the banking system or the austerity policies, allowed him to make major inroads in the PSC’s old turf in suburban Barcelona. The C’s won 8.5% in the province of Barcelona (8 seats), up from 3.8% in 2010. However, the party, which in the past had been confined to the Barcelona metro area, expanded its support to Tarragona province, where it won one seat and 7.3% of the vote (up from 2.7%). In the traditionally anti-nationalist Tarragonès comarca, it won 11.6% of the vote, even reaching over 15% in Vila-seca.

The very left-wing and nationalist CUP, in its first regional electoral participation, broke the 3% barrier in seat-rich Barcelona province, which gave it 3 seats. With an unusual low-scale and grassroots-based campaign, it built on its fairly substantial base in some local councils and benefited from social discontent on the nationalist left.

Where does this result leave Catalonia? Artur Mas’ plan had been for him to win an absolute majority on the back of the post-Diada nationalist mobilization, and used his strong mandate from the Catalan electorate as a bargaining card against Rajoy to push for his referendum, on his own terms. Even as the CiU’s chances of conquering an absolute majority started dropping, they had hoped – and predicted – a fairly strong minority mandate which would still Mas with sufficient legitimacy to push his referendum on his terms. The whole thing backfired badly against him, leaving Mas with a smaller minority than in 2010 and a fairly uncertain mandate from voters. While voters returned a majority of deputies favourable to the “right to decide” (derecho a decidir), nationalist voters preferred “the original” (ERC) to “the copy” (CiU).

The CiU’s result was so bad for the party that there was some speculation that Mas could be compelled to step down. The PP and C’s both claimed that Mas had lost his legitimacy with the election results, Albert Rivera (the C’s leader) even called him to step down. Those rumours passed, and Mas will remain in power, but what seems to be clear is that Mas’ very disappointing showing on 25-N has reopened internal divisions in the CiU coalition between Mas/Pujol’s more nationalist CDC and Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida’s more pragmatic and right-leaning UDC. Duran’s smaller UDC had been quite uneasy with Mas’ bombastic nationalist rhetoric, when they have always favoured a ‘confederal’ Spain and have traditionally been very much against any rapprochement with the ERC (they would rather prefer to work with the PP). Duran was fairly silent during the campaign, but since 25-N he has publicly broken ranks with his senior partners in the CiU by expressing his concerns over Mas’ nationalist agenda and his desire to see better relations re-established with the PP.

Between his election in 2010 and this summer, Mas had enjoyed fairly cordial working relations with the PP. The two parties agreed to disagree on institutional issues, but the two parties share much common ground when it comes to economic policy. The PP voted in favour of the CiU’s austerity policies in Barcelona. However, the cordial relationship between the CiU and PP rapidly collapsed after Mas started taking a confrontational position against Madrid and pushing for his referendum. The PP focused most of its artillery fire on the CiU and Mas during the campaign, branding him as a divisive and polarizing “coward” who did not have the courage to take on ‘urgent’ issues (the economy, jobs) and preferred to take cover with his nationalist agenda. Following the elections, the PP expressed satisfaction at Mas’ setback. The CiU ruled out collaborating with the PP.

Will Mas’ plan go the way of the Ibarretxe election following Juan José Ibarretxe and the PNV’s failure to win a strong popular mandate to push for the Ibarretxe plan in the 2005 Basque elections? The situation is slightly different. Following the 2005 Basque elections, it was clear that the Basque nationalists had lost ground and that they had not received any mandate from the voters to push for the Ibarretxe plan, meaning that the elections dealt Ibarretxe’s ambitious plan a mortal blow. This year, the Catalan elections did not provide Mas and the CiU with a popular mandate for their agenda, but it would be wrong to claim that voters rejected the entire premises of the nationalist agenda (even if there was no substantial increase in nationalist support). The ERC, which ran on a platform calling for a referendum on Catalan separation as early as 2013, did very well.

Mas indicated that the ERC was his preferred coalition partner, even offering them to participate in his cabinet. Oriol Junqueras finally turned down Mas’ offer, but he did promise strong support for Mas (una solidez gigantesca to use his terms), including support for his government’s budgets. The basis for this tacit deal between Mas and the ERC is their common agreement on institutional issues. Mas’ post-electoral statements about the future of his referendum were a bit all over the place, but he said that the Parliament retained a strong majority of deputies in favour of the derecho a decidir (87/135 including ICV) and that the referendum remained on the table. It is a bit unclear what the ERC demanded in exchange for this legislative support, though it seems to be on some budgetary issues and on an agreement to keep pushing for a referendum.

With his government likely to be dependent on support from the left-leaning and strongly nationalist ERC, will Mas be pushed by the ERC to maintain confrontational and nationalist positions, including to keep pushing for a referendum? If he does continue pushing for a referendum but then finds himself blocked (as is certain to happen) by Madrid, will he do like Ibarretxe had done and quietly drop his plans, or will he push forward to organize an “illegal” referendum, not legitimized or recognized by Madrid? The results of these elections only provide more headaches for both Rajoy and Mas. Both may have reason to be satisfied by the results of 25-N, but in the long run the results do not satisfy either of their agendas.

Next: Canadian by-elections (Nov 26) and the disintegration of the French right (Nov 18 onward).

Euskadi and Galicia 2012

Early regional elections in the Basque Country (Euskadi or CAPV) and Galicia were held on October 21, 2012. The Basque Country and Galicia are autonomous communities of Spain. My famous Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election includes tons of details about regional autonomy in Spain, the roots of the current regional structure and other issues related to autonomous communities.

Euskadi (Basque Country)

The Basque Parliament (Eusko Legebiltzarra/Parlamento Vasco) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 3% threshold by province. Each province (Álava/Araba, Guipúzcoa/Gipuzkoa and Vizcaya/Bizkaia) elects 25 members. The lehendakari, the head of the Basque government, is elected by the Parliament.

Provinces have played a major role in Basque history; until the 19th century most Basques identified with their province rather than a broader Basque nation. The Basque provinces, unlike all other Spanish provinces, retain elected government (diputaciones) which, under the Basque Country’s special fiscal status (the concierto económico), have the power to collect and distribute taxes. However, the three Basque provinces do not have similar populations. The southern province of Álava has a population just under 320,000 while Biscay has a population over 1.1 million. The equal distribution of seats between the provinces was meant to be a means of ensuring Álava’s support for Basque autonomy and as a means of enticing Navarra from joining the CAPV (which has never happened). If seats were to be distributed equally, Biscay would elect 38 member to Álava’s 13.

My Guide, noted above, included a profile of the Basque Country:

Euskadi is the most well known of Spain’s regions to the casual observers, if only because of the existence of an armed terrorist movement seeking independence. It is also a matter of political debate where nobody can ever agree on anything. Basque nationalism is, alongside Catalan nationalism, of the two main peripheral nationalisms in Spain which drive and influence Spanish politics so much. The existence of a terrorist movement seeking Basque independence has given the region and Basque nationalism as a whole a bad name, which it does not deserve. The population of Euskadi is 2,183,615 (INE 2011). The capital of Euskadi is Vitoria-Gasteiz but the largest city is Bilbao. The community is composed of the provinces (called ‘historical territories’) of Biscay (Bizkaia or Vizcaya), Gipuzkoa (in Spanish, Guipúzcoa), Álava (in Basque, Araba). Basque provinces, unlike all other provinces, have a directly elected legislature (Juntas Generales) and are responsible for raising taxes. The region is known as Euskadi or the Basque Country (in Spanish, País Vasco). I prefer the term ‘Euskadi’ because it is both shorter and commonly used to refer to the political ‘Basque Country’ which excludes Navarre and the three French Basque provinces. The Basque term ‘Euskal Herria’ (which means ‘land of Basques’ or close to that) is used to refer the greater Basque region including both the autonomous community of the three provinces (often referred to in short as ‘CAPV’ or Euskadi), Navarre and the three French Basque provinces (Iparralde).

Basque history is long, fascinating and very controversial as it is inherently political given the founding tenets of Basque nationalism. The Basques speak a language known as Euskara or Basque, which is famous for being a language isolate. It is one of the few languages in Europe which is not Indo-European and the origins of either Euskara or the Basque people are not known for certain. The mainstream view are that the Basques are the last remaining ancestors of the pre-Indo-European peoples of Europe and have lived in the region since the prehistoric Aurignacian period. That is the most commonly accepted view, though it is by no means universal nor is it a proven ‘fact’. Original Basque nationalist theses claim that the extraordinary resistance of the Basque people to outside influences and conquest is a sign of the racial superiority of the Basque race above all others, though this is, of course, false. The Basque people are a very strong-willed people, extremely proud of their identity, lifestyle and ancestors. Furthermore, it also helps that the Basque terrain is quite harsh and unfavourable to foreign domination. The valleys and mountains of northern Euskadi and Navarre are very wooded and patchy, making it perfect for locals to hide and hardly appealing to foreign invaders. Basques have long defended themselves against any foreign invaders, most notably when Basque hordes massacred Charlemagne’s Frankish troops at Roncesvaux in 778. The Franks, Visigoths and later Muslims never managed to exercise full control over the Basque lands and Navarre. A Basque kingdom, which later became the Kingdom of Navarre, emerged in 824. Under Sancho III the Great (1000-1035), the Kingdom of Navarre reached its peak of influence through Sancho’s marriages and alliances which expanded the Navarrese realm westwards into present-day Old Castile. The coastal areas of the kingdom had come under Castilian control in 1199, though the Castilians had promised to recognize and uphold the special charters (fueros) of the Basque provinces. Civil war in Navarre allowed the Castilians to conquer Navarre between 1512 and 1524, although, again, by promising to recognize and uphold the Navarrese fueros. These fueros granted the provinces fiscal, legal and political autonomy, various exemptions from trade regulations, exemption from military service outside their province and so forth. To speak of a “Basque people”, united with a strong national conscience like the Catalans is, however, totally misleading. Basques were strongly attached to their families, community and at most to their province but there was no common identification as “Basques” above all. The family, village and province were their markers of identification, not an artificial “Basque nation”. Attached to their home turf, traditions and legal advantages, the Basques strongly identified with the ultra-conservative Carlist movement during the First Carlist War. Even after the Carlist defeat in 1839, the fueros were maintained and Euskadi remained a Carlist stronghold until at least the Second Republic. The Basque fueros were abolished in 1876.

The loss of the fueros in 1876 and Euskadi’s integration in the Spanish market proved beneficial to Basque economy, especially in the province of Biscay. In the late nineteenth century, large-scale mining of rich iron ore deposits in western Biscay led to emergence of Euskadi as Spain’s second main industrial and trading hub (after Catalonia). Originally exported to Britain for processing, Bilbao and western Biscay went on to acquire their own blast furnaces to process the iron ore into steel. While Basque steel production – the main economic activity in Euskadi until the 1970s – was concentrated around the Bilbao estuary and the city’s left bank, it was by no means just a local industry: metallic transformation, siderurgy and related industry was a major industry in the rest of northern Euskadi. The steel industry in Euskadi made the region one of the country’s wealthiest regions, and, as such, attracted much internal migrants starting in the late nineteenth century and picking up again during the Francoist era especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Most immigrants to Euskadi came from the neighboring (and poorer) regions of Old Castile, La Rioja, Navarre or the more distant but very poor Galicia. Unlike in Catalonia, there was not much immigration from southern Spain. According to a 2010 study, while 74% of Basques were born in the autonomous community, only 51-53% saw their parents were born in Euskadi as well. 16% said their parents were born in Castile and León, 6% in Extremadura and Galicia and 3% said their parents were born in Andalusia. Galicia and Old Castile are very conservative regions (although poor), but that did not prevent visceral opposition to non-Basques and general xenophobia from being a founding tenet of Basque nationalism.

The founding father of Basque nationalism is Sabino Arana, who was by all accounts a rather insane man with a weird mish-mash of reactionary, racist, xenophobic and ethnocentrist ideals and myths. In his seminal work on the issue, Bizkaia por su independencia, Arana’s thesis is the stark separation between a pure, devoutly Catholic, superior, manly and intelligent Basque race and a impure, atheist/socialist/liberal (Arana hated all three), feminine and inferior Spanish race. Arana considered the immigration of non-Basques, maketos or ‘Koreans’, to Euskadi to be a danger to the moral fabric of Basque society and a threat to all that is Basque (Catholicism, racial superiority, Euskara). Those maketos, with their new-fanged ideas of socialism and atheism were clear dangers to Basque society and they should be run out of town with stones and sticks, in order to defend the traditional, Catholic Basque society. The original ideology of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), founded by Arana in 1895, can be summarized in the party’s motto: Jaungoikoa eta Lagi-zaŕa (God and the ‘old laws’ [fueros]). Arana, despite his faults, had a huge influence on Basque nationalism and the whole Basque society. He ‘created’ a history for Euskadi, based partly on facts and a lot on myths; he designed the Basque flag; invented a Euskara vocabulary of political neologisms; he wrote the anthem; he even came up with the term ‘Euskadi’ itself. Arana was a separatist for most of his life, but he had a strange and unexplained change of heart a year before his death, when he became an autonomist. Since then, the PNV has found itself oscillating between autonomy and independence, usually leaning for the first option. The PNV grew in the 1910s to emerge as the largest Basque nationalist force during the Second Republic, where it sided with the republicans in exchange for the formation of the first autonomous Basque government excluding Navarre in 1936.

The Basque economy has historically been based around heavy industry: iron ore mining in western Biscay, steel works and siderurgy in the rest of northern Euskadi but particularly around Bilbao, the economic capital of Euskadi. Industry still accounts for 22.5% of the region’s GDP despite the steel crisis in the 1970s-1980s which forced industrial reconversion in much of Euskadi. Industry and since the 1980s the success of industrial reconversion in favour of services, finance and tourism has made the Basque country a small motor for the whole Spanish economy (6.2% of Spain’s GDP) and also the wealthiest region in all of Spain – even ahead of Catalonia. Euskadi’s GDP per capita of €31,314 is the highest in Spain and is much above the EU and Spanish average. Its unemployment rate, 12.17%, is the second lowest in the country. Euskadi suffered heavily from the steel crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to a decline in the region’s population and high unemployment as most steel plants and shipyards closed their doors. Bilbao and its industrial left bank was touched especially hard, but Bilbao has since bounced back with a vengeance with a spectacularly successful program of industrial reconversion and urban renewal, pushed initially by the Guggenheim Museum and since then by urban development, tourism and a growth in the upper-end service and technology sector (BBVA bank, Iberdrola). Euskadi is also known for the largest workers cooperative in the world, Mondragon, which is based in the small working-class Gipuzkoan town of Arraste-Mondragón. The Basque economy has significantly benefited from the region’s ability to raise taxes on its own account (like Navarre), instead of being heavily dependent on tax transfers from Madrid.

Basque politics and nationalist competition has been influenced so much by ETA, the separatist terrorist organization which has killed over 800 in Euskadi and across Spain since its foundation in 1959. ETA has been successful in driving a wedge through Basque society, rendering the issue of Basque nationhood and self-determination extremely divisive and problematic. Unlike ‘Catalanism’ and Catalan nationalism which is far less problematic, Basque nationalism is not backed up by a century-long history of cohesive, broad ‘national identity’ as in Catalonia which had a very precocious notion of its own ‘nationhood’. Euskara or Basque nationalism has not historically had a broad intellectual and cultural base like Catalan nationalism, which had a strong cultural background and intellectual contingent backing it up. These factors, plus ETA’s existence, have made politics in Euskadi very polarized. ETA’s violence was not and will not be successful in forcing Madrid to give it all it wants, but it has been successful in restricting the political debate (until recently). Up until the 1990s or early 2000s, ETA’s indiscriminate terror created a climate of fear which discouraged extensive political dialogue, participation or activism from those who were not Basque nationalists or even those who were moderate nationalists. That changed in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the emergence of virulently anti-nationalist and anti-ETA civic organizations such as ¡Basta Ya! which form the roots of the UPyD, which has a small but loyal base with non-nationalist Basques.

ETA has also split Basque nationalism into two streams: the ‘moderate’ or ‘democratic’ stream, more centrist or centre-right, dominated by the PNV, Euskadi’s natural governing party; and the left-abertzale stream, left-wing, more radical and in general more favourable of ETA’s actions as a necessary evil on the path to independence (but increasingly critical since 2006). To think of “Basque nationalism” a common, all-encompassing movement is very misleading. Basque nationalism is marked as much by the ideological struggle of nationalism carried out against the ‘Spanish parties’ (PSE, PP) as by the internal competition for the nationalist capital. The PNV is the largest Basque nationalist party, but its position in the centre of the political spectrum in Euskadi has opened it to virulent criticism from theabertzale parties (either as too conservative, too soft on nationalism or ‘traitors’ to the national cause). In the 1980s, the main abertzale forces were Herri Batasuna (HB), ETA’s political front; Euskadiko Ezkerra (EE), a non-violent left-nationalist party formed out of ETA’s moderate ETA-pm wing in the 1970s and after 1986 Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), a non-violent left-nationalist party led by former PNV regional president (lehendakari) Carlos Garaikoetxea. Most of EE merged with the PSE in 1993, reducing the field to the violent pro-ETA HB and the non-violent left-wing EA which increasingly became the PNV’s junior partner after 1998. HB and its subsequent incarnations (EH, Batasuna, EAE-ANV, EHAK-PCTV, SA, Sortu, the list goes on) were banned beginning in 2002. Since 2011, the main abertzale force is Bildu, whose trajectory and controversial nature is discussed in the section on political parties.

The official languages of Euskadi are Spanish and Euskara (Basque). Basque is a language isolate and one of the handful of non-Indo-European languages in Europe. It is entirely different from Spanish or any other widely-used European language, meaning that is much harder to learn from a Spanish-speaker (or anybody else) than Catalan or Galician would be. If you don’t believe me; ‘Sartaldeko oihanetan gatibaturik‘ means ‘Captive in the rainforests of the West’. The survival of the Basque language is proof of the tremendously resilient, strong-willed nature of Basques, proud of their heritage like none other. 76% of Basques identify Spanish as their mother tongue, 18.7% identify Euskara as their mother tongue while 5% identify both as their mother tongues. The most Basque-speaking province is and has always been Gipuzkoa (35.8% Basque mother tongue), while Álava has always been the least Basque-speaking province (93.6% Spanish mother tongue). Euskara has come back from the brink of extinction in the 1950s when its use was banned and repressed. Basque is now something of the ‘preferred’ language in Euskadi like Catalan in Catalonia (though not as strictly and universally enforced), and its use is especially prevalent in education. In Basque schools, there are three models to choose from: A is Spanish with Basque language courses, B is bilingual and D is Basque with Spanish language courses. D is the preferred option at all levels, from 71% in child education to 52% in post-secondary. Generally, lower-level education is heavily ‘D’ while higher-level education and especially post-secondary studies are more balanced though option D now outweighs A. Overall, 62% of students of all levels are in option D, 12.7% are in option A and 24.7% in option B. The level of D education ranges from 76.5% in Gipuzkoa to 42% in Álava.

A 2006 study showed the payoff of Basque-intensive education: 57.5% of those 16-24 are full bilinguals compared to 30.1% in the wider population. Only 17.6% of those 16-24 do not speak Basque compared to 51.5% of the wider population. Overall, 51.5% of Basques are thus Spanish-uni-lingual, 30.1% are bilingual and 18.3% are ‘passive bilinguals’. Gipuzkoa has the highest percentage of full bilinguals: 49%. But 65.8% in Álava and 57.7% in Biscay do not speak Basque. Generally, the youngest Basques are in majority bilingual, those between 35 and 64 are in majority uni-lingual and those over 65 are more bilingual. Proficiency in Basque has kept growing at a rapid and encouraging pace since the 1980s, and most of those who lose Basque language skills are old. Yet, Basque still faces challenges in society. 70% use Spanish only, only 12.5% use Basque more than Spanish. Full bilinguals of course tend to speak in Basque as much as or more often than they do in Spanish, but even with full bilinguals the use of Spanish is preferred in social situation such as work, outside or in social situations.

The PNV plays a central role in Basque politics and government. It is something of a ‘natural governing party’ or a ‘perennial winner’ in Euskadi though it is not by any means the ‘dominant’ political force. It faces competition within the nationalist arena to its left and competition outside the nationalist arena from both left (Socialists) and right (PP). In 43 electoral events since 1977, the PNV has been the largest party in Euskadi in 40 of those (the PSE in 2, HB in 1). The PNV’s domination of Basque electoral politics is helped by its position in the centre of the political spectrum. Its moderate nationalist tone appeals to the bulk of Basques who are proud of their identity although not necessarily separatist or fluent in Euskara. It is nationalist enough to appeal to the more nationalist of Basque nationalists, but moderate enough as to not alienate moderate nationalists/regionalists. The PNV has been the largest party in all general elections except for 1993 and 2008, with support between 23% and 34% in general elections.

Crucial to the PNV’s institutional dominance of Euskadi is its control of the Basque regional government and the regional presidency, lehendakari, between its 1980 creation and 2011. The PNV won the first regional elections in 1980 and won all other regional elections since then (though it did not win the most seats in 1986). Its hegemony was first challenged in 1986 when the then-lehendakari, Carlos Garaikoetxea quit the party and created his left-wing splinter, EA, which won 15.8% and 13 seats in 1986, while the PNV suffered a rout with merely 23.6% against 22% for the PSE. But the PNV’s José Antonio Ardanza was able to create a stable governing coalition with the Socialists until 1998 while EA (and HB)’s support gradually weakened. In 2001, an anti-nationalist front of the PP and PSE fell flat on its face as Juan José Ibarretxe’s PNV-EA won record-high levels of support (42.4%). It was only in 2009, with a stronger-than-ever Socialist party against a very divisive Ibarretxe PNV government that the non-nationalists finally broke through. Though the PNV’s support held tight, the PSE won a record-high 30.7% and 25 seats, which, alongside 13 PP deputies, allowed the PSE’s Patxi López to become the first non-nationalist lehendakari in Basque history. His days may be counted, however, given the collapse in support for both PSE and PP in the 2011 elections. The non-nationalists were helped in 2009 by two factors: firstly, for the first time in Basque regional elections, there was no abertzale list linked to Batasuna therefore Batasuna called on its supporter to cast blank ballots (9% of voters did so) but blank votes are not counted in seat allocation. Secondly, each of the three provinces in the Parliament are represented by 25 members, regardless of population. This equal representation serves to massively overrepresent (by over 10 seats) the strongly non-nationalist province of Álava-Araba at the expense mainly of the PNV stronghold of Biscay. In 2009, if the provinces had seats based on population, Ibarretxe could have won reelection with the support of PNV, Aralar, EA and EBB deputies.

Because of its thirty-one year stint in power in Vitoria, the PNV has tended to confuse government institutions with party institutions. It has shaped Basque politics and institutions to its liking, for example with control over the Basque media (the EITB). Beyond that, the PNV is more than a regular party. Especially in smaller towns, it is also something of a social organization and its local offices, batzokis, serve as bars or hang-outs for party members. In rural areas, PNV members are a tightly-knit family with a sense of community unusual in most parties.

PNV support is highest in Biscay, the birthplace of the party and the province where it has exercised full institutional control since the transition (control of Bilbao and the provincial government since 1979). Its support in rural, Basque-speaking villages in eastern Biscay often reaches upwards of 60% and up and beyond 70% in good years. It is traditionally weak, however, in the working-class industrial hinterland of Bilbao’s left bank in large towns such as Barakaldo, Portugalete or Santurtzi. Language is a major determining factor in making one a Basque nationalist or not, but it is by no means the only indicator nor is it perfect. A number of prominent PNV members and leaders either speak poor Basque or learned it only later in life. The PNV has high support even in those Biscayan and Alavan municipalities where few people speak Basque. The abertzale left is strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist and most Basque-speaking province. The province has kept an industrial base of small or medium-sized businesses or family industries, and communities in the valleys are tightly knit together and have often provided a back base of support for ETA (especially during the dictatorship, when local priests – the Basque Church is nationalist – opened their doors to ETA fighters). Parties such as EA, HB or Bildu have been strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa. The provincial capital of Donostia-San Sebastián has been a battleground between PSE-EE, HB, EA and since recently Bildu. The southern province of Álava-Araba has long been the least nationalist, partly because the southern edges of the province in the Ebro valley have spoken Spanish since the Middle Ages and feel little if any connection to the Basque nationalist. The PNV can be the largest party in the province, but the largest city and Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz is usually fought between PSE and PP, while the PP dominates in most of the Ebro valley in the south of the province. Between 1990 and 2001, Alavan opposition to Basque nationalism was notably expressed by the Unidad Alavesa (UA) party, similar to the Navarrese UPN: conservative, localist in an old Carlist way and anti-nationalist. UA won 18.5% of the votes in the province back in the 1994 elections, winning 5 seats in the Basque Parliament.

Lehendakari Patxi López called for early elections in August after PP leader Antonio Basagoiti decided to withdraw his support from the government. Patxi López, the first non-nationalist and non-peneuvista head of the Basque government, has been quite unpopular in the Basque Country. The main cause of his unpopularity seems to be his controversial deal with the PP, which came after he had promised that he would not sign such a deal. He is certainly reviled by almost all Basque nationalists (and others) after his counter-nature alliance of convenience with the PP. In Euskadi, the PP carries tons of negative baggage, not least the perception shared by most nationalists that it is the anti-Basque and ultra-centralist heir of the Franco regime.

On matters of governance, Patxi López has a fairly mixed record. The Basque economy itself is doing quite well compared to other regions in Spain (notably Catalonia), but mainly because of structural reasons unrelated to the government’s policies. The region’s economy, historically based around industry and manufacturing, suffered from particularly violent de-industrialization in the 1980s; but it has managed relatively well in the current Spanish economic crisis, a crisis wrought in large part by the utter collapse of the construction industry. Because the construction industry has never been as large in Euskadi as in other regions, particularly the coastal regions, the economic collapse post-2008 has been slightly less violent in the Basque Country. The local unemployment rate was 15.5% in the third quarter of 2012, which is the second lowest in the country (and 10% below the national rate). The fact that Euskadi, along with Navarra, benefits from an unusual fiscal arrangement (concierto económico) whereby it is the three provinces rather than the central administration which collects the taxes gives the region more control over its own fiscal policy and makes it less tied up to the economy of the other regions.

Despite a jobs market which is slightly less horrible than the rest of the country, the region’s debt has grown exponentially since 2009. The debt/GDP ratio stood at 2.2% when Patxi López took office in 2009, it has grown to 10.2% in the first quarter of 2012. This debt load, however, is still inferior to the national average of 13.5% (the combined debt of Spain’s 17 regions is equivalent to 13.5% of the Spanish GDP). The Basque government made some spending cuts, notably in health, education and public safety.

The Basque terrorist organization ETA announced a “definitive cessation of armed activity” in October 2011, an historic event which likely signals the end of the armed conflict in the Basque country. Nonetheless, the issue of ETA – particularly the fate of ETA’s prisoners in Spanish jails – remains a very controversial issue in Spain. With the end of the armed conflict, the Basque nationalist left – the abertzale left – has been allowed to enter the political arena once again. The Spanish law on political parties in 2002 had allowed Madrid to ban the various abertzale parties accused of having links to ETA or being pro-ETA. In 2011, however, the courts allowed the abertzale left to participate in the May local and then the November general elections. The coalitions of the abertzale left (Bildu in May, Amaiur in November) won 26% and 24% in the two elections in 2011. For these elections, the abertzale coalition – which includes EA, Alternatiba, Sortu (widely considered as Batasuna’s political front) – took the label Euskal Herria Bildu (Basque Country Together). Its candidate for lehendakari was Laura Mintegi, a Basque nationalist author and university professor.

On the left, the local United Left (IU) suffered a major split in March 2012. Up until that point, IU (which is experiencing a huge upswing in support in Spain) was known locally as EB-B (Ezker Batua-Berdeak, United Left-Greens), and it had some success in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, EB-B was hurt badly by the legalization of the abertzale left, which took a lot of its support. In the 2009 Basque elections, EB-B had already lost two of its three seats in the Basque Parliament. The split is due largely to an internal conflict between two leaders, Mikel Arana on one side and Javier Madrazo on the other. The latter, favouring a more independent relationship with the IU, regained control of EB-B and broke ties with the IU. The former, favouring closer ties with IU, created Ezker Anitza (EA), which has become the local federation of the IU.

Patxi López’s top rival during the campaign and the favourite in all polls was the PNV, and its candidate for lehendakari, Iñigo Urkullu. Urkullu is the leader of the PNV, and his nomination as candidate for head of the regional government breaks with established historical tradition in the PNV which has always had a fairly strict separation between party leadership and the regional presidency. In contrast to his predecessor as the PNV’s candidate for lehendakari, former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe (1999-2009), Urkullu strikes a markedly more moderate and less divisive tone. Ibarretxe, especially after his controversial “Ibarretxe Plan” for reforming the statute of autonomy, was a very divisive and somewhat confrontational figure who alienated many non-nationalists which clearly nationalistic and identity-based rhetoric. Urkullu, who is slightly to the right of Ibarretxe, also tacks back to the PNV’s more moderate brand of nationalism.

In this campaign, even if the PSE-EE and especially the PP’s campaigns warned against the PNV’s alleged “hidden agenda” about sovereignty, Urkullu seemed to put the issue on the backburner. The PNV campaign was focused heavily on the economy and job creation, citing the economic crisis as its top priority. It did not completely sideline the issues of independence, but was infinitely vague about what it entailed. Urkullu has set 2015 as the date for the definition of a new statute of autonomy, although it is unclear whether he intends a piecemeal reform of the 1979 statute based on “bilateral relations” or some ambitious sovereignist scheme akin to Ibarretxe’s Plan. He has used language such as “21st century independence” and the PNV’s manifesto hinted at some kind of “devo-max”, vowing to fight for the devolution of more and more powers from Madrid.

In contrast, Patxi López focused his campaign on defending self-government within Spain against Mariano Rajoy’s austerity policies and upholding the welfare state. The Socialists attempted to paint Urkullu and the PNV (a centre-right party) as right-wingers who would implement austerity similar to Rajoy’s very unpopular austerity policies.

Turnout was 63.73%, down from 64.68%. The (slight) decrease in turnout is rather interesting, given that the legalization of the abertzale left had led to a fairly significant increase in turnout in 2011 (when it decreased slightly nationwide). Turnout did nonetheless increase, albeit marginally, in Gipuzkoa, the abertzale stronghold. It must be said, however, that in the 2009 election, a lot of abertzale supporters had actually turned out to vote: since their party was banned, they accounted for the 101 thousand (nearly 9%) of “votos nulos” (null/invalid votes). Results were as follows:

EAJ-PNV 34.63% (-3.93%) winning 27 seats (-3)
EH Bildu 25% (+15.28%) winning 21 seats (+16)
PSE-EE 19.13% (-11.57%) winning 16 seats (-9)
PP 11.73% (-2.37%) winning 10 seats (-3)
IU-LV (EA) 2.72% (+2.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPyD 1.94% (-0.21%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EB-B 1.56% (-1.95%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Equo 1.05% (+0.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.03% (+1.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.21% (+0.5%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The PNV, as widely expected, emerged as the winner. With 34% of the vote, it held its ground fairly well, considering the circumstances. On these results, Iñigo Urkullu will be the next lehendakari. It is quite unlikely that he will create a formal coalition with any party: a deal with the PSE would have been possible in the 1990s, but relations between the two parties have become quite acrimonious in recent years; a deal with EH Bildu would prove controversial and probably too difficult and unworkable for both involved. Instead, Urkullu has indicated that he will form a minority government which will seek support from other parties on a case-by-case basis. He has made conciliatory gestures towards all parties, and has touted the possibility of an legislative agreement (like the 2009 PSE-PP deal) with some parties (maybe EH Bildu). He seeks broad agreements and consensus on some major issues, and has already arranged to meet other parties to work out some kind of economic pact to deal with the crisis.

The PSE-EE suffered a very bad defeat. Not quite a record-breaking crushing defeat, but nevertheless a very damaging result for a party which had been rather successful, between 2004 and 2009, in increasing its level of support in Euskadi. It was a combination of different factors which sunk the Socialist vessel in Euskadi: Patxi López’s unpopularity, the controversial deal with the PP in 2009 and the nationwide collapse of the Socialist brand with the economic crisis. Patxi López’s record in government was judged, by most Basque voters, to be fairly mediocre and unspectacular.

The collapse of the national PSOE into a hapless state of disrepair since 2010/2011 likely played a role in this election. After losing the 2011 general election in a landslide to Rajoy’s PP, the PSOE strategy was apparently to bet everything on the rapid collapse of the PP’s popularity (with the economic crisis/depression and the austerity policies) in the hope that the PSOE would quickly regain those voters it had lost in 2011 (as they punished the PSOE for Zapatero’s economic policies during the early crisis). One could say it was a fairly sound strategy, given that such scenarios often happen, and certainly the first part of their calculation did happen very quickly – Rajoy’s government is extremely unpopular, and large majorities of voters reject his stringent austerity measures.

However, the PSOE failed to take into account that it has a huge credibility problem with the wider electorate. Voters seem particularly unforgiving, and they haven’t forgotten that the PSOE, in power, implemented many of the same kind of austerity policies which it now fights tooth-and-nail against. The PSOE’s message in opposition has been anti-austerity, but voters still associate the PSOE with austerity and the PSOE’s leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, doesn’t really help matters for them considering he was a top bigwig in Zapatero’s old cabinet.

As for Patxi López, his political career is probably not over just yet. While he is unpopular, right now, in Euskadi; his image in the rest of Spain still seems to be quite positive. He has been talked about as a potential candidate for Prime Minister for the PSOE in the next general election, and it is unlikely that this defeat will put a full stop to that speculation. He has already indicated that he will not be stepping down as the leader of the PSE-EE.

The PSE-EE lost votes to other parties, but also a good number of its voters to abstention (the first explanation for the small decrease in turnout). It likely lost some votes to the PP and PNV, some voters might have voted strategically for the moderate PNV to keep out the more radical EH Bildu. However, it probably lost a good number of supporters to abstention. It is hard to quantify how many they might have lost, but there seems to have been a two-way street: some nationalists who did not vote in 2009 turned out this year and swelled EH Bildu’s ranks; while some PSE and PP voters from 2009 abandoned their parties in favour of abstention.

The PSE’s collapse was such that the PNV placed ahead of the PSE in some of the party’s traditional bases, including Bilbao’s working-class Left Bank (Barakaldo,  Sestao, Trapagarán, Basauri); although in these cases it was due to the PSE’s collapse since 2009 rather than any PNV inroads.

EH Bildu, like Bildu in May 2011 and Amaiur in November 2011, is the big winner of this election. 25% (and 21 seats) places its performance about on par with that of the abertzale coalitions last year, but it is far superior to any of the results won by the political arm of ETA (HB) in yesteryears. HB peaked at roughly 18-20% in its best years, it won 17.9% and 14 seats in the 1998 regional elections (right after an ETA ceasefire) and 18% in the 1990 regional elections. Once again, it is clear that the abertzale has expanded its appeal beyond the traditional its pro-etarra base to non-violent left-nationalists. As the 1998 and 2001 regional elections proved, the abertzale‘s electoral appeal is greater in peacetime conditions when ETA is silent (in the 2001 elections, after ETA had broken its 1998 ceasefire, Batasuna collapsed to 10%). This year seems no different. The silencing of ETA in 2010, followed by the permanent ceasefire in 2011, has significantly expanded the appeal of the newly legalized abertzale left.

Results by municipality (source:

This year, EH Bildu’s campaign hit all the right notes for the present context. It has distanced itself from ETA and violence, even if ETA victims decry their “blank slate” attitude (how can the former supporters and enablers of violence be receiving so much support and heaps of praise?, they ask) and the abertzale‘s hurry to shut the door on the past. Regardless, the end of political violence in Euskadi and the slow creation a freer political climate where fear and the risk of intimidation is much lesser, has opened up a wide door for the abertzale left. Left-wingers, left-nationalists and other leftists who had in the past rejected ETA’s violence have jumped onto the abertzale‘s bandwagon. In this campaign, EH Bildu de-emphasized, to a certain extent, the issue of separatism/independence in favour of a bread-and-butter discourse tailored to the contemporary socio-economic context. Observers noted how EH Bildu’s electoral meetings were closer to anti-capitalist rallies than traditional separatist rallies. The party talked about social policies, the economy, food sovereignty and other issues of particular relevance to a region with over 15% unemployment.

There has been, in some ways, an increase in Basque nationalism in Euskadi in recent years, though still nothing compared to what’s going on in Catalonia now. The idea that Euskadi would be better off without Madrid given how badly the rest of Spain is doing is gaining supporters. Nevertheless, the percentage of Basques who actually support the independence of a Basque nation-state is fairly low, certainly much lower than the 60% polled by the PNV and EH Bildu.

In the 2009 elections, Aralar and EA, two component parties of EH Bildu, won 6.03% and 3.69% respectively. However, an additional 100,939 votes were considered “invalid”, around 95-96k of them were cast for Batasuna’s illegal political front (D3M). Taking these invalid votes into account, the abertzale left (plus EA and Aralar) won in the vicinity of 17-17.5% of the vote in the 2009 election. Therefore, assuming that all Aralar, EA and Batasuna voters from 2009 voted from EH Bildu this year, you still have a very significant gain for the abertzale coalition since 2009, at least +8%. EH Bildu gained some votes from other parties and non-voters. It took some votes from PNV in all three provinces and probably took a few votes from PSE, considering the (limited) coincidence between the two parties in some cases.

EH Bildu’s performance in the abertzale stronghold of Gipuzkoa was quite underwhelming. It won 32.2%, basically tied with the PNV (32%), when it had won 35% (against 22% for the PNV) last November in the general elections. Many have ascribed EH Bildu’s poor result in the province to the party’s unpopular administration of the province (it controls the provincial government/legislature, the Juntas Generales). In Donostia-San Sebastián, one of the abertzale coalition’s major gains in May 2011, EH Bildu placed third (with 22%) behind the PNV and the PSE.

The PP suffered a pretty bad result, its worst result in a regional election since 1990. It is clearly a disappointing result for the Basque PP’s leader, Antonio Basagoiti, who was likely hoping for a slightly better performance by his party. This poor result might weaken his hold on the party’s leadership, some of the most right-wing figures of the local PP, such as former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, had already showed their displeasure with some of his more moderate positions. The local PP bore the brunt of Rajoy’s unpopularity. It appears as if the PP lost middle and working-class votes to abstention, but maintained its strong results in Euskadi’s wealthiest neighborhoods and municipalities. On the other hand, the PP might have regained at least some of the votes it lost to the PSE and UPyD in the 2009 election.

What does the future hold for Euskadi? Urkullu gives signs that he will be a fairly pragmatic and moderate lehendakari, especially when it comes to the issue of independence. It is fairly ironic that Catalan nationalism, usually noted for its moderation in contrast to Euskadi’s more radical (and violent) brand of nationalism, is now taking the more “radical” path following the huge Diada on September 11 and with Mas’ bid to force a referendum after the 26-N regional elections. Dealing with Catalonia, where nationalism is clearly on an upswing because of the region’s precarious fiscal and economic position and its battle with the central government, will probably be Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headache. The Basque situation seems rather calmer. Urkullu has noted that the situation between Catalonia and Euskadi is different, despite the Basque PP’s insistence that there was a “secret pact” between the PNV and CiU. He is unlikely to make much waves, and even his reform of the statute planned for 2015 seems fairly moderate, in sharp contrast to Ibarretxe’s confrontational and divisive Plan. It does remain to be seen what Urkullu entails when he talks about “21st century independence”, but the PNV has never really sought traditional independence as a nation-state but rather some kind of quite novel “multi-layered sovereignty”.

On economic issues, the PNV has indicated that some cuts will need to be made. Urkullu proved quite lucid by saying that cuts and “efforts” will be necessary, but at the same time he talks about “defending the welfare state” and other vague rhetoric, similar to the one used by Rajoy in 2011 (we all know how far that went).


The Parliament of Galicia (Parlamento de Galicia) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 5% threshold by province. A Coruña elects 24 members, Pontevedra elects 22, Lugo elects 15 and Ourense elects 14. The two smallest provinces are slightly over-represented at the expense of the two most populous provinces. The PP regional government backtracked on a controversial electoral reform before the election.

My Guide, noted above, included a profile of Galicia as well:

Galicia is one of the country’s most geographically isolated regions, located north of Portugal in northwestern Spain. It is notably the only region where a majority of the population usually speaks another language than Spanish. Galicia has a population of 2,794,516 (INE 2011). The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela but the largest cities are Vigo and A Coruña. The community is composed of the provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra.

Galicia is the mythical home of Breogán, a Celtic king and Galicia’s first inhabitants were Celtic (Gallaeci people). That is why Galicia is sometimes considered to be part of a broader alliance of Celtic nations, though the Gallaeci and their language have long since disappeared and the current Galician language is certainly not a Celtic language. In 411, Galicia fell to the Suevis who established their own state, independent of the Visigoths (until 584) even after the Visigothic conquest of Iberia in 416. Galicia was invaded by the Moors during the Muslim conquest, but never came under permanent Muslim control and was rather a thorny backwoods for the Muslims who made armed incursions into Galicia every few hundred years. In the confusing dynastic games of Christian Spain during the early Reconquista, the Kingdom of Galicia alternated between independence, Asturo-Leonese control or Castilian hegemony. Unlike Euskadi or Catalonia, Galicia’s two “sister nationalities” in Spanish political-lingo, Galicia is marked by an early and complete integration into the Castilian realm though its integration was originally a bit problematic (revolts and so forth). Galicia became a poor and isolated region in Spain, distant and poorly connected to the centres of industry or power. The mountains of eastern Galicia, poor communications, small landholdings and the power of the Catholic Church made economic development difficult and also prevented the development of a common “national myth” or “national ideal”. Poor and isolated, Galicia became a land of emigration. Starting in the nineteenth century, Galicia’s share of the Spanish population would decline from 12% to just 6% today. Some Galicians left to find jobs within Spain such as in the steel plants of Bilbao, but most emigrated to South America (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have large Galician communities) or western Europe. The Galician diaspora can vote in Galician regional elections and their votes, roughly 12% of voters (in 2005) can be crucial in closely-fought elections. In the last elections, the diaspora vote gave the Socialists an additional seat at the right’s expense.

Galicia was a heavily agricultural region until the 1970s and still accounts for 6.7% of the region’s GDP today. Galicia has traditionally had some of the smallest landholdings (minifundios) in all of Spain. The minifundio agrarian system has impeded on the competitivity of Galician agriculture, and as such most agriculture in Galicia has historically barely been enough for a family’s subsistence. The small size of land has contributed to the region’s poverty and sub-development. Politically, poor communications and the small size of landholdings were favourable to the hegemony of the Catholic Church and to a general lack of political mobilization (Galicia is known for its low turnout levels). Livestock is the main agricultural activity in the region. Along the region’s rugged (but beautiful) coastline, fishing is the main employer. Galicia has the largest fishing fleet in Spain (over 50% in fact) and perhaps the largest fleet in Europe as well. Despite the historical dominance of agriculture, industry is strong in Galicia as well since the 1970s: it currently accounts for 16.4% of the region’s GDP. Shipbuilding is important in Ferrol (an old naval base and Franco’s home town) and Vigo. Textiles are the main industry around A Coruña and Arteixo, which is home to Inditex, the second largest textile company in Europe and owner of the world-famous Zara brand. Automobile manufacturing is important in Vigo, which has a large Peugeot-PSA plant. In recent years, banking and especially tourism have become major employers as well. Galicia remains rather poor, with a below-average GDP per capita of €20,343. Unemployment is 17.25%.

Galician nationalism emerged out of a cultural movement of artists and intellectuals in the late nineteenth century who re-discovered and popularized the Galician language, Galician culture and literature. Alfonso Castelao is perhaps the most famous of these intellectuals, and the most popular of them (also because of his republican political activities). During the Second Republic, a Galician nationalist party – the Partido Galeguista (PG) was founded though it never achieved much support, electing three members as part of the Popular Front in the 1936 elections. It was successful, however, in passing a Statute of Autonomy in June 1936 which proved stillborn a month later with the success of the coup in Galicia. After the Francoist regime, during which the use and expression of Galician culture and language was frowned upon, the Galician nationalist movement was divided into a plethora of feuding parties ranging from communists in the UPG-BNPG to centrist liberals in the refounded PG. A centrist liberal party created out of the remnants of the UCD in Galicia, the Coalición Galega, achieved some success in the 1980s peaking at 13% in the 1985 Galician elections. It was soon eclipsed by the BNG, the left-wing nationalist coalition which was at its roots a radical communist party led by the communist UPG but which ‘deradicalized’ upon absorption of smaller left-wing parties. The BNG is by far the largest Galician nationalist party, and the only nationalist party with representation in the regional legislature. A smaller centre-right coalition, Terra Galega (TEGA) won 1% in the 2009 elections but governs the city of Narón – the eight largest city in the region.

Galicia is the only region of Spain where a majority of the population usually speaks a language other than Spanish as their mother tongue. That language is Galician, a language separate from Portuguese since 1500 which is closer to Portuguese than Spanish but has been influenced rather considerably by Spanish through centuries of Castilian domination of Galicia. Galician is co-official alongside Spanish in Galicia. According to 2008 statistics, 89.15% of Galicians can speak Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante) and 57.84% can write Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante). Furthermore, 56.4% of Galicians usually speak only in Galician or more in Galician than in Spanish. The use and knowledge of the language is higher in rural coastal areas and inland but is much lower in urban areas and with younger Galicians. The proximity of the language to Portuguese is a point of political debate. Galicia’s political elites and the PP defends the idea of Galician as an independent language, while nationalists are more ‘reintegrationist’ and see Galician as a regional variant of Portuguese and not as a separate language. The Galician government has traditionally been far less ‘activist’ or aggressive in its promotion of the Galician language in public administration or education (though education is bilingual) than the Basque or Catalan governments.

Poverty, isolation and in majority non-Spanish by mother tongue, Galicia could appear to be a Socialist or nationalist stronghold. In fact, Galicia is a conservative stronghold and the only region in Spain in which the PSOE (known here as the PSdeG) has never been the largest party in any election. Despite the fact that most in the region speak Galician more often than Spanish, a nationalist ideology which requires a broad social base believing in their separate ‘national identity’ and a ‘national myth’ has never been capable of being more than a second party. The division of Galicia into tiny, poor and unproductive smallholdings has discouraged the growth of social movements such as nationalism (but also socialism and communism), while being quite favourable to domination by the Catholic Church, which, unlike in Euskadi and Catalonia (to a lesser extent), has never had any nationalist ideals. Unlike in Catalonia, the industrial bourgeoisie in Galicia is pro-Spanish and backed Franco’s regime. As for socialism or communism, smallholders in Spain (unlike in France, where they are long marked by anti-clericalism and republicanism) have always been devoutly Catholic and traditionally scared of the threat of ‘socialist collectivism’. As such, nationalism is strong in Galicia but has never been a dominant political ideology as in Euskadi and Catalonia; while socialism has never taken root in rural areas though urban workers are left-wing. The PCE has never been relevant, the best they’ve ever done is 4.7%.

The UCD won three elections, and the PP has won all other elections in Galicia since then. The PSdeG has never been the largest party in Galicia and has only been the largest party in the province of A Coruña a handful of times. Galicia has also produced some pretty famous Spanish conservative leaders: Franco (of course) but also Manuel Fraga, the founder of AP; and Mariano Rajoy. In Galicia, even the PP has taken on some nationalist symbolism. Fraga campaigned in Galician and emerged as a forceful voice for a strong, autonomous Galicia within a united Spain. There are signs, however, that urban growth (cities being quite left-wing) is favourable in the long-term to Socialists. They came within 3.25% of winning the region in 2008, the closest they’ve ever been to the right in a general election (the PSOE was 10 points behind the PP in 2004). In 2008, the PP won 44.32% against 41.07% for the PSdeG-PSOE, 11.63% for the BNG and 1.39% for the IU. Rural, sparsely populated inland or coastal areas are the main bases of the right in Galicia. The left is strongest in urban areas, most notably in A Coruña, Ferrol, Vigo, Arteixo, Lugo, Ourense or Pontevedra. Santiago de Compostela is more right-leaning, though it was governed by the PSdeG for 24 years between 1987 and 2011. A Coruña was governed by the Socialists between 1983 and 2011.

The AP won the first regional elections in 1981 with 26 seats against 24 for the UCD. The first two legislatures were marked by infighting within the AP and political divisions on the right, which allowed the Socialists to take power mid-stream in 1987. In this context of division on the right, Manuel Fraga, the founder of the AP and by now the driving force in the refoundation of the Spanish right as the PP, decided to abandon his political ambitions in Madrid in favour of his native homeland. As the PP’s candidate in the 1989 Galician elections, Fraga won an absolute majority and defeated the incumbent centre-left coalition. In 1993 he increased his majority and the PP held on to its absolute majority in the 1993, 1997 and 2001 elections while the PSdeG was in state of disrepair after falling behind the BNG in 1997 and again in 2005. However, Fraga’s leadership was criticized in 2002 during the Prestige oil spill during which he and Aznar sat on their hands doing little in response. In 2005, the PP fell to 37 seats – one less than the absolute majority while the PSdeG increased its support considerably from 17 to 25 seats while the BNG fell from 17 to 13 seats. The Socialist Emilio Pérez Touriño formed a coalition government with the BNG, led by the more radical Anxo Quintana. In 2009, however, the PP, now led by Rajoy ally Alberto Núñez Feijoo won an extra seat (at the BNG’s expense, the Socialists held all their seats) and thus reconquered its historic stronghold. The Galician legislature over-represents the sparsely populated and more conservative inland provinces of Lugo and Ourense at the expense of Pontevedra and A Coruña which concentrate the vast majority of the Galician population. In the 2011 local elections, the PP showed its strength in the province of A Coruña with its historic conquests of A Coruña, Ferrol and Santiago. But in Vigo, Pontevedra, Lugo and Ourense it proved unable to topple Socialist-BNG (or, in Pontevedra, BNG-Socialist) coalitions. In fact, in all those cities, the governing party be it the PSdeG or BNG all increased their support. A sign of a slow evolution of the impenetrable stronghold of Spanish conservatism towards the left?

Alberto Núñez Feijóo called for early elections. Feijóo faced fairly tough circumstances: an unpopular national PP government and the terrible economic situation, while he himself was defending a very narrow absolute majority in the Galician legislature. This was a very high-stakes deal for the national PP, which had suffered an unwelcome cold shower in regional elections in Andalusia in the spring, elections which were hailed as the first sign that the PP’s post-election honeymoon was already falling apart. The PP wanted and needed to retain its hold on its traditional Galician stronghold, and this likely explains why Feijóo called for a snap election: he felt confident that the PP could take advantage of nationalist disunity and the local Socialists’ (PSdeG) corruption problems.

Feijóo is a key ally of Mariano Rajoy, and the austerity policies which the Xunta has implemented in Galicia since 2009/2010 have served as a “model” for Rajoy’s austerity measures. In Galicia, Feijóo has a somewhat “strong” record to stand on – again, compared to other regions. The region’s debt is high, at 12.8% of GDP, but is below the national average (13.5%) and while it has gone up since 2009, it has not increased as quickly as in other regions. Unemployment is 20.1% in Galicia, below the national rate of 25%, and it decreased in the third quarter of 2012 (from 21.1% in the second quarter). While the Xunta was dinged by El País for allegedly dressing up its debt level (a favourite activity for many regional governments in Spain), the PP received a major boost late in the campaign when Mexico’s oil monopoly PEMEX kind of confirmed that it would invest 247 million euros in the construction of an industrial complex in Galicia (Vigo and Ferrol) for storage, shipment and deliveries of oil industry liquids. The PP claims that this investment, which it has welcome in grandiose manner, will create over 2,500 jobs in Galicia.

Aware of the unpopularity of the central government and the national PP, Feijóo distanced himself somewhat from the national party during the campaign. His party notably released posters which minimized the PP’s logo, he campaigned on a Galicia Primeiro (Galicia First) slogan.

The opposition, which governed between 2005 and 2009, was going through dire straits when Feijóo called the election to take advantage of their problems. The Socialists (PSdeG) were divided and hit hard by a corruption probe (Operación Pokémon) which notably forced the resignation of the PSdeG mayor of Ourense.

The main Galician nationalist party, the left-wing BNG, was hit even harder by internal divisions. Trouble had been brewing in the fractious and heterogeneous coalition of parties which is the BNG, particularly between the current leadership formed and backed by the post-communist nationalist UPG and the old leader of the BNG, Xosé Manuel Beiras and his faction (Encontro Irmandiño). In the 1990s, Beiras, a famous Galician author, had led the BNG out of electoral oblivion to a high of 18 seats (and second place) in the 1998 regional elections. After his departure from the BNG’s leadership, the party’s electoral fortunes took a slow downwards trend: 17 seats in 2001, 13 in 2005 and 12 in 2009.

At a BNG congress earlier this year, the UPG coalition led by Guillerme Vázquez and Francisco Jorquera narrowly defeated an opposition slate led by Beiras and other factions. Following this congress, Beiras’ faction walked out and created a new political party, ANOVA. Other factions, largely the centrist factions, joined other smaller groupings in creating a more centrist nationalist coalition, Compromiso por Galicia (CxG). Ahead of the elections, Beiras’ bunch, ANOVA, joined up with the local IU (EU), led by Yolanda Díaz, to form a common list: Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (AGE, Galician Left Alternative). The EU has always been an also-ran in very conservative Galicia, it peaked at 2.9% in the 1981 regional elections and won only 1% in the last elections in 2009.

Turnout was 63.8%, down from 64.43% in 2009. There was a surprisingly high level of invalid votes (2.55%) and blank votes (2.69%). The results were as follows:

PPdeG 45.72% (-0.96%) winning 41 seats (+3)
PSdeG 20.53% (-10.49%) winning 18 seats (-7)
AGE (EU-ANOVA) 13.99% (+13.02%) winning 9 seats (+9)
BNG 10.16% (-5.85%) winning 7 seats (-5)
UPyD 1.48% (+0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.19% (+1.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SCD 1.1% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CxG 1.01% (-0.10%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.02% (+0.89%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Feijóo’s PP defied expectations and was reelected, not only securing its thin absolute majority won in 2009 but expanding its majority by picking up three extra seats. The PP did lose nearly 1% off of its 2009 result, equivalent to 135,493 votes. Feijóo’s victory is a significant victory for the national PP and the Rajoy cabinet, given how crucial these elections turned out to be for the national PP. In his victory speech, Feijóo even mentioned Rajoy – saying that his victory would have been impossible if voters had not felt that Rajoy was “governing responsibly” and that the “efforts” and “difficulties” it demanded were not for a “good cause”. That being said, Feijóo’s big victory owes a lot to the division and shabby state of his two traditional opponents (the PSdeG and the BNG) and his management of the region rather than to any Galician plebiscite in favour of Rajoy’s austerity measures. Nevertheless, as the centre-left daily El País argued, the results in Galicia will serve as an “encouragement” to Rajoy’s austerity policies.

The Galician PP was able to motivate its electorate to turn out, and the PP’s rural base stuck with Feijóo; compensating for fairly significant PP loses in some urban areas – A Coruña, Vigo, Pontevedra and Ourense. It was able to stave off a minor threat in the SCD, a new centre-right party led by Mario Conde, a former banker who recently got out of jail for embezzlement.

Results by municipality (source:

The real winner of these elections was Xosé Manuel Beiras’ new left-nationalist coalition, AGE, which defied all expectations and won a spectacular result, placing third – ahead of the BNG – and taking nearly 14% of the vote. The new left-nationalist coalition, which has been styled the “Galician Syriza” (a reference to Greece’s left-wing anti-austerity coalition which is now the embattled country’s largest opposition party), seized on the climate of social and economic discontent prevalent in Spain. Beiras’ coalition placed emphasis on socio-economic rather than traditional nationalist themes, taking clear anti-capitalist tones and calling for the reconstruction of society. In doing so, it not only seized a sizable part of the traditional BNG nationalist electorate, but also fed off the PSdeG’s collapse. The PSdeG’s collapse was particularly big in Galicia’s major cities, where AGE performed best: 20.6% and second place in A Coruña, 21.8% and second place in Santiago de Compostela, 20.2% in Ferrol and 19.5% in Vigo.

AGE was helped by Beiras’ well-known charismatic figure, which transformed him into Feijóo’s most vocal opponent. His success should be a major cause for concern for the PSdeG, which was the clear loser of the elections. The party, which had maintained its high level of support (from the 2005 election) in the 2009 ballot, lost over a third of its 2009 votes and collapsed to only 20.5% and 18 seats. The PSdeG was clearly affected by Operación Pokémon, but also by internal divisions and uncertain leadership in a party which is used to fractious relations and internal divisions. Again, Feijóo’s decision to call a snap election in October rather than next spring (as scheduled) was clearly calculated and he wanted to seize on the PSdeG’s troubles. The early election caught the Socialists off guard, and even if they managed to patch their lists together and unite behind its leader, Pachi Vázquez, it was not without some trouble. The PSdeG’s campaign, which wanted to turn the Galician election into a referendum over Rajoy’s policies, was not up to par with Feijóo and Beiras’ campaigns. Even Rubalcaba admitted after the fact that the reason why the PSdeG did so badly is that they failed to present a strong “alternative” to the PP. Again, the hapless Pachi Vázquez certainly did not measure up to either Feijóo or Beiras. The PSdeG’s decrepitude plunges the party into uncertain waters, not unlike the terrible situation the party went through in the late 1990s.

The AGE’s success has also plunged the BNG into uncertain waters. The BNG’s leadership has resigned, and it has called for “unity”, “reflection” and “change”. It is likely too early to say what is the future of the Galician nationalist movement after this election, especially given the BNG’s paltry fourth place showing behind the new coalition of its former leader.

The AGE’s result is quite interesting. It was boosted by local factors, first and foremost Beiras’ charisma and the troubles of both the PSdeG and BNG, but it is undeniable that AGE’s success could have national implications, primarily for the PSOE. Once again, with this result and the PSE’s result in Euskadi, the Socialists are the clear losers of these two elections. The party must wake up to the fact that it faces a clear credibility crisis, and its old voters are not buying into the party’s new-found distaste for austerity. Spanish politics as a whole have been shaken up by the economic crisis, both the PP and PSOE are increasingly discredited in the eyes of voters, and the succession of unpopular austerity measures have created a profound social malaise in the country. Voters are losing trust in traditional parties, and are turning to the IU, UPyD, regional parties or minor parties (notice the success in both regions of Escaños en blanco, which wants a recognition of invalid votes in the form of vacant seats); they are also losing trust in the country’s democratic institution. Both the PP and PSOE seem rather oblivious to this situation, or they are at the very least very much unable to confront it (certainly the PP has its hands tied up with the crisis and the wider Eurozone crisis).

Rubalcaba’s leadership of the PSOE will be shaken up a bit by these defeats, probably even more if the PSC does very poorly in Catalonia on 26-N. He has already said that he would go if the party told him to go, though he is not resigning just yet. The PSOE has been unable to profit at all from the PP’s collapse.

All eyes in Spanish politics are set on Catalonia, which holds a snap election November 26. Very interesting things are going on in Catalonia, and it is aligning to become one of Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headaches in the future. The regional president, Artur Mas, has taken a surprisingly confrontational and nationalist attitude, no doubt because of the difficult economic situation in which Catalonia finds itself. He wants to call a referendum of some kind, and he hopes to receive a strong popular mandate for his nationalist agenda from the voters on November 26. Polls indicate that Mas’ centre-right CiU will make gains, though it is uncertain whether he will be able to win an absolute majority in Parliament.

Andalusia and Asturias (Spain) 2012

Regional elections were held in two Spanish autonomous communities, Andalusia and Asturias, on March 25 2012. All 109 members of Andalusia’s Parliament and all 45 members of the Junta General of the Principality of Asturias were up for reelection.

In Andalusia, each of the region’s eight provinces are allocated eight members off the top with the remaining 45 seats allocated on the basis of population. Each province elects between 11 members (Jaén and Huelva) and 18 members (Seville). In Asturias, although the region is made up of only a single province, the legislature’s 45 members are elected in three special electoral constituencies: central, western and eastern which respectively elect 34, 6 and 5 deputies. As in all Spanish elections, the d’Hondt system of proportional representation is used in these elections, a system which usually discriminates somewhat against smaller parties.

The Andalusian parliament, last renewed in 2008, came to the logical conclusion of its four year term. This was, however, the first elections since 1996 to the Andalusian parliament which did not coincide with general elections in the rest of Spain, because Spain’s last general election – in November 2011 – was held ahead of schedule. If you recall the regional and local elections held across Spain in May 2011, the end result in Asturias was a crazy free-for-all marked by the emergence of a new political force – a right-wing party, named FAC, led by Mr. FAC (Francisco Álvarez-Cascos) as the largest party but with only 16 seats. Álvarez-Cascos, a former high-ranking member of the right-wing PP, had created his outfit as part of a personal fight with the Asturian PP which had rejected his candidacy in the regional elections. Following the elections, Álvarez-Cascos was able to win the region’s presidency only through the abstention of both the PP and PSOE, which teamed up to compel Mr. FAC to govern under the budget passed by the left-wing government which had just been defeated. In late January, the PP and PSOE again teamed up to reject the FAC’s budget proposals, which compelled Álvarez-Cascos to seek early elections. In his landmark loudmouth sytle, he decried a “PP-PSOE alliance” and claimed the region was on the verge of economic collapse because he couldn’t pass his budget.

More importantly, these elections are the first test for Spain’s new conservative majority government elected in November 2011. Mariano Rajoy’s PP government immediately faced a catastrophic economic situation including a 23% unemployment rate, a rising public debt (evaluated at 68.5% of GDP in 2011) and a large deficit (8.5% of GDP in 2011). The Rajoy government now aims to reduce Spain’s deficit to 5.3% of the GDP, a goal which has forced the government to take tough measures. Early measures such as cuts in political party and union subsidies, tax credits for home buyers and spending cuts were well received but a pay freeze for public employees, tax hikes and a minimum wage freeze were unpopular. The government faced protests over a labour law reform which would make laying off employees cheaper and weaken industry-wide contracts. The PP’s honeymoon was not quite an honeymoon but voters retain more confidence in the PP than in the PSOE to solve the economic crisis.

As the PSOE struggles to return to more decent levels of support, it must do more than hope that voters will inevitably turn to it by the time that Rajoy’s government becomes even more unpopular. The left-wing IU is an attractive alternative for an increasing number of voters since the general elections. In February, at the PSOE’s 38th congress, the party’s hapless 2011 candidate, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, was narrowly elected Secretary-General of the party, defeating the maverick-change contender, Carme Chacón. Rubalcaba got no boost out of his victory, given that he is perhaps too closely associated with the Zapatero government to re-ignite the PSOE’s electoral chances.

Andalusia was the crucial contest of the elections, because it is the Socialist stronghold – governed by the PSOE since 1982 – but one Socialist stronghold which was seriously shaken in 2011 when the PP won Andalusia by a full 9-point margin over the PSOE. The leader of the PP in Andalusia, Javier Arenas, who has run and lost in three regional elections thus far – most recently in 2008 (he lost by 10 but did very well by historical standards) – has been campaigning non-stop in the region since 2008. If the PP could win an absolute majority of seats in Andalusia, it would be a critical blow to the PSOE, something akin to amputating a man who had only one leg left. If the PP failed to win such a majority, it would be a first warning bell to Rajoy and the national PP government.


Andalusia is the Socialist stronghold. In 2011, it accounted for a quarter of the PSOE’s entire share of raw votes (about 1.6 million out of 6.9 million votes). The PSOE has governed the region since 1982, and between 1990 and 2009, it was the stronghold of one of the most important barons of the PSOE, Manuel Chaves. Within the PSOE itself, Andalusia’s federation is the most powerful of all regional federations and the provincial section in Seville is the most important in the whole of Spain. Most of the PSOE’s historical leaders, including former Prime Minister Felipe González and his Vice President Alfonso Guerra, have hailed from Andalusia.

My Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election provides some general context to Andalusia. Here are some of the most important snippets:

Andalusia is Spain’s second largest and most populous community, and the land of national stereotypes for foreigners: flamenco, bullfighting, sunny beaches and Moorish architecture. Andalusia has a population of 8,415,490 (INE 2011). The capital of Andalusia is Seville and the community is composed of the provinces of Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla.

Andalusia is defined by its long history of Muslim domination, it was of course the last part of Spain to be conquered by the Catholic forces of Castile and Aragon in 1492 with the fall of Granada. The latter part of the Reconquista was mostly carried out by nobles, knights and ecclesiastical orders rather than by the crown and peasants as the first part of the reconquista had been. Therefore, upon conquest, the Castilian crown granted large – huge – swathes of land to individuals or hierarchic orders. The roots of the latifundios, and by consequence Andalusia’s under-development and perpetual poverty were laid. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Andalusian countryside was thus marked by latifundios, ruled by a local cacique who employed huge numbers of landless seasonal labourers. The cacique was the main source of authority and the go-to man for jobs, paperwork and loans. The rural inequality of Andalusia in the late nineteenth century led to the rapid growth of socialism and especially anarchism in rural Andalusia, two movements which transformed Andalusia into the main battleground of class warfare in Spain, with the landless labourers opposed to the rural gentry (señoritos) and the caciques.

Agriculture remains important in Andalusia, which is less industrialized than the rest of Spain. The main crops are olives south of the Guadalquivir, largely in the province of Jaén; cereals and sunflowers in the Guadalquivir valley (Seville province principally) and the very lucrative artificial cultivation of strawberries under greenhouses largely in Almería but also Huelva. Mining is of secondary importance, with declining profits from copper along the Rio Tinto in Huelva and lead around Granada. Andalusian industry remains weak, and largely dominated by increasingly unprofitable first transformation of raw agricultural or material minerals. These sectors face increasing competition from North Africa or Turkey. Finally, tourism has become a major bread-winner in Andalusia, the second most popular destination for tourists after Catalonia, primarily along the Mediterranean coast (Costa del Sol) which in recent years has been a curse of sorts for Andalusia, which found itself with a bubbling construction sector which burst during the crisis.

The “agrarian question” has long been a key political and social issue in Andalusia, which is the dictionary definition for agrarian inequalities. For most of the early twentieth century, Andalusianlatifundios were hardly lucrative and they remained led with an iron hand by the caciques, who did what they pleased when they pleased. They brought in labourers from outside the town, or allowed vast parcels of land to go uncultivated. This was also an era of eruptive social conflict, which contributed to the 1936 outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. However, Andalusian property became quite productive in the 1960s as they slowly took the path of mechanization which increased productivity considerably while freeing a lot of hands – hands which could soon be re-employed in the booming construction sector with the growth of coastal tourism in Andalusia in the 1960s. Thus, when the Socialists came to power in Seville in 1981 and then in Madrid in 1982, instead of launching an ambitious land reform which would have divided land between landless labourers or cooperatives, the government continued to encourage the policy of mechanization and modernization. In return, the Socialist government set up a system of agrarian unemployment subsidy to sustain social stability and their political powers despite high unemployment. This agrarian unemployment subsidy, reformed countless time and benefiting an ever decreasing number of labourers in Andalusia and Extremadura, basically offers seasonal labourers a minimum pension six months per year on condition of having paid in to the system by working for 35 days in the previous years and, since 2002, having received it for three years prior. Though only 145,400 people receive it now, it has been an important clientelistic tool in maintaining Socialist domination in Andalusia.

Andalusia remains a poor region. It has the second-lowest GDP per capita of all Spanish regions at €17,405 – far behind the €27-30,000 of Euskadi, Madrid, Navarre and Catalonia. Andalusia has an unemployment rate of 30.93%, the second highest in Spain.


Andalusia is a Socialist stronghold and one of the key elements in the PSOE’s coalition. Andalusia has voted Socialist in all general elections since 1977 and has voted Socialist in all but two elections of any kind since then (the 1979 and 2011 local elections). In 2008, the PSOE won 52.5% against 38.6% for the PP and 5.2% for IU (ed: in 2011, the PP won 46.1% against 37.1% for the PSOE and 8.4% for IU). The Andalusian regional government has been held since its creation in 1982 by the PSOE, though the PSOE fell to a minority position in the 1994, 1996 and 2000 elections. Manuel Chaves, one of the prominent ‘barons’ of the party, governed the region between 1990 and 2009. Though Andalusia is a very diverse region, the PSOE’s implantation is remarkably homogeneous, though it is slightly weaker in provincial capitals (as of 2011, all are governed by the PP), in the province of Almería and coastal areas (Costa del Sol) in Málaga. Almería, the most isolated of the eight provinces, has always stood somewhat at odds from the rest of Andalusia, as shown in the 1980 referendum. The PP is very strong along the Almerian coast, especially around El Ejido but also further east around the Campo de Níjar region. One would inevitably think that it is because of wealthy old retiree types as it is around Marbella and Málaga, but it is rather because of the region’s unique agriculture. The Almerian coast is in fact home to a vast sea of greenhouses (visible from Google Earth satelite images), where fruits are grown thanks to an ingenious artificial technique involving blowing the surface out, bringing soil, building a short wall around the patch, covering it (to create a greenhouse-like environment), digging a tunnel for irrigation, laying manure over it (primarily for heat) and then a bunch of sand. The owners of these greenhouses are largely wealthy entrepreneurial smallholders. […]

The PSOE, as mentioned above, has topped the poll in all but three elections of any kind in Andalusia since the Transition. However, it is a rapidly changing region. The construction boom resulted in major demographic changes along the coast, with old coastal mining villages in Málaga transforming into high-growth tourist resort towns. Agriculture is no longer the breadwinner of yesteryear, and the agriculture which is left is no longer the unprofitable latifundios of the past, but rather large profitable mechanized farms which employ immigrant workers. Subsidies (or, as opponents would say, bribes) for agricultural workers are drying up and the economic crisis has meant that the PSOE has less money to redistribute to its electoral clientele.

Andalusia has suffered from the economic crisis, with 31.2% unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2011. The construction boom and its explosion took a major toll on the poor region’s economy. Besides jobs, corruption has been the other main political issue in the region. My Guide had this to say the EREgate scandal in the region:

In Andalusia, the regional PSOE government finds itself embroiled in EREgate. EREgate involves the subsidization of early retirement in government-funded companies by the PSOE. In this case, around 3% of early retirement cases were found to be fraudulent and involved roughly €9 million. The government paid excessive early retirements or paid early retirements to employees who never actually worked for a particular company (ed: those people usually tended to be PSOE supporters or part of the PSOE clientele). The PP and IU in the Andalusian parliament have seen their calls for a commission of inquiry refused by the PSOE majority, which claims that claims are being investigated by the Employment Ministry alongside the courts. The PP claims that the PSOE is covering up a wider case which involves the current president of the community, José Antonio Griñán. […]

The regional president, José Antonio Griñán, did not call for early elections to coincide with the general elections – elections which he would have lost in a landslide. In doing so, he likely hoped to benefit from the inevitable voter backlash against the newly-elected PP government and its likely unpopular austerity measures. Yet, in all polls leading up to the vote, Griñán’s PSOE trailed the PP by between 7 and 13%.

Turnout was 62.2%, down from 72.7% in 2008 when the elections coincided with general elections. The results were:

PP 40.66% (+2.21%) winning 50 seats (+3)
PSOE-A 39.52% (-8.89%) winning 47 seats (-9)
IULV-CA 11.34% (+4.28%) winning 12 seats (+6)
UPyD 3.35% (+2.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PA 2.5% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Equo 0.53% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)

For the first time in 30 years of Andalusian elections, the PP emerged as the largest party in the Andalusian Parliament with 40.7% of the vote and 50 seats, which also represents the PP’s strongest showing in any Andalusian election to date. The message of “we won for the first time ever” is the message which the PP has been trying to transmit out of these results, but the general media narrative about these results is about a PP defeat or at least a first warning bell to the Rajoy government. Indeed, the PP’s expectations were set quite high – winning an absolute majority of seats (55) – and the polls allowed these high expectations to flourish. Therefore, when the end result ended up being a narrow PP victory by a single percentage point, imaginably the narrative was about a pretty dramatic PP underperformance (no poll had it leading by anything less than 6-7%) and a blow of sorts to the Rajoy government.

To be fair to the PP, that they managed to win a plurality of the votes and seats in Andalusia is still remarkable no matter what, especially when the central government is implementing tough austerity medicine which is seldom popular. However, at the same time, the PP cannot help but be severely disappointed by its weak result. Inevitably, the PP suffered from the tough economic measures being implemented, measures which were beginning when they were not too bad but which are becoming increasingly unpopular as they become increasingly tough. Andalusia is a very poor region with a phenomenal unemployment rate, which some voters blamed on the regional government but which some could likely blame on Madrid as well.

Falling short of an absolute majority means that Javier Arenas probably will not be able to form a government, and if he does it will be a weak minority administration. In 2011, the PP had been able to elect one of its own to the regional executive in Extremadura, another historic PSOE stronghold, but it had done so because the IU had failed to seal a deal with the Socialists. In Andalusia, it seems as if both the PSOE and IU will make sure that this does not happen again. The PSOE cannot be too picky with the IU, and it will probably have to give in to the IU’s demand for an investigation on EREgate; but it seems fairly unlikely at this point that the two parties will not be able to get together, at least that is the media’s expectations at this stage. Griñán’s likely reelection as president of the regional executive will strengthen his hand in the increasingly fractious PSOE-A and provide a much needed boost to the PSOE’s morale which at this point only governs (as a senior partner) in the Basque Country (and probably not for long) and Andalusia.

The PSOE was defeated, but it won a “moral victory” through its stronger than expected performance and especially the unexpectedly narrow gap which separates it from the PP. It does show how low expectations are for the PSOE and to what low levels the party has fallen when losing Andalusia by one point can be considered a ‘moral victory’.

The PSOE lost nearly 9 percentage points since the 2008 elections, which had already been the PP’s performance up to that point. However, in a scenario reminiscent of the general elections in 1989, the main benefactor of the PSOE’s decline (besides abstention) was the IU, which doubled its seat count to 12 and took one of its best results since the mid-90s, the previous high water mark for the IU. In the short-term, the IU could stand to benefit more than the PSOE from the government’s declining popularity. The PSOE still has a credibility problem on the economy which it will need to overcome (which likely means dissociating itself from zapaterismo, and Rubalcaba is not the best person to do that), and until it does that (which it probably will, it’s a political party which wants to win, after all) the IU could be an attractive option for voters who are angry at the government and its austerity measures. On the other hand, as in 2011, the UPyD has been proving to be an attractive option for more moderate PP and PSOE voters alike. The PP likely shed some of its 2011 supporters to Rosa Díez’s party, which won 3.4% but failed to win any seats.

The PP emerged victorious in all four coastal provinces plus Córdoba while the PSOE dominated in Seville and won in Huelva and Jaén. In all eight provincial capitals, the PP emerged as the largest party, meaning that the PSOE retained its traditional dominance in rural inland Andalusia.


As explained above, the regional president of Asturias, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos opted for snap elections after the PP and PSOE blocked his budget proposals, which he claimed were crucial for his ability to govern the region. Álvarez-Cascos, a long-time politico who had served as a senior cabinet minister in the Aznar government, created his own party – the Citizens Forum (FAC) – as a personal vehicle for his personal vendetta against the local PP which had excluded him from the regional list ahead of the 2011 elections. He had already become increasingly opposed to Mariano Rajoy’s leadership of the PP, as a member of the PP’s hard-right faction. He won the 2011 elections narrowly, with 16 seats to the PSOE’s 15, distancing the PP by a wide margin. But his relations with the local PP have remained poor, even after his party’s sole deputy in the Congress voted in favour of Rajoy’s government (as a way to extract concessions which it never got).

Here are the relevant parts of Asturias’ regional profile in my Guide:

The Principality of Asturias is a small region, but it has played a significant role in Spanish history and politics which is somewhat unexpected for such a small region on Spain’s rather isolated northern coast. The population of Asturias is 1,081,348 (INE 2011). The capital of Asturias is Oviedo but the largest city is Gijón. The Principality of Asturias is a uniprovincial region, composed solely of the province of Asturias, known as the province of Oviedo until 1983.

The region takes its name from the larger-than-life Kingdom of Asturias, a Visigothic Christian kingdom which emerged in northern Spain in 718 as the first Christian kingdom following the Muslim conquest of the old Visigothic monarchy. The defeat of the Muslim forces by the Asturian monarch Pelayo at the battle of Covadonga in 722 has a mythical place in Spanish history (and political rhetoric) as the turning point and the beginning of the Reconquista. It is because of this history that the region takes the name of ‘Principality of Asturias’, with the Prince of Asturias being the heir to the Spanish throne.

Beyond the mythic existence of the kingdom of Asturias, the region’s prominent place in Spanish history and economics since the nineteenth century comes from its mineral wealth. The region is home to the bulk of Spain’s coal deposits and much of Spain’s steel industry. The discovery of coal in the 1830s transformed the poor rural region into one of the key players in Spain’s industrial economy, alongside the equally isolated regions of Euskadi, Catalonia and Madrid. In 1857, the province of Oviedo was Spain’s fourth most populated province, even more populated than Madrid. The coal mining industry also led to a strong organized union movement led largely by the Socialist UGT. Asturias emerged as a hotbed of revolutionary contestation as early as the first decade of the twentieth century, with the election of a PSOE MP in 1918. It was also in Asturias that the seeds of the Spanish Civil War were first sown with the October Revolution of 1934, in which the region was the only part of Spain where the PSOE-led strike wave succeeded and proceeded to turn into a violent revolution crushed brutally by the Moorish mercenaries of Franco and Yaguë. It was also in Asturias, in 1962-1963 that the Francoist state was shaken by its first strikes which prompted the nationalization of mines by Franco in 1967.

Industry accounts for only 14% of the region’s GDP, with the service sector, like in the rest of Spain, eating up the bulk of jobs in the region: 73%. The Asturian mining sector has declined in importance rather considerably in recent years, with the usual waves of mine closures and early retirements for miners. However, a fair number of mines remain in importance though their economic weight is increasingly minimal. The steel industry, once upon a time one of Asturias’ main industries alongside coal, is also in decline. As a result, Asturias’ GDP per capita of €21,882 places it in tenth place and below the Spanish average. Only decades ago, the mining and steel industry had made Asturias one of Spain’s most affluent provinces. However, the unemployment rate, 17.17%, is below the national average.

Asturias is traditionally a Socialist stronghold, thanks to the historic implantation of the UGT and PSOE within the Asturian mining industry. Asturias voted PP only in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 general elections though in recent years both parties have been within a few percentage points of each others. In 2008, the PSOE won 47.5% against 42.1% for the PP and 7.3% for IU (ed: in 2011, the PP won 35.9%, the PSOE 29.7%, FAC 14.9%, IU 13.4% and UPyD 4%). Mining communities are traditionally very left-wing, as is the working-class city of Gijón – governed by the PSOE between 1979 and 2011 – and the steelworking harbour town of Avilés. However, the inland regional capital, Oviedo, is an old bourgeois enclave in proletarian central Asturias. It had revolted against the republic in July 1936 when the rest of the region had remained republican. It has been held by the PP since 1991. The PCE and nowadays IU have traditionally had a strong base alongside the PSOE in the mining milieu, polling 10% on average and peaking at 16% in 1995. The PCE/IU returned one MP between 1977 and 2004, and despite losing its seat that year its vote held up well in 2008. It still holds a few town halls in the mining country.

The PSOE has held the regional government since 1983 with two interruptions: the PP ruled between 1995 and 1999 and the FAC, a new party, rules since 2011. The PP’s Sergio Marqués took the reigns in 1995 after the PP emerged as the largest party. However, he soon fell on bad terms with his party in Madrid and split from the PP to create the regionalistic URAS, whose 7% and 3 seats in the 1999 was a poor result but allowed the PSOE’s Vicente Álvarez Areces to take control until 2011, though the PSOE was barely ahead of the PP in both 2003 and 2007 and needed to count on IU. In 2011, the Asturian elections were noted for the emergence of the Asturian Forum (FAC), a right-wing personalist outfit founded by former Vice-President of the Spanish government Francisco Álvarez-Cascos. Álvarez-Cascos, who always complains that nobody likes him, was one of the most anti-Rajoy conservative members of the PP and was denied the PP’s nomination in 2011 when he came out of political retirement. His party, the FAC, went on to take 29.7% of the vote (barely behind a severely mauled PSOE – 29.9%) all while the PP collapsed to 19.9%. Álvarez-Cascos won the regional presidency with the abstention of all other parties.

The campaign in Asturias was not as mediatized and high-profile as the campaign in Andalusia, because it carried less national significance and the presence of a powerful local party (the FAC) blurred the situation up a bit. Most polls predicted a repeat of 2011, though with a weakening of the FAC to the benefit of the PP.

Turnout was down 11 points from last year’s elections, which coincided with local elections in the province. The low stakes of these elections and their organization less than a year after the last regional ballot likely demotivated voters. The results were:

PSOE 32.01% (+2.09%) winning 16 seats (+1)
FAC 24.83% (-4.83%) winning 13 seats (-3)
PP 21.53% (+1.58%) winning 10 seats (nc)
IU-IX 13.78% (+3.5%) winning 5 seats (+1)
UPyD 3.75% (+1.31%) winning 1 seat (+1)

Little changed in Asturias. The FAC lost the most support, losing a bit less than 5% of its 2011 votes and falling 3 seats, but remained the largest right-wing party ahead of the PP which did not do as well as polls had predicted. The PSOE won an additional seat and increased its support a bit, though with only 32% of the vote the PSOE remains at a very low level – even below its 1995 result though above the disastrous 2011 result. The IU won its best result since 1995, winning an extra seat and increasing its vote share to nearly 14%. In winning a single seat, UPyD likely took support from the right, primarily the FAC and PP.

With 23 seats, the FAC and PP have enough seats to form a coalition majority government led by Álvarez-Cascos. Both parties have shown themselves in favour of such a deal, though Álvarez-Cascos tended to be a bit cooler on the idea than the PP during the campaign. However, the PSOE hopes to gain another seat off of the FAC through the support of emigrant votes which are counted on Wednesday. The FAC’s last seat is held by a very narrow margin over the PSOE, and the Socialists hope that the traditionally left-leaning emigrant votes will be large enough to give the PSOE a seventeenth seat. In such a situation, both right and left (PSOE-IU, which have both quasi-agreed to a coalition if possible) would hold 22 seats with the UPyD holding the balance of power between the two blocs – though the PSOE would have additional legitimacy in winning UPyD over by cause of being the largest single party in the legislature.

The overall lesson from the first electoral test for the Rajoy government is that its measures are not receiving the popular approval he had wished for. Of course, anybody could have predicted that a government forced to implement such an austerity programme would not have a long honeymoon. With a general strike opposing the labour law reform called for March 29, and with the Socialists likely to retain control of their Andalusian breadbasket, the fiesta of 20-N is very much over for the PP. The PSOE still has a long road ahead and it has much work to do on its own, but the outlook for the party is much more optimistic now than it was after 20-N. The Andalusian results have provided a major morale boost for the PSOE, which all of a sudden thinks that its state is not so dire anymore and that its road to recovery may not be so arduous.

It is unlikely that there will be – that there can be – any major shift in government policy at this point, in good part because the PP has an absolute majority in Congress, but it should be prepared to face the wrath of voters before long. Arenas’ failure in Andalusia has worried foreign markets, because they fear that the PSOE government in Andalusia will prove to be far more reticent to trim its budget deficit to meet Madrid’s requirements than an allied PP government would have been. Yet, the PP still has the benefit of controlling the vast majority of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, which will play a critical role in reducing Spain’s deficit (their share of Spain’s debt and deficit has ballooned). It can, however, expect popular resistance, especially in regions such as Catalonia or Euskadi, to any “trimming” of the country’s ‘state of the autonomies’.

Spain 2011

Legislative elections were held in Spain on November 20, 2011. All 350 members of the Congress of Deputies and 208 out of 266 members of the Senate were up for reelection in these snap elections. I had covered the details of this election, but also some very extensive details about Spanish history since the Restoration, the political parties in contention, the political issues and the regions of Spain in some 100 pages (!) in my Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election. I wish to apologize to those who had hoped to follow my liveblog. Apparently it never worked for the readers, and I didn’t find that out until it was all said and done. Technology never works these days.

Spain has been one of the European countries hit the hardest by the European debt crisis and the world recession. Its unemployment rate, 21.5%, is the highest in the EU, and 4.9 million people are out of work. Nearly half of those under 30 are unemployed. The logistics of the debt crisis in Spain are made all the more difficult in a decentralized country like Spain, where seventeen autonomous communities account for 40% of total spending and have run up some huge debts (€121.4 billion in total) and whose combined deficit rose to 2.8% of the country’s GDP last year (while the central government’s deficit fell from 11 to 9% of the GDP). Spain is widely considered as one of the most vulnerable countries in this European debt crisis, alongside Greece and Italy, and could be one of the next “dominoes” to fall in case things get even worse. Spain’s Socialist government, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero since 2004, has taken lots of heat over its initially sluggish response to the growing crisis and then suffered the brunt of popular discontent when it was compelled to implement very tough austerity deals including wage freezes for public employees and massive spending cuts. In the May 2011 regional elections, Zapatero’s governing Socialists (PSOE) suffered an historic trouncing at the expense of the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP). Zapatero himself was not running for reelection as President of the Government this year, being succeeded by his right-hand man and former Vice-President of the Government Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. Rubalcaba faced Mariano Rajoy, the leader and candidate of the PP since 2004, when Rajoy failed in his bid to succeed his predecessor José María Aznar as President of the Government.

The Guide covers the details of Spain’s electoral system in more breadth. The 350 members of the lower house, the Congreso de los Diputados, are elected through d’Hondt closed list party-list proportional representation in Spain’s 50 provinces which have have between 2 (constitutionally-set minimum) and 36 seats. Theoretically, the threshold in each constituency is 3% but in practice in all but the largest constituencies (Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia etc) the threshold is much higher – up to 25% in three-member constituencies. Furthermore, the electoral system over-represents smaller provinces: there were only 38,685 voters per deputy in Soria back in 2008, but in Barcelona there were 128,392 voters per deputy that same year. The high threshold in most provinces penalizes national third-parties whose base is more homogeneously spread throughout the country, and has resulted in a two-party system around the PSOE and PP where regionalist parties in Euskadi and Catalonia are also advantaged by the electoral system. The 208 elected members of the upper house, the Senado, are elected through partial block voting in each province in peninsular Spain, which elects four senators. Ceuta and Melilla elect two members, the larger islands in the insular communities (Mallorca in the Balearics and Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canaries) elect three senators each while the smaller islands in the insular communities elect a single member each. In provinces with four senators, voters may vote up to three candidates. In those with two or three, for up to two. In those with one, for a single candidate. Voters vote for individual candidates (each party slate has three names in four-seaters) and those four winning the most votes are elected. This usually means that seats are split 3-1 between the winning slate and the runners-up. The remainder of seats are elected indirectly by the legislatures of the autonomous communities. Each autonomous community is entitled to one member plus one additional member for every million inhabitants. The electoral system and the Senate are both major political questions, and movements such as the indignados have demanded electoral reform with ideas such as open lists, regional constituencies, a single national constituency or a mixed German-type system (so, with an FPTP component) being some of the commonly proposed alternatives to the current system.

You can find more about the electoral campaign in the Guide, but the result of a low-intensity campaign which ultimately never impassioned voters and which was marked throughout by certainty over the result was a dip in turnout from 73.85% to 71.69%. Blank votes increased from 1.11% to 1.37% and null votes from 0.69% to 1.29%.

PP 44.62% (+4.68%) winning 186 seats (+32)*
PSOE 28.73% (-15.14%) winning 110 seats (-59)
CiU 4.17% (+1.14%) winning 16 seats (+6)
IU-LV 6.92% (+3.15%) winning 11 seats (+9)*
Amaiur 1.37% (+1.37%) winning 7 seats (+7)*
UPyD 4.69% (+3.5%) winning 5 seats (+4)
EAJ-PNV 1.33% (+0.14%) winning 5 seats (-1)
ERC 1.05% (-0.11%) winning 3 seats (nc)
BNG 0.75% (-0.08%) winning 2 seats (nc)
CC-NCa-PNC 0.59% (-0.09%) winning 2 seats (nc)*
Compromís 0.51% (+0.39%) winning 1 seat (+1)
FAC 0.4% (+0.4%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Geroa Bai 0.17% (-0.07%) winning 1 seat (nc)

In the Senate:

PP 136 seats (+35)*
PSOE 48 seats (-40)
CiU 9 seats (+5)
PSC-ICV-EUiA 7 seats (-5)*
EAJ-PNV 4 seats (+2)
Amaiur 3 seats (+3)
CC 1 seat (nc)

* PP includes 1 UPN deputy; 3 PAR senators 2 UPN senators
* IU includes 2 ICV, 1 CHA and 1 EUiA
* Amaiur includes independents (5 deputies and 2 senators), EA (1 deputy and 1 senator) and Aralar (1 deputy)
* CC-NCa includes CC (1 deputy), NCa (1 deputy) and AHI (1 senator)

Please note that results are calculated by the Spanish government based on valid votes, which includes blank votes – envelopes containing no party ballot. In my Guide, I calculated results based on the total number of candidate votes, including solely votes cast directly for a party list. I have not calculated results on this basis for this election.

Without any surprise, the PP has won an historic majority. It has won its highest vote share and seat count in its history. The PP’s absolute majority provides Spain and the tumultuous financial markets with the ‘stable government’ they had longed for. Mariano Rajoy, in good part by chance, will finally become President of the Government. For the PP and Rajoy, now comes the hard part. It inherits a very bleak economic record: record-high unemployment, youth disillusion with the lack of job opportunities, popular discontent over austerity measures and the political system, a big deficit and rising debt, autonomous communities up in debt to their necks and some autonomous communities unwilling to cut as much as the central government would like them to do. During the campaign, the PP promised basically nothing and in fact Rajoy declined to reveal his full programme during a televised debate with Rubalcaba. The PP talked in some very broad terms about fighting the crisis, fighting unemployment and summed up its policies to catchphrases like ­”modernization”, “growth”, “competitiveness”, “opportunities”, “reform” and above all the good ol’ c-word: change. Its slogan was “súmate al cambio” (join the change). Despite its sixth plank saying “we will carry out an austerity plan that will commit all the levels of government” this did not keep the PP, during the campaign, from attacking the PSOE on the front of spending cuts.

Whatever the PP said during the campaign, it is quite certain that they will undertake a program of austerity – they have said so themselves – but what form it will take remains to be seen. If you believe their program, it will mostly be in the form of labour market liberalization, business tax cuts, and public sector reform on the bases of rationalization, transparency and efficiency. They have, in their program, promised to uphold the welfare state and have said that health and education are their ‘priorities’. They have also promised tax cuts and other tax-incentive/goodies as some sort of counterbalance to austerity. Whether they follow through on this in practice remains to be seen, but given what austerity means in practice and the realities of the Spanish economy, I wouldn’t hold out hope.

While the PP’s victory is quite phenomenal in most regards, the election was more of a defeat of the PSOE than a victory of the PP. Certainly in terms of governance, the PP now has a commanding majority in Parliament and quasi-universal control over local government in most regions (only 5 out of 17 regions are not governed by the PP or its allies, and it controls the vast majority of provincial capitals) – an ideal situation similar to that of the PSOE in 1982-1983. But despite the PP’s landslide this year, its vote share actually only increased by 4.7% while the PSOE’s vote declined by a full 15 percentage points. Something which indicates the polarized nature of Spanish politics (especially given how the PP is the most polarizing party), but also the comparatively little embrace the PP received. Its victory this year is more a win by default, as the main opposition party which has played its cards pretty well and was reassuring during the campaign, than any widespread popular movement or embrace of the PP’s policies. The dip in turnout this year is indicative of this feeling of political apathy, and it serves to set it apart from the PSOE’s landslide defeat of an incumbent government in 1982 where there was a real popular embrace of the party as an inspiring vehicle of change and behind a charismatic young leader. No such emotions this year – voters were not very interested by the campaign, and Rajoy as a person retains the image of uncharismatic politico/Galician tax collector. It is almost resignation to a result known long in advance and behind a party which isn’t that bad but which isn’t inspiring any political mania.

The election is really a defeat for the PSOE more than anything. The governing party has suffered an unprecedented thumping, losing 15% and nearly 60 seats in Congress. With such a result, the PSOE has won the worst result in its recent history – falling below the 125 seats of the 2000 Aznarslide and the 118 seats it had won in the first free elections in 1977. In 1977, Spain’s political system was not yet constructed along stable lines and you had a lot of lingering left-wing votes in parties such as the PSP which would be eaten up by the PSOE. There is little way to spin it: it was a catastrophically bad result for the PSOE. In large part, the PSOE was the victim of the economic crisis. It had been criticized for its sluggish handling of the crisis when it first hit in late 2008 and then received the bulk of popular discontent over tough austerity measures it had been compelled to implement. These austerity measures included public sector wage freezes, a VAT hike, cuts in public spending, cuts in welfare allocations, pension reform and labour law liberalization. These measures, implemented by a left-wing party, really hit the core of the PSOE’s traditional electorate. A lot of traditional Socialist voters found themselves alienated from their traditional party and, in this election like in May, either did not turn out or voted for other parties either on the left (IU), centre (UPyD and regionalists) or the right (PP). On 20-N, the PSOE was really shrunk to its rock-solid core electorate. The party’s attempts to distance the campaign from the crisis and unemployment to issues where it is nominally stronger: social spending, welfare and so forth, failed. There was certainly no escaping the crisis this year and the PSOE’s desperate attempts to run on a traditional left-wing platform concerned with social issues could not work out. Rubalcaba put up a good fight, but ultimately he was doomed before it even started. It was not as much a defeat for him as a person rather than a defeat for the PSOE as a whole. Perhaps if the PSOE had been perceived as a “strong” government with a more concerted approach to the economic crisis (analysts have described Artur Mas’ Generalitat as a ‘strong government’, for example) rather than perceived as being wobbling all over the place it could have done a bit better. In a normal election, all things equal, it would probably not have been all that hard for Rubalcaba to defeat Rajoy, but this was not a normal election.

What was surprising was that there was not even a dead cat bounce for the PSOE in the results. A lot of people, myself included, had thought that the PSOE could slightly overperform expectations and receive a tiny boost from last-minute strategic voting for people wary of a PP majority or hesitating left-wingers who, in the past, had often tended to break at the last minute for the PSOE. No such thing this year. In fact, as the PP majority was pretty much a certainty, it could have depressed some PSOE voters from voting and allowed other voters to vote more “freely” – the small parties and regionalists: IU, UPyD, CiU, PNV and Amaiur all did a bit or quite a bit better than what was expected. Even some soft right-wingers might have taken the freedom to vote for parties such as UPyD as the PP’s majority looked so set in stone before the vote.

Only the provinces of Sevilla and Barcelona have remained loyal to the PSOE. In Sevilla, Felipe González’s former cabinet minister Alfonso Guerra won another successive victory at the helm of the PSOE’s list, constantly reelected since the first elections in 1977. But Jaén broke its unbroken streak of voting PSOE in every single election since democracy and voted PP. Even Huelva, another solidly loyal Socialist province, narrowly voted PP.

The PSOE must now reconstruct itself. A regular congress will be held in February, in which Zapatero will step down as official leader of the party. Who will replace him, and whether Rubalcaba will replace him, remains up in the air. The names of Defense Minister Carme Chacón, the President of the Congress José Bono, MEP Juan Fernándo López Aguilar, the secretary-general of the congressional caucus Eduardo Madina and Basque lehendakari Patxi López are commonly cited as potential successors. The PSOE starts from far, but perhaps its fight back will be easier than the one it faced in 2000. It is the opposition – the largest opposition force by far – to a government which faces an extremely tough economic situation and which will need to implement sour-tasting medicine quickly. In 2000, it faced a popular government which rode the wave of economic prosperity and growth with only little bumps until the Madrid bombings. No such luck for the PP government this year. The PSOE is discredited for the time being, but it is hard to see the discredit lasting very long when the government starts being compelled to introduce sour-tasting economic medicine. We are already seeing the PS in next-door Portugal start fighting back after losing this summer’s elections in a landslide to the opposition conservatives. More than any “right-wing shift” in Europe with the economic crisis (a flawed theory brought up by the Canadian paper The Globe and Mail) there is pretty much a strong anti-incumbent mood in those countries which are suffering from the economic crisis or whose governments have implemented unpopular policies in relation to the economic crisis (Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Germany, the UK etc). I expect a similar situation to emerge in Spain. Therein lies the silver lining for PSOE supporters.

IU and UPyD, Spain’s two main national-level third parties, had a good night. IU won its best result since 1996 and really its first truly good results in a long time. With 11 seats and 7%, it roars back from the brink of extinction where it laid after the 2008 election (where it won only 2 seats). It performed strongly in its traditional strongholds of Madrid (8%), Catalonia (8.1%), Andalusia (8.3%) and Asturias (13.3%) but also Aragon where, in coalition with the left-nationalist CHA, it won 10.5% and one seat (for CHA). There is, however, the very serious risk that, like in the 1990s, IU’s new voters are left-wing voters parking their votes with IU in protest against the PSOE and who will be ready to bolt from IU whenever the PSOE appears viable again – that what was happened in 2000 and 2004. UPyD also did surprisingly well, winning a very strong 4.7% and 5 seats – up from just 1.2% and 1 seat in 2008. It has been an unexpectedly major beneficiary of the PSOE’s collapse, but also popularity with some centre-right voters. It won its best result (10.3% and 4 seats) in Madrid but also won one seat in Valencia in the person of Toni Cantó, a popular actor.

In Catalonia, CiU defied all expectations and shocked observers by outpolling the traditionally hegemonic PSC for the first time in a general election. The CiU, which had not been expected to perform particularly spectacularly, did quite spectacularly with 29.4% and 16 seats – the best showing since 1996 – against 26.6% and 14 seats for the PSC. Consider that only three years ago the PSC had won 46%… Outpolling the PSC in a domain (general elections) where it has usually been the dominant party is quite a feat for the party and a major boost for the governing party in Catalonia. It is also a particularly big blow to Carme Chacón, who was a bit the PSC’s top candidate as the PSC top candidate in Barcelona. We are quite a way away from the 38% the CiU won in last year’s regional elections but the CiU always performs way better in regional elections anyhow. The ERC, the other main referent of Catalan nationalism, won 7.1% (down a bit from 7.8%) but managed to keep its 3 seats. It could be in the process of slowing down its pretty bad decline started around the time of the Catalan statute’s ratification in 2006. Its leaders have patted themselves on the back for the success of the party’s rebuilding process which began following the quasi-rout of the 2010 regional election.

The PP will be a bit let down by its ultimately unimpressive performance in Catalonia. Sure, 20.7% and 11 seats is above their 2008 results (16.4% and 8 seats) and it is their second best result after 2000 (23%). The PPC was probably hoping to place second ahead of CiU as some polls had indicated, and such a result would have been an historic success for the españolista right in Catalonia. Ultimately, it will need to settle for a somewhat distant third. As in 2010 and May 2011, the PPC’s success came on the heels not of fellow right-wingers who would otherwise vote CiU but rather non-Catalanist discontent PSC voters. Again, as in 2010 and May, the PPC won its best results and most impressive gains in the traditionally heavily Socialist working-class hinterland of Barcelona: Badalona, L’Hospitalet and so forth. In 2010, a campaign particularly focused on criminality and immigration had been behind the PPC’s success in those historic strongholds of the PSC. Indeed, the PPC, unlike any other regional branch of the PP, is particularly concerned about checking the rise of the only viable far-right movement in the country, the PxC – which won 1.7% of the vote in Catalonia.

The other major news of this election was Amaiur’s success. Amaiur is the abertzale left (Basque nationalist left) coalition founded in succession of Bildu, a similar coalition which had done well in May’s local elections. Amaiur includes EA, abertzale independents and Aralar. With 7 seats, it is the biggest party in “Euskal Herria” (CAPV+Navarre). While in Euskadi, in terms of votes, it is behind the PNV (24.1% vs. 27.4%), by the workings of the electoral system it won 6 seats in Euskadi to the PNV’s 5. In Navarre, with 14.9%, Amaiur won one seat. But what was more surprising in Navarre was Geroa Bai’s ability to hold it seat with 12.8% of the vote. Geroa Bai is the makeshift electoral alliance backed by the PNV (locally worthless in Navarre) and led around Uxue Barkos, the independent moderate deputy elected for the nationalist coalition NaBai in 2008. The combined 27.7% of the two Basque nationalist forces in Navarre is far superior to NaBai’s 18.4% and is certainly a record high for Basque nationalists in general elections in Navarre.

The results in Euskadi are at odds with those in the rest of Spain. The PNV, with 27.42% and 5 seats, a result slightly above its 27.11% result in 2008 (but one seat less) emerged on top, followed by Amaiur with 24.12% and 6 seats. The PSE-EE, which had won a crucial victory in 2008 with 38%, collapsed to a mere 21.5%. The PP was equally shunned: it held its 3 seats, but won 17.8% – less than the already poor 18.5% it had won in 2008. A far cry from the PP’s record of 29% in 2000. The real victor in Euskadi is Basque nationalism, with a combined strength of 51.5% – a record high since the late 80s.

Just like in the 1998 Basque regional elections, the abertzale left has benefited from the final cessation of ‘hostilities’ with ETA. Amaiur, with ETA dead, has become an even less polarizing and even more attractive political option for nationalists and other left-wingers. But the rebirth of Basque nationalism, which had been quite seriously shaken in 2008 and 2009 (when the PNV lost control of the CAPV’s regional government for the first time in history), is more than just that. Part of it probably comes from a rebuke of the PSE-PP pact which gave Patxi López the Ajuria Enea in 2009, but as some Spanish analysts have suggested, it could be a rebirth of nationalism as an attractive political and institutional option in one of Spain’s most affluent regions during one of the worst economic crises in recent Spanish history. Amaiur’s result is another big success for the abertzale left, which comes on the heels of Bildu’s success in May.

In detail, the Basque vote was a different story depending on the province. In Biscay, the birthplace and impregnable fiefdom of the PNV, the jeltzales won 32.62% (31% in 2008) against 21.4% for the PSE and 19.2% for Amaiur. In Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist and traditional base of the abertzale, Amaiur dominated the field with 34.8% against 22.4% (1 seat) for the PNV (down from 23.8% and 2 seats in 2008) and 21% for the PSE (39% in 2008). In Álava, the least Basque of the Basque provinces, the PP won 27.2% (up from 26.5%) against 23% for the PSE and some 19% apiece for the PNV and Amaiur. In terms of party politics, the PNV’s strong showing in Biscay strengthens the position of the moderate Josu Erkoreka for lehendakari in 2013, while the anemic showings in both Gipuzkoa and Álava weakens the weight of these federations but most notably that of Joseba Egibar, the more radical PNV leader in Gipuzkoa. In the long term, it will be worth watching whether the PNV continues its worrying (for them) isolation back into Biscay while losing Gipuzkoa and Álava – a trend seen back in May as well.

Amaiur polled its new votes from non-voters: logically, turnout increased in Euskadi (another break from the rest of Spain) from 64% to 69.2% this year (and up 10% in the abertzale stronghold of Gipuzkoa). A good number of solid more radical abertzale or Batasuna voters had not voted in 2008 for lack of such an option. Similarly, blank votes (envelopes deposited in the ballot box without any party ballot inside) fell from 1.8% to 1.1%. It also won, logically, some votes from EB-B (the local IU) which, in Euskadi unlike in the rest of Spain, fell back from 4.5% to 3.7%. EB-B has always acted as some sort of prop-up for nationalists in Basque governments without being fully nationalist itself. But Amaiur’s success did not have all that much of a detrimental effect on the PNV. It certainly did pull some votes away from the PNV in those places, like Gipuzkoa and eastern Biscay, which are the most rural and ethnically Basque areas, but on the overall raw numbers both throughout the CAPV and the constituent provinces don’t show a strong link between Amaiur and the PNV’s results. Instead there seems to have been a significant growth in support for Basque nationalism which ended up being positive to both parties.

Certainly some PNV voters might have voted Amaiur in bigger numbers than raw data makes us presumes, because those loses were compensated for gains with more moderate 2008 Socialist voters. It happened, but to what extent it is hard to judge. Amaiur seems to have grown quite a bit on the heels of the PSE’s collapse. It makes sense: in 2008, the PSE, which has always had (especially after its defeat in the 2001 regional elections) some elements of soft-regionalism, was an attractive option for some left-wing nationalist voters either through anti-PP strategical considerations or approval of Zapatero’s softer policy (in the first term, initially) with ETA. It had won 39% in Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist province, and had performed quite well in places like Arrasate/Mondragón which are otherwise abertzale strongholds. This year, a combination of national conditions (the PSOE’s unpopularity, the certainty of a PP majority) and local conditions (the PSE’s pact with the PP in 2009) probably doomed any chances for PSE resistance with more nationalist Basque voters.

Amaiur as a major political actor (with its own parliamentary group: parties need 5 members to form a unique group) and one of the largest political forces in Euskal Herria, alongside Euskadi’s unique set of results (with the nationalist landslide) makes the next four years interesting in Euskadi – both in terms of regional politics looking to the 2013 regional elections – but also in terms of the PP’s interaction with Euskadi and the PNV-Amaiur. Amaiur will be shunned and stigmatized by the PP, and there is fear that, like in 2000-2004, there could be a fistfight between the central PP government and the nationalists – especially if the nationalists reconquer the Ajuria Enea in 2013. Rajoy has already made public his intention to repeal the fourth transitory clause from the Constitution (the clause which sets the procedure for the union of the CAPV and Navarre) and this symbolic move could be symbolic for a tense relationship between the Basque nationalists/PNV, which is increasingly nationalist in its rhetoric again, and the PP. In the same context, the relationship between the CiU government in Barcelona, which is taking some more stridently nationalist tones at time, and the new PP government in Madrid will be interesting to follow. It is unlikely to be as bad as any relationship between a Basque nationalist government in Euskadi and Rajoy, but with questions of spending cuts on both sides and Catalan demands for fiscal autonomy, things can be interesting.

Third parties in general now form the biggest caucus since the early 90s – a clear break away from the pattern of increased polarization, unchecked ever since 1996. Beyond the aforementioned ‘biggies’, the BNG and CC both held their two seats. In the BNG’s case, with 11.25%, it won about 0.25% less than what it had won in 2008. In CC, the big loses in Santa Cruz de Tenerife (from 29.2% and 2 seats to 19.8% and 1 seat) were compensated by gains in Las Palmas (from 6.1% to 11.3% and 1 seat) – gains made possible by the alliance with NCa, the left regionalist party which had crippled CC in Las Palmas. In the Valencian Community, the coalition of the left-nationalist CC with the greens (Equo) won 4.8% and 1 seat – from Valencia where it won 6%. In the Balearic Islands, a similar coalition between the local left-nationalists (PSM-EN) and Equo won 7.2% but could not conquer a seat. In Cantabria, Miguel Ángel Revilla’s attempt to win a seat for his PRC fell quite a bit short with only 12.5%, victim of a PP campaign linking him closely to Zapatero. In Asturias, however, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos’ governing FAC (a right-wing party founded by former Aznar cabinet minister Álvarez-Cascos for the purposes of his fistfight with the local PP), won 14.75% and one seat. It is a pretty nice result for them, though in Madrid the FAC won only 0.2% and totally failed to catch any voters from the PP’s hard-right. In Asturias, it cost the PP some 5-6% (it fell from 41.6% to 35.4%).

Equo, Spain’s nascent green party, ultimately failed to elect anyone on its one. In Madrid, where all of Equo’s chances laid, it managed a pretty poor 1.92% and fell short of a single seat. Nationally, it won just 0.88%. Equo had never been widely predicted to do well on its own outside the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands where it benefited from its alliance with the much stronger local nationalists, but it is still a pretty significant setback for the country’s nascent green movement and shows that there is still much work to be done on their behalf if Spain is ever to have a strong green party. The first task would be to find unity, given that even with Equo some local green movements supported IU, notably in the Valencian Community.

There was also a less noticed good night for the tiny parties. The green/animal rights PACMA won 0.4%, double what it had won in 2008. A party calling for the recognition of blank votes in the seat allocation won 0.4%. Some small parties on the hard-left did well, by their standards.

El Mundo has a nice interactive map of the results by municipality, and allows for comparison with demographic and economic variables pretty nicely. The most striking aspect is of the course the blue wave, which is really massive and only leaves out Euskadi, Catalonia and the remnants of the Spanish “Solid South”. The PSOE is basically relegated to a handful of its strongholds: the poor inland rural areas of Andalusia especially in the provinces of Huelva and Sevilla, a remaining handful of towns in Extremadura and Aragon, the rump of the old working-class mining areas in León (interestingly, the PSOE vote dropped by only a bit more than average – 16% in Zapatero’s native province) and Asturias (inflated because of the division of the right-wing vote), and the Socialist fief of La Gomera in the Canaries (by a small margin at that). The PP dominated by wide margins in the conservative strongholds of the Castiles, the Levante, Cantabria and Galicia but even Extremadura and the Canaries. It won its best results in its history in Andalusia (45.6%!), the Canaries (a huge 48%), Castile-La Mancha (55.8%), Extremadura (over 50% for the first time ever, a decimated PSOE at 37 %), Murcia (64.3% against 21% for the PSOE…), La Rioja, Ceuta, Melilla (66% in both North African enclaves) but also the Valencian Community (53%) despite the Caso Gürtel. In Galicia, the long-term trend away from the PP is likely to continue: with 52.5%, the PP’s performance is quite a bit below the 54% won in 2000.

Outside Euskal Herria and Asturias, the swing to the PP was really quite universal despite a few under-performances here and there, so finding links between unemployment rates and stronger PP performances is a bit tough – but all these regions save La Rioja which saw the best PP performances are those regions were unemployment is above the national average of 21.5%. The shocking victories in Andalusia but also the Canaries have something to do with the 30% unemployment rate in those regions. But conversely, voters in those regions with lower unemployment were not more ready to support the PSOE – proof that economic pessimism is not regionally concentrated. I wouldn’t necessarily link the two, but it is interesting that coincidentally (?) the two regions where the PP vote dropped since 2008 for ‘normal’ reasons (aka, not because of vote-splitting like in Asturias) – Euskadi and Navarre – have the two lowest unemployment rates in Spain (12.2% and 11.7%).

The victory in Andalusia was one of the most notable aspects of the PP’s electoral results. Andalusia is really the bedrock of the PSOE, where a lot of its national leaders hail from, where it has built up full institutional control and where it has maintained a loyal electoral clientele in ways, some say, reminiscent of patronage or clientelism. In this regards, the PP’s victory there on 20-N and earlier in May was really a major blow to the PSOE. Because of this, the March 2012 regional elections in Andalusia will be crucial for both the PP and PSOE. If the PP, despite having the weight of having been in government for a few months, wins the elections (even moreso if it wins a majority, like it would on present numbers) then it will be a crippling blow for the PSOE made all the more crippling by it being out of government nationally. If the PSOE manages to hold on, it would mean a general sigh of relief for the PSOE and a very encouraging boost for it. Nonetheless, José Antonio Griñán’s PSOE trailed Javier Arenas’ PP by nearly 15% (49-35) in the last poll for the regional elections.

In the Senatorial contests, the PP won a huge majority (65% of seats) – the largest majority ever achieved in fact (bigger even than the PSOE’s senate majority in 1982). No province voted differently in the Senate elections, and only one province – Tarragona – resulted in a 2-2 split between the top two parties rather than the usual 3-1 split. The PP won seats in all provinces but the 4 Catalan provinces and the two coastal Basque provinces, and won the three seats in all other provinces but Sevilla. In turn, the PSOE won only 48 seats – one in every four-seat province besides Gipuzkoa where it won none and Sevilla where it won three. The Senate-level only coalition in Catalonia between the PSC, ICV and EUiA (ERC left this year) won three seats in Barcelona, two in Tarragona and only one seat in Girona and Lleida. On the islands, the PSOE won its impregnable kingdom of La Gomera 44-36, but besides that it was limited to no seats in the other small islands and one seat in the three-seat islands. In El Hierro, the incumbent senator from AHI (an insular regionalist party allied with CC) was reelected.

The Guide will likely be updated, sometime, with this analysis, full results and perhaps further analysis if time permits.

Spain 2011

Regional and municipal elections were held in Spain on May 22, 2011. I previewed all the races in a preview post earlier this week. These elections, a key test for the parties a year out from general elections, came at a bad time for Spain and its Socialist government. Spain is crumbling under 20% unemployment, a huge deficit and teetering on the verge of total bankruptcy. The government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is very unpopular and trails the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) by a huge margin in all opinion polls. Zapatero’s retirement ahead of the general elections due in a year could help the PSOE, but for now the Socialist’s situation is extremely poor.

These elections are also held in the wake of a large, youth-led popular mobilization called either “15-M”, los indignados or the “#spanishrevolution”. The crux of these protests are the unpopular austerity programs and massive youth unemployment (45% with u-25), but the protests also evoke frustration at Spain’s entrenched two-party system, the electoral system and pervasive corruption on both sides. Spain has always had high unemployment, with the usually impressive 20% unemployment levels being not all that abnormal in Spain since the 1970s; as well as low growth rates even when the economy was doing well. These indicates bottlenecks in the Spanish economy which no party addresses. The 15-M protests basically called on voters to abstain out of protest.

Surprisingly, 15-M’s effects on the elections are hardly discernible. Firstly, turnout actually increased by 2%, from 63.97% in 2007 to 66.23% this year. Perhaps the increase in blank votes from 1.97% to 2.54% are a side-effect of the 15-M movement. Invalid/null votes also increased from 1.17% to 1.69%.

The Tally

Results of municipal elections, as given by the Ministry of the Interior. Only parties winning over 0.3% of the vote are included

PP 37.53% (+1.91%) winning 26,499 seats (+3,151)
PSOE 27.79% (-7.13%) winning 21,767 seats (-2,262)
IU 6.31% (+0.83%) winning 2,230 seats (+196)
CiU 3.45% (+0.2%) winning 3,862 seats (+475)
UPyD 2.06% (+2.06%) winning 152 seats (+152)
EAJ-PNV 1.45% (+0.06%) winning 882 seats (-161)
Bildu-EA-Alternatiba 1.39% (+1.39%) winning 1,138 seats (+1,138)
ERC 1.2% (-0.36%) winning 1,399 seats (-192)
BNG 1.16% (-0.26%) winning 590 seats (-71)
ICV-EUiA 1.07% (-0.09%) winning 398 seats (-53)
PA 1.02% (-0.04%) winning 470 seats (-55)
CC-PNC-CCN 0.9% (-0.08%) winning 391 seats (-13)
BNV-CC 0.8% (+0.8%) winning 345 seats (+345)
FAC 0.54% (+0.54%) winning 158 seats (+158)
UPN 0.39% (+0.39%) winning 322 seats (+322)
PAR 0.34% (-0.08%) winning 992 seats (+9)
PRC 0.31% (-0.02%) winning 322 seats (+19)
Others 9.72% winning 6,304 seats

The UPN won Navarra. This is not shown on this map for the sake of colours.

The PSOE and PP have won roughly the same amount of votes and seats in all local elections since 1999. In fact, since then, both parties have been within 1% of one another. You need to go back to the PP’s 1995 landslide to find a wider gap: 4.43% separated the PP from the PSOE. This year’s gap, 9.74% is the widest gap in local elections since 1991. This marks an undeniable “blue wave” of the PP, which shows up very pronounced on the above map which shows the party winning the most votes by provice, unlike the Ministry’s maps which show the party winning the most seats by province. From this perspective, the sound defeat of the PSOE is pretty much undeniable and the victory of the PP is similarly undeniable.

But one thing which hasn’t been noted amongst the euphoria and Y-M-C-A singing hoolala at the PP’s victory rally last night is that the PP’s vote only increased by 1.9%. As we’ll in the autonomous communities, the PP’s vote did not increase by as much as the PSOE’s vote decreased and in regions where the PP was the incumbent most of the PP gains were modest if even significant. This is not to act as a Socialist stooge and grasp at straws to forget the mud you’re in. It is only an interesting observation which might say a bit about how the PP’s victory is not a win for the PP’s platform but rather a default win for the “other main governing party”. But before jumping too high, it is noteworthy to say that several factors might hold down the PP’s vote in these calculations. In Asturias, the PP’s vote dropped by 15.6% thanks to the concurrency of FAC. In Navarra, votes cast for the UPN-PP in 2007 were counted with the PP while this year only the PP’s 5.99% showing in the Foral Community shows up. It might be more instructive to look at what happened to the PP’s vote outside Asturias and Navarra where unusual circumstances were at work.

In 1995, the IU had benefited a lot from the PSOE’s rout and saw its vote increase from 8.4% to 11.7% between 1991 and 1995. The IU vote did increase this year, which was probably inevitable as left-wing voters who voted PSOE in the past voted IU out of protest at the austerity measures and so forth. But from 6.64% for IU-ICV in 2007, 7.38% for IU-ICV this year is a rather modest increase. It is worth remembering though that Bildu hurt EB-B and Aralar considerably in Euskadi, which might skew the figures around a bit. But there were no spectacular increases anywhere for IU.

The seat distribution seems to weigh disproportionately towards rural areas and small municipalities. Like France, Spain has a truckload of small villages with a handful of people living in them who are overrepresented compared to larger towns and cities. This plays to the advantage of regionalist parties like the CiU, ERC, PNV and Bildu which are strong in small villages but also to the PSOE’s advantage which is strong in rural areas of Andalusia, Extremadura or Aragón. The map on the Ministry’s website show the party with the most seats in each province, which, as you can see by comparing my map with theirs, plays out to the PSOE’s advantage in Andalusia and Extremadura but also to CiU and the PNV’s advantage. Note that in Euskadi, Bildu emerged as the party with most seats while trailing the PNV by 5%. Bildu, for example, swept the small villages of rural Gipuzkoa.

Autonomous elections


PP 39.72% (+8.67%) winning 30 seats (+7)
PSOE 28.98% (-12.16%) winning 22 seats (-8)
PAR 9.17% (-2.9%) winning 7 seats (-2)
CHA 8.24% (+0.09%) winning 4 seats (nc)
IU 6.16% (+2.08%) winning 4 seats (+3)
UPyD 2.3% (+2.3%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Governed since 1999 by the Socialists, Aragón saw a major shift as the PP’s Luisa Fernanda Rudi, former President of the Chamber of Deputies, led the PP to its best result ever in Aragón. With 39.7% against 29% for the Socialists, the PP did much better than polls had predicted – and the PSOE quite a bit worse. The PSOE was led by Eva Almunia, aiming to succeed Marcelino Iglesias, the PSOE incumbent in office since 1999 who was not running for reelection this year. The PAR maintained its positions but lost two seats, probably the fallout of the coalition with the PSOE since 1999. The IU saw its support grow considerably, from one seat to four seats.

The PP lacks four seats to form a governing majority, with the centre-right regionalist PAR as the key to any coalition. While the PAR has governed in coalition with the PSOE since 1999, the PAR governed or supported PP governments until 1999. Furthermore, relations between Socialists and PAR have deteriorated in recent years, rendering a new coalition of the two improbable. The most likely outcome seems to be a return to PAR’s right-wing roots through a coalition with the PP.


FAC 29.75% (+29.75%) winning 16 seats (+16)
PSOE 29.77% (-12.27%) winning 15 seats (-6)
PP 19.92% (-21.57%) winning 10 seats (-10)
IU 10.3% (+0.62%) winning 4 seats (nc)
UPyD 2.46% (+2.46%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Last night’s winner in Asturias was Francisco Álvarez-Cascos, the former Vice-President of the Aznar government, at the helm of a new right-wing party – the FAC – created after the local PP and Mariano Rajoy denied him the leadership of the PP’s list in his home province. Even despite the division of the right, the FAC came out with one more seat than the PSOE, in power since 1999 in this old mining region. More significantly, nearly 10% separated his party from his former party – the PP. IU held its ground, but gained no seats.

Nobody has the 23 seats necessary to govern, but Francisco Álvarez-Cascos must be counted to have the advantage. Unless relations between him and his old gang are so bad that they make any cooperation impossible – unlikely – then he has the upper hand given the overall dominance of right-wing parties.

Balearic Islands

PP 46.37% (-0.08%) winning 35 seats (+6)
PSOE + PSOE-Pacte + PSOE-GxF 24.86% (-7.65%) winning 19 seats (-1)
PSM-IV-Entesa 8.61% (-0.37%) winning 4 seats (-2)
PSMen-EN 0.89% (+0.1%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Lliga Regionalista de les Illes Balears 2.93% (+2.93%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CxI 2.84% (-3.89%) winning 0 seats (-3)

For sanity’s sake, I’ve taken the ease of grouping stuff together here. The PSOE result is the sum of three PSOE-led lists, including one in Eivissa (which includes smaller leftie parties) and another in Formentera. The sum of PSM-IV-Entesa is compared to the 6 seat caucus formed by the PSM, EU, ERC and Greenies in 2007 even though the ERC and EU ran alone this time (1.27% and 2.29% respectively). CxI, Convergència per les Illes, is the old Unió Mallorquina under new clothes.

The Balearic Islands are a right-wing stronghold, with the PP/AP winning the most votes since 1983. But relations between the PSOE and various left-wing Catalan parties and, until now, the centre-right UM have been strong enough to allow for left-wing coalition governments when the PP does not hold a majority. This happened in 1999 and again in 2007, with the PSOE’s Francesc Antich taking the reins of power both times. The issue at stake here was whether the PP could get a majority, which it did. With 34 seats, the PP easily won its majority and the PP’s José Ramón Bauzà will become the next President.

The PSOE fell back in all islands besides Formentera. The small left-wing regionalists held their ground well, compensating for the loss of ERC and EU since last time. However, the centre-right UM regrouped in the CxI was swept out. The small UM had been a kingmaker in the past, allying in the 1990s with the PP and since 1999 with the left. Its alliances with the left probably sealed its fate in a year like this.


PP 31.84% (+7.8%) winning 21 seats (+6)
CC 24.89% (+0.75%) winning 21 seats (+2)
PSOE 20.98% (-13.53%) winning 15 seats (-11)
NCa 9.08% (+3.66%) winning 3 seats (+3)

A little nightmare for the right emerges in the Canaries. The CC, a centre-right regionalist grouping, has governed in coalition with or with support from the PP since 1993. Even in 2007, after major Socialist gains, the CC-PP deal continued although the PP left the coalition after the CC supported the Zapatero budgets, making for a one-party CC government. Now, after the PP won its best result ever and the PSOE its worst result ever, both traditional allies – CC and PP – are left tied in terms of seats. The gap between both parties in terms of votes is 6.9%, but the workings of the insular electoral system allowed the CC – with its strongholds in various islands – to hold its ground in terms of seats and limit PP gains. But the tie in terms of seats makes for a tough situation. Paulino Rivero of the CC, in power since 2007, will try to hold on to power. The very moderate-regionalist CC is always key to governments, and while it leans with the PP since 1993, it works well with other parties when it comes to bringing pork to the islands. If bets were to be taken, the bookmakers would place their bets on the CC continuing in power – at least until 2012 – working with the PSOE or NCa.

The success of Nueva Canarias, a centre-left regionalist party strong in Gran Canaria led by ex-CC member Román Rodríguez, is the other notable result of the 2011 elections in the Canaries.


PP 46.12% (+4.66%) winning 20 seats (+3)
PRC 29.15% (+0.62%) winning 12 seats (nc)
PSOE 16.31% (-8.22%) winning 7 seats (-3)
IU 3.31% (+1.43%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPyD 1.72% (+1.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)

The charismatic and popular Miguel Ángel Revilla of the regionalist PRC has been at the helm of traditionally conservative Cantabria since 2003, in coalition with the PSOE which fell behind Revilla’s PRC in the 2007 elections. The key to power in Cantabria is not winning the most seats – it is winning the 20 seats needed to form a majority government. No party has done that since 1983, but the PP did it last night winning 46% and 20 seats. These gains came entirely at the PSOE’s expense, which fell further, winning its worst result ever. The PRC itself actually did well, holding its ground, sign of Revilla’s personal popularity. The PP’s Ignacio Diego will govern Cantabria.

Castilla-La Mancha

PP 48.13% (+5.75%) winning 25 seats (+4)
PSOE 43.38% (-8.57%) winning 24 seats (-2)
IU 3.77% (+0.35%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPyD 1.75% (+1.75%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Castilla-La Mancha was the symbolic contest of this election and it was the race which stood out of all other 12 contests in the autonomous communities. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, Castilla-La Mancha has been held steadily by the PSOE ever since 1983 and until 2004 it was the stronghold of José Bono, one of the ‘regional barons’ of the PSOE. Bono had managed to hold on even in the 1995 landslide, largely because of his skillful play back then on water resources (at issue was sending regional water into Murcia). A feat made even more impressive when considering that Castilla-La Mancha has voted for the right consistently in general elections since 1996. The region itself has, like Andalusia, a big number of large land tracts which traditionally makes a region left-leaning. But landless peasants aren’t a problem in Castilla-La Mancha’s cereal fields, which employ only a few seasonal employees. This might explain why Castilla-La Mancha is traditionally conservative.

This year, the contest featured José Maria Barreda, the PSOE incumbent and María Dolores de Cospedal, the secretary-general of the PP. Barreda is popular here, but Zapatero isn’t. Who was to win? Cospedal, perhaps unsurprisingly given the region’s conservatism and the blue wave nationally, won. The PP won its best result since 1983, the PSOE its worst result. The election, played out by one seat, was won by the PP in Guadalajara, the most conservative and sociologically different province, where the PP emerged strong enough to break out of deadlock in other provinces.

Castilla y León

PP 51.59% (+2.42%) winning 53 seats (+5)
PSOE 29.61% (-8.12%) winning 29 seats (-5)
IU 4.89% (+1.81%) winning 1 seat (+1)
UPL 1.85% (-0.87%) winning 1 seat (-1)
UPyD 3.29% (+3.29%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Castilla y León is the old conservative heart of Spain, and has been ruled since 1987 by the AP/PP. Juan Vicente Herrera, the PP President of the region since 2001, was easily reelected with an increased majority with results eerily similar to those of 1995. The IU also made its return to the Castillian legislature, from which it had been shut out of in 2003 and again in 2007. The Leonese regionalists fell back by 4.5% in León, where they won 8.9% and were left with only one seat in that province. León, the PSOE base in the region and Zapatero’s home region, narrowly won by the PSOE in 2007, saw the Socialists fall back by eight percentage points and a full 13 points behind the victorious PP.


PP-EU 46.21% (+7.5%) winning 32 seats (+5)
PSOE-Regionalists 43.49% (-9.5%) winning 30 seats (-8)
IU-V-SIEX 5.57% (+1.06%) winning 3 seats (+3)
UPyD 1.06% (+1.06%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Extremadura’s large landholdings, big landowners and rural proletariat has made it a stronghold of the PSOE, which has been in power ever since 1993 and won less than an absolute majority only once – in 1995 – and even then it remained as the largest party. Extremadura was also the holdout of Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra, another PSOE regional baron who presided the region until 2007 when he was succeeded by the incumbent, Guillermo Fernández Vara. Winning by far its best result ever, the PP broke through to emerge as the largest party in this Socialist stronghold while the Socialists receded to their worst result ever. But with 32 seats, the PP falls one short of an absolute majority. The IU, shut out since 2007, returned to the regional legislature with three deputies holding the keys the power. If everything plays out as it should, the IU’s deputies should support Fernández Vara and allow the PSOE to hold on – by a string – to its old stronghold. It would be the only region out of the 13 voting this year with a Socialist president, and would be – with Andalusia and Euskadi – one of the three remaining Socialist autonomous communities.

La Rioja

PP 51.87% (+3.06%) winning 20 seats (+3)
PSOE 30.30% (-10.11%) winning 11 seats (-3)
PR 5.44% (-0.56%) winning 2 seats (nc)
IU 3.69% (+0.63%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPyD 3.57% (+3.57%) winning 0 seats (nc)

La Rioja makes wine, but doesn’t make suspenseful elections. The PP’s Pedro Sanz has been in power since 1995, the year which the PP became the largest party. Sanz grew his majority by three seats and won the PP’s best result ever. The PSOE receded by over 10 points and won its worst result ever, being left with a mere 11 seats. The regionalist Partido Riojano, which has held two seats ever since 1983, held both of them but the PR won its poorest result to date.


PP 51.74% (-1.55%) winning 72 seats (+5)
PSOE 26.23% (-7.34%) winning 36 seats (-6)
IU-LV 9.61% (+0.75%) winning 13 seats (+2)
UPyD 6.30% (+6.3%) winning 8 seats (+8)

Esperanza Aguirre, a bigwig within the PP, was easily reelected in conservative Madrid but her share of the vote fell back by 1.6% after having won the best PP result in Madrid in 2007. The PP’s slight decline did not benefit the PSOE, which fell below the 30% and won its worst result ever in Madrid. The 2007 election had already marked a very bad Socialist showing, but this year’s rout made 2007 look like an historic success. IU held its vote, but the election was marked by the entry of UPyD, the centre-left liberal anti-regionalist party of former PSOE member Rosa Diez which won one seat in the Cortes from Madrid in the 2008 general election.


PP 58.82% (+0.30%) winning 33 seats (+4)
PSOE 23.86% (-8.14%) winning 11 seats (-4)
IU-RM 7.83% (+1.58%) winning 1 seat (nc)
UPyD 4.50% (+4.5%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Murcia is the most conservative region of Spain, a region where the PP’s support has only increased in recent years since gaining control of the region in 1995. The small and unremarkable region of Murcia has a lot of seafront properties and attracts much foreign residents from other European countries, which probably explains Murcia’s conservatism. The PP’s president in power since then, Ramón Luis Valcárcel, has seen support for his party and his majority in the Regional Assembly grow unchecked since 1995. This continued this year, as the PP won its best showing ever as the PSOE collapsed to an all-time low.


UPN 35.4% (-7.47%) winning 19 seats (-3)
PSN-PSOE 16.24% (-6.47%) winning 9 seats (-3)
NaBai 15.83% (-8.28%) winning 8 seats (-4)
Bildu 13.63% (+13.63%) winning 7 seats (+7)
PP 7.46% (+7.46%) winning 4 seats (+4)
Izq-Ezk 5.86% (+1.43%) winning 3 seats (+1)
CDN 1.48% (-2.95%) winning 0 seats (-2)

In a way, it seems as if the traditions of foralism and Carlism reared its head again this year in Navarra. Navarra is a conservative region, but it is not a Spanish conservatism in the Castillian sense which pervades here. It is rather a localist conservatism with regionalist backdrops, rooted in Navarra’s Carlist tradition and its attachment to the old fueros (Navarra still has considerable and unusual financial autonomy) which dominates. This regionalism, which has no inclination of any kind towards Basque nationalism, is expressed by the UPN. The UPN was the local branch of sorts of the PP until 2009, when the PP established itself independently from the UPN after the UPN supported the Zapatero budget. Proof of Navarra’s distinctive conservatism, the UPN dominated the elections emerging as the strongest force in the Foral Parliament. Interestingly, it lost 7.47% compared to the UPN-PP in 2007. The PP won 7.46% running alone…

Basque speakers make up between 10 and 20% of the Navarrese population and form an old minority pushing for integration in the Basque country. The Basque parties grouped themselves into one big outfit, Nafarroa Bai, in 2007. NaBai included the centre-right PNV, the centre-left EA and the left-wing Aralar and Batzarre. NaBai won 23.62%, a major success, in 2007. NaBai fell apart a bit this year as EA grouped with Alternatiba to form Bildu, a party with alleged links to Batasuna – ETA’s old political wing. Though NaBai lost considerably this year, all of its loses and more were to the benefit of Bildu, which emerged with 13.6% – a major success. The two parties weigh 15 seats and nearly 30% – probably a record high for Basque nationalism in Navarra. In addition to that, IU, refounded as a coalition of IU and Batzarre, won three seats and nearly 6% of the vote.

The CDN, the UPN splitoff of Juan Cruz Alli, finally kicked the bucket as it lost all of its remaining seats. Interestingly, the success of Basque nationalists renders a wobbly Socialist-Basque nationalist-IU coalition possible. All four groups have 27 seats to themselves, with the PSN as the largest party. But such a deal also had a potential majority in 2007, but it fell apart. It is even harder to replicate this year, as it would involve the PSN working not only with the moderates in NaBai but the more radical Abertzale nationalists in Bildu which is very hard to envision given how Bildu has been pilloried by all Spanish parties (and given the historic tensions between PNV and Abertzale). The more likely outcome is an unstable UPN minority supported or tolerated by PP.

Valencian Community

PP 50.70% (-1.82%) winning 55 seats (+1)
PSPV 28.73% (-5.76%) winning 33 seats (-5)
Coalició Compromís 7.34% (+7.34%) winning 6 seats (+4)
EUPV 6.05% (-1.97%) winning 5 seat (nc)
UPyD 2.55% (+2.55%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Francisco Camps of the PP, in power since 2003 in conservative Valencia – governed by the PP since 1995 – increased his majority by one seat but the PP’s vote share actually fell back by 1.8%. There is apparently much corruption in the Valencian Community, which serves to explain why the PP went backwards when going forward almost everywhere else. Interestingly though, turnout increased in Valencia since 2007. The Socialists did not benefit any, as they fell below 30% to win their worst result ever. Coalició Compromís, a regionalist coalition which includes the regionalist Bloc Nacionalista (BNV) which was allied with EUPV in 2007, benefited the most as they performed surprisingly well with 7.3% and 6 seats. EUPV also did well, considering the loss of the BNV and other Valencian regionalist outfits compared to 2007.

Ceuta and Melilla

PP 65.20% (+0.02%) winning 19 seats (-1)
Coalición Caballas (UDCE-IU-PSPC) 14.34% (-6.58%) winning 4 seats (nc)
PSOE 11.65% (+3%) winning 3 seats (+1)
UPyD 2.65% (+2.65%) winning 0 seats (nc)

PP 53.93% (-2.07%) winning 15 seats (nc)
Coalición por Melilla 23.70% (+1.96%) winning 6 seats (+1)
PSOE 8.53% (-9.61%) winning 2 seats (-3)
PPL 6.82% (+6.82%) winning 2 seats (+2)

Ceuta and Melilla are conservative strongholds, and remained true to their roots. In Ceuta, the Caballas Coalition composed of the UDCE – the local branch of the IU – maintained itself in second place but did not win the sum of the 2007 votes of the UDCE and PSPC. The PSOE narrowly improved its showing. In Melilla, the CPM – a local ally of IU – kept a distant second as the PSOE lost over 9% of its 2007 vote. A new centrist liberal party, the “Partido Populares en Libertad” won 2 seats. IU’s surprising strength in both these North African enclaves seems due to the support of the Muslim minority in both these Spanish enclaves.

Municipal elections

I had previewed the races in Spain’s ten largest cities in my preview post. El Mundo has also updated its fantastic map of all the municipalities, though they have a colouring problem with the PSdeG-PSOE in Galicia which makes it seem as if the Socialists won nothing there which isn’t the case. I’ll run through, with less detail than above, the main results. The reason I do this is because I don’t have all my life and all the results are easily accessible here.

In Madrid, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón (PP) won his sixth successive majority but saw his majority reduced from 34 seats to 31 seats and his vote share fell from 55.7% to 49.7%. This didn’t advantage the PSOE, whose 23.93% in the city is an all time low which reduced it to 15 seats. IU’s vote increased from 8.7% to 10.8%, but the major success story was UPyD which won 7.85% and 5 seats.

Barcelona has formed, since 1979, a sort of redoubt for the PSC in Catalonia which could count on the power of the municipality of Barcelona to counterbalance the CiU control of the Generalitat (until 2003, when the PSC won the Generalitat). It has always been the largest party in Barcelona and has ruled since 1979. So Jordi Hereu’s defeat last night was one of the major stories of the night. The CiU, led by Xavier Trias, won 15 seats and 28.7% (25.5% in 2007) against 22.14% and 11 seats for mayor Jordi Hereu’s PSC. The PP increased its support in the Catalan capital from 7 seats to 8 seats, and will probably form the support block for Xavier Trias. ICV, with 10.4% and 5 seats, also increased its support. ERC was the other major scalp in the capital, whose alliance with other nationalists failed to convince and halved the ERC caucus from 4 to 2 and from 8.8% to 5.6%.

In Catalonia, after a disastrous result (18%) in the regional elections of November 2010, the PSC did well (but not that well) taking 25% to the CiU’s 27.1% (which might/will begin to take the brunt of the tough austerity needed in Catalonia as well). It still lost first place to CiU and receded by 7%. The ERC (9%) and ICV (8%) suffered loses but did better than in November, as did the PP (12.7%). CiU also gained Girona, a longtime Socialist-controlled city, taking 10 seats to the PSC’s 7 and enough to govern with the PP (3). The PSC held an overall majority in Lleida and a plurality in Tarragona though CiU-PP has enough seats to govern there. It lost nearly 14% in its working-class Barcelona suburban stronghold of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat (also Spain’s 16th largest city) where the anti-immigration PxC won 7%, but should hold power.

The PP won another huge majority in Valencia with 20 out of 33 seats. But Rita Barbera’s support as mayor fell slightly from 56.7% to 52.5% and 21 seats to 20 seats. The PSPV’s 21.76% is the worst Socialist showing ever, and reduces the party to a 8-seat rump. CC-BNV and EUPV, with 3 and 2 seats respectively, made their entry (or re-entry) into the local council.

Sevilla and Andalusia are the other major story of the night. Sevilla, the largest city in Andalusia, ruled by the PSOE since 1999, fell to the PP which won its best result by far. The PP won an overall majority, taking 20 seats – a net gain of 5 since 2007 (its vote increased from 41.8% to 49.3%) while the PSOE receded from 15 seats to 11 seats (and from 40.5% to 29.5%). Apparently holding up the PSOE since 2007 didn’t do IU any favours, as it too suffered with a loss of one seat (from 3 to 2) and a loss of 1.2% in vote share.

In the rest of Andalusia, the PP controlled 5 out of 8 provincial capitals in 2007 and was aiming to take the last three: Sevilla, Jaén and Córdoba (held by IU). It was not all that hard, given that the PP was the largest party in all 8 capitals four years ago. In the five it controlled, it held its ground in Granada, it won a majority in Almería, increased its majority in Málaga, though it lost support in Huelva and Cádiz. In Jaén, it gained 3 seats to win an overall majority while the PSOE and IU fell. In Córdoba, not only did it gain two seats to get a majority the governing IU fell into third with 15% – a loss of over 20% of the vote and a loss of 7 seats. A new party, Union Cordobesa, took second with 15.23% and 5 seats.

In the autonomous community of Andalusia, a stronghold of the PSOE which has been the largest party in all elections except the 1979 locals (where the UCD was the largest by a hair), the PP won 39.36% against 32.22% for the PSOE (lowest since 1979). I don’t know what to attribute this rout in the Andalusian stronghold to. It could be a mix of national situations and unusual regional circumstances (the PSOE is corrupt here). I would gather unemployment is at record highs in poor Andalusia, which was also at the heart of the construction/housing boom with all those condos on the beach.

In Zaragoza, the PP increased its support considerably from 34% to 41% and from 12 to 15 seats. But while the PSOE fell back by 11%, and lost 3 seats, it still has enough seats to hold on with the support of CHA (which held all 3 seats) and IU (which gained 2 seats to win 3 overall). The PP has no likely allies as PAR got routed, losing both seats in the Aragonese capital. In Huesca, the PP gained four seats and could govern with the support of PAR which until now supported the PSOE. In Teruel, a city led by a PAR-PSOE administration, the PP picked up 4 seats to win an overall majority and 12 seats while PAR lost nearly 10% of its vote and 3 seats (leaving it with 1).

The PP held its huge majority and its 19 seats in Murcia while UPyD entered the assembly. The PSOE lost three seats, and IU gained one. Boring.

In Palma de Mallorca, the PP gained 2% and 3 seats (for a total of 17). But it allows the PP to gain control of a city ruled by a PSOE-PSM-UM coalition since 2007. The PSOE lost 2 seats, the PSM held both while UM/CxI got swept out both (and finished sixth with 1.5%).

In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the PP gained 4 seats and 7% to gain control of the largest city in the Canaries, controlled since 2007 by a PSOE-led coalition. The Socialists lost a full 19% of the vote, losing 6 seats. Its ally – a local party (CPGC) defended both seats while Nueva Canaria won 6% and 2 seats (it had fallen 0.5% short of one in 2007). In Tenerife, the CC’s Miguel Zerolo Aguilar finds himself tied 9 seats apiece with the PP (which gained 3). He could hold on with 5 Socialists (who lost two of their colleagues) or 3 members from two local parties.

The PNV won its first overall majority since 1979 in Bilbao, the Bizkaian capital controlled by the Basque Nationalist Party since 1979 and mayor Iñaki Azkuna since 1999. Its 44.12% and 15 seats make for the largest success of the PNV in Bilbao. The PP placed second, with 6 seats – a loss of one. Bildu won 14.21% and 4 seats, while the PSE-EE lost 8.6% and won 13.47%. This is a record low even in the unimpressive results sheet of the Socialists in local elections in Bilbao. But while Bilbao has a strong PNV local machine, the PSE-EE is strong at other levels: it won 36.78% in the 2008 general election. A fourth place showing is disastrous by any measure for the Socialists here.

The story in Euskadi is the success of Bildu, the new Abertzale (the ‘patriotic left’, or leftie Basque nationalists) party composed of EA, Alternatiba and some will say Batasuna, reformed ETA militants and other unsavoury types. Bildu, however, has pretty publicly renounced both violence and ETA and there is little danger that Bildu is anything close to a new political front for ETA. A belief shared even by Socialists such as Lehendakari Patxi Lopez. Bildu won 25.45% of the vote, one of the strongest showings for any abertzale party in Euskadi. The PNV won 30.05%, 1% less than in 2007. The Socialists lost 8.1% and won a distant third with 16.34% while the PP lost 2% and won 13.53% (the lowest for the PP since 1991 in any election). Bildu won 953 councillors against 872 for the PNV. It won 96 municipalities in Euskadi, including 74 with a majority. PNV won 97, 59 with a majority. These results, giving over 58% to Basque nationalists, is certainly a success given how the Basque nationalist option seemingly fell back in 2008 (the PNV came second to the Socialists in Euskadi) and 2009 (the PNV lost control of the Basque government in favour of a PSE-PP pact).

Bildu’s eruption is a sign of the continued strength of the abertzale left and how strong it can be when it is allowed to participate. It is also, perhaps, in part a reaction to the way the Spanish state has pilloried the abertzale outfits in recent years (banning most of them) and a strong vote against the Lopez regional government which is apparently unpopular. My guess, uneducated, is that the pact between the Socialists and PP which gave the Socialists the control of the Basque government in 2009 has revitalized Basque nationalism – apparently the most radical version. It has also hurt the Socialists, perhaps dangerously so, considering that the Basque Socialists can draw votes – especially in general elections – from lite-nationalists and anti-PP strategic voters. After all, the ‘EE’ part of the PSE-EE refers to an old party, merged with the PSE in 1993, which was founded as the political party of ETA-PM (the politico-military/moderate wing of ETA at the transition). The PNV itself has not been all that convincing in opposition to the Basque regional government and might appear outdated or tame to some Basque nationalists awaken from dormancy by the PSE-PP pact (which is a campaign point for both Bildu and PNV).

Bildu won 56 municipalities in Gipuzkoa, including 43 with an overall majority, representing nearly half of all municipalities. It won 34.6% of the vote and took 22 seats in the Juntas Generales of the province. Gipuzkoa is the most nationalist and left-leaning of the three provinces, with its mountainous Basque-speaking working-class villages providing a strong militant base for ETA and for abertzale forces. In the Juntas Generales of the province, the PNV won 14 seats (-2), the PSE 10 (-6), the PP 4 (-2), Aralar 1 (-1) and EB-B lost all four of its seats. In Donostia/San Sebastián, Bildu has probably ending the 20-year rule of the PSE’s Odón Elorza, taking 24.3% and 8 seats in the Gipuzkoan capital against 22.6% (7 seats) for Elorza’s Socialists who lost nearly 15%. The PP held all 6 seats and the PNV gained one to win 6. Bildu will need to ally itself with somebody, which is tricky. Elorza, however, has indicated that only the largest party should govern. He could, if he wants to lie, govern with the PP. But Bildu could govern easily with the support of the PNV. The PNV would look bad if it were to deny fellow nationalists such a prize.

The PNV failed to win an overall majority in the Juntas Generales of Bizkaia, losing one of its 23 seats (it now holds 22) and winning 37.2% of the vote. Bildu took 21% and won 12 seats, PSE took 9 (-5) and the PP 8 (nc). EB-B and Aralar were thrown out, losing their three seats. In Araba’s Juntas Generales, the PP is the largest party with 16 seats (+1) with the PNV winning 13 (-1) and Bildu 11. The Socialists won 9 (-5) and EB-B 2 (+1).

In Galicia, the PP has not gained enough to throw out all the biparty PSdeG-BNG coalitions governing in all six major cities. In A Coruña the PP did win enough seats to wrestle control of this old PSdeG stronghold. In Lugo, despite loses, the Socialist-BNG bloc can continue in power. In Pontevedra, the incumbent BNG-led administration picked up four seats including one from the PP and allows it to rule with the Socialists. The Socialists made some major gains in Ourense (over 10% and 3 seats) at the PP and BNG’s expense and asserts its power. The Socialists also gained at the BNG and PP’s expense in Vigo where it can continue governing. In Santiago de Compostela, it was a tight affair (only a handful of votes) but the PP won an overall majority gaining 2 seats at the expense of the BNG and PSdeG and finally takes control of a city held by the Socialists since 1987. But somewhere Franco is smiling as the Socialists lost control of El Ferrol as the PP made major gains (+18%).

Other PP gains include León, Palencia, Vitoria-Gasteiz (though it lacks a majority, with PNV, Bildu and PSE tied with 6 seats apiece to the PP’s 9), Albacete, Mérida, Cáceres, Logroño and perhaps Segovia (the PSOE needs IU to govern, being tied 12-12 with PP). The PSOE won an increased majority in Soria and increased its presence in Toledo (where it governs with IU). I don’t want my Socialist readers to commit suicide after reading this whole lot of bad news, so I’ll say that the PSOE gained Cuenca from the PP. Somebody would do well to explain how the PP managed to lose that.

Logging off…

If you’re a right-winger or Basque nationalist, you’re probably dancing around in joy; and if you’re a Socialist you’re looking for the next time the train passes to commit suicide. Some final conclusions of these elections…

The overall and universal conclusion is that the PP won these elections and the PSOE lost them. Nobody can contest that. The economy is down the hole, the government is taking the blame for it and the necessary austerity which accompanies recessions. Spanish youths are disillusioned, have little job opportunities and are looking to immigrate abroad. Many Spaniards are struggling to make ends meet as they lost their jobs. Such things spell disaster for most governments. It did spell disaster for the Socialists on 22-M.

But lest we forget that Mariano Rajoy’s popularity ratings are only slightly less ghastly than Zapatero’s ratings. There is silenced rumblings against him in the PP which he managed to silence in 2008 and won the rights to quell it all with this victory. But though Rajoy-Zapatero would be a Rajoy victory, Zapatero is retiring. The PSOE will be led by a new figure in 2012, just as the PP was led by a new figure (Rajoy) in 2004 when Aznar retired (though he apparently didn’t if you went by the overpaid stupid foreign journalists). That new figure will either be Interior Minister and government #2 Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba or Defense Minister Carme Chacón. The PSOE’s establishment favours Rubacalba and are pushing for a victory by acclamation for him, which, to me, would be a bad idea. But polls have shown that Rubacalba and Chacón are popular – more than Rajoy at least – and could at least narrow the PSOE-PP gap to the PSOE’s advantage. They will, however, need to break away from Zapatero and convince voters that though they hate Zapatero and probably the PSOE, that the Socialists should be given a third term over the PP. It requires running away from your record, basically. It is a very hard thing to do, even if your opponent is unpopular personally, but everything is possible in politics – which also move very fast, of course.

There is also much more strategic voting in general elections, where regionalists and IU do poorer than in local elections. The electoral system practically calls for it, but there is also deep polarization of Spanish politics – the left overs of the Civil War – between left and right. There a whole lot of voters who would vote for the right in a lot of other places who would rather drink battery acid than vote PP (who is seen by the left and opponents as a fascist Francoist party). And vice-versa (the right and opponents see the PSOE as red atheists). Conceivably, a number of IU and regionalist voters (especially those who voted for the smaller, non-nationalist ones like the PRC, CHA etc; but even some lite Basque and Catalan nationalists) would/will comeback to the PSOE. The PP will also get votes from those who favour local parties in rural areas, it might mend brides with the UPN and I doubt the FAC will run in the general elections (or if it did, it would do poorly).

2012 still favours the right in any case, but I would bet on something much closer than what happened on 22-M. After all, the 1995 PP landslide was followed by a close race (though a PP victory) in 1996. Felipe González had tapped into the Civil War side of politics in Spain to achieve that save-face result in 1996 for the PSOE. In 2012, the PSOE could either tap into that or Rajoy’s personality to achieve if not a victory then a save-face result.

If you want more results, there is the Interior Ministry (which has a downloadable results program for your computer) in addition to RTVE and El Mundo.

I will have forgotten something or made a stupid mistake(s) somewhere. But if you’ve read all these ramblings, you deserve a big cookie.

Liveblogging Spain 2011

WordPress does not allow for liveblogging feeds such as this one, but feel free to join in the conversation below.

Click Here

Some tips for those following the results:

  • Most media outlets will not be releasing exit polls. Regional exit polls will only be available for Aragón, Madrid and Valencia and municipal exit polls will only be available for the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia.
  • The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for municipal, provincial and insular council elections. Those results should start flowing in at 20:30 and be nearing completion two hours later. Check out the results here.
  • Individual autonomous communities are responsible for elections in their autonomous communities. Check out their individual websites here.
  • Municipal elections are counted first
  • Low-turnout or low-population areas will come in first, high-turnout and densely populated urban centres come in late.
  • The Canary Islands close an hour later than the rest of Spain

Election Preview: Spain 2011 (22-M)

Spain holds local and regional elections on May 22. The municipal councils of all 8112 municipalities in Spain, the Parliaments of 13 of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and the Parliaments of both autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa) are up for election. There are also direct elections to the Juntas provinciales of the three Basque provinces and the insular councils of each island in the Canaries and Balearics.

In elections to autonomous parliaments, proportional representation is used universally but threshold and constituencies depend from community to community. In all multi-provincial communities, provinces serve as constituencies and have a specific number of seats based on their populations. Asturias and Murcia, communities composed of only one province, are further subdivided into multi-member constituencies. In the insular communities, each island serves as a constituency. The threshold is either 3% or 5%. In Aragón, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León and Navarra the threshold is 3% in each individual constituency (there is only one constituency in Navarra). In the Valencian Community, which uses provincial constituencies, parties must win 5% throughout the community to qualify for seats. In Cantabria, Extremadura, Madrid, Murcia, La Rioja, Ceuta and Melilla the threshold is 5% by constituency (Extremadura and Murcia have more than one, all others form a sole constituency to themselves). In the Canaries finally, a party must win 6% throughout the islands or 30% or first place in one island.

Held a year out from the general election since 1995, these local elections are widely seen as a pretty good indicator of the political mood but also a pretty good predictor of the results of the big election in the next year. Except for 2007, the party which won the local elections went on to win the general election.

These elections couldn’t come at a worst time for the governing Socialists (PSOE). Spain is struggling under nearly 20% unemployment, a huge budget deficit and until recently on the brink of bankruptcy a la Greece/Ireland/Portugal. The government has been compelled to adopt tough austerity measures which have succeeded in bringing Spain back from the brink but at the cost of severe budget trimming which have caused social disruptions. Budget trimming is especially difficult in a decentralized country such as Spain, where regional communities (always clamoring for more financial powers) account for 37% of public spending. Hounded for his initially sluggish response and then his austerity-minded budgets, the Socialist President of the Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, in office since 2004, has won some of the worst approval numbers of any Spanish head of government and finally announced in April 2011 that he would not stand for reelection in 2012. The governing PSOE has taken the brunt of the blame for the crisis and its effects, and trails the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) by roughly 15 points. Hardly inspiring numbers for a government a year out from the elections.

But the PP is winning by default. Its leader, Mariano Rajoy, has never been inspiring to anybody and his leadership ratings aren’t anything to boast about. He faced some internal opposition within the PP after he lost his second election in a row in 2008, but managed to hold his position. At any rate, Zapatero’s announced retirement is probably bad news for the PP. The two most prominent successors to Zapatero, the 4o-year old Defense Minister Carme Chacón and the Interior Minister and Vice-President of the Government Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba are both more popular than Rajoy and polls show they could manage to cut into the PP’s lead rather significantly.

But as of now the cards are placed unambiguously in the opposition’s favour. The PP is eying a win as significant as the PP’s landslide victory in the 1995 local elections. But though that victory presaged Aznar’s election 1996, the PP’s victory in 1996 was much narrower than its 1995 landslide in regions and municipalities. Below, I preview the races in all autonomous communities and in the major cities.

Autonomous communities

Aragón: The PSOE has held Aragón since 1999 with Marcelino Iglesias, who is retiring this year. His government’s number two, María Eva Almunia Badía, will be aiming to succeed him. The PP will be led by former President of the Chamber of Deputies, also a woman, Luisa Fernanda Rudi Úbeda. Since 1999, the PSOE has governed in coalition with the centre-right regionalist Aragonese Party (PAR), which had previously governed the region between 1987 and 1993. Polls indicate that the PSOE is holding its ground quite well, maintaining a narrow lead or a statistical tie with the PP which has nonetheless gained ground. The PAR is slightly down, while the left-wing regionalist Chunta Aragonesista (CHA) is at its 2007 levels. The IU might increase its presence from one seat to 3-4 seats. In any case, unless the PAR has a change of allegiance to its former right-wing roots, the PSOE at this level is in good position to retain the presidency of the region with the CHA and PAR as potential allies and the IU as a backer. Somebody closer to the ground would be in better position to explain why the PSOE has held up comparatively well in Aragón.
2007: PSOE 30, PP 23, PAR 9, CHA 4, IU 1

Asturias: The old mining region of Asturias has been held, with one exception (1995-1999) by the PSOE since 1983. Asturias will probably be one of the more interesting communities to watch, if only because of the division on the right. Last year, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos, the Vice-President of the Aznar Government between 1996 and 2000, made clear his intention to return to elective politics after his retirement in 2004. But the Asturian PP is somehow not fond of him and shoved him aside in favour of Oviedo municipal councillor Isabel Pérez-Espinosa. Snubbed, Álvarez-Cascos sent a letter to Rajoy explaining that he was quitting the PP after “insults” from the Asturian PP. He proceeded to set up his own party, the Foro Asturias (FAC). The division of the right between the official PP and Álvarez-Cascos’ rebels grouped in the FAC has given the PSOE a Pyhrric first place in polls even though its vote is down significantly from the 43% it won in 2007. The PP and FAC are left fighting for second place, with the FAC’s position wildly oscillating between a strong second and a more distant third. The IU, which retains nearly 10% of the vote in Asturias, is at its 2007 levels. Even if the PSOE does win first place, it is hard to see it retaining power unless Álvarez-Cascos’ hissy fit is at the point which makes differences between his outfit and the PP irreconcilable.
2007: PSOE 21, PP 20, IU 4

Balearic Islands: The right has been the strongest party in the Balearic Islands since 1983, but the left led by the PSOE’s Francesc Antich governed between 1999 and 2003 and again since 2007 in coalition with various left-wing parties and the fledgling Unió Mallorquina (UM). If the right wants to govern, it needs an absolute majority. The PP fell just short of keeping its majority in 2007, winning 29 of the Parliament’s 59 seats. Polls indicate that the PP is now extremely likely to gain at least one more seat and take back government. Interestingly, such gains would not be made at the PSOE’s expense if recent polls are to be believed: the PSOE has managed to increase its standing from the 28% it won in 2007 to roughly 30% and 20-21 seats. Instead, the PSOE’s ally, the Catalan PSM-IV-Entesa and the UM refounded as the Convergence for the Island (CxI) will suffer loses. The former will have minor loses, the CxI-UM could be swept out of Parliament altogether. At any rate, the PP has its best chance at a sure gain here.
2007: PP 29, PSOE 20, UM 3, PSM-EN 2, EU 2, ERC 1, Els Verds 1, PSMen 1

Canaries: The PSOE gained 9 seats in 2007 and became the largest political party on the islands, but was left out of government which has been held by the centre-right regionalist Coalición Canaria (CC) whose governments always began as coalitions with the PP but seem to invariably end up as CC-only governments. Polls vary rather wildly, but the bottom lines seems to be a general three-way tie between the CC, PP and PSOE. The PSOE will probably fall back to where it was in 2003 (25% and 17 seats), while the PP could gain enough to become the largest party on the islands. CC is at its 2007 levels. The Canarian nationalists of Nueva Canarias, well implanted in Gran Canaria, had narrowly missed out on representation in 2007 but has seemingly now cleared that 6% threshold to gain representation. If the PP becomes the biggest party, it could form a coalition with the CC (or vice-versa).
2007: PSOE 26 seats, CC 19 seats, PP 15 seats

Cantabria: Cantabria has been governed since 2003 by Miguel Ángel Revilla of the Cantabrian Regionalist Party (PRC) whose regionalist party has been the senior party in a coalition with the PSOE. The PRC was actually smaller than the PSOE in 2003, but Revilla’s popularity allowed the PRC to become the second largest party behind the PP which has topped the poll in the region since 1995. Revilla and the PRC remain popular and it is unlikely to suffer major loses, polls giving it roughly what it has today (11-12). The PSOE, however, will likely take a drubbing and fall below the 10 seats it currently holds to 8 or so and allow the PP to potentially win the 20-seats it needs for a majority. Revilla’s government likely hinges – like in Galicia in 2009 – on whether the PP wins an absolute majority.
2007: PP 17, PRC 12, PSOE 10

Castilla-La Mancha: Castilla-La Mancha is an interesting region and its closely contested election this year has become the symbol of these elections. The PP has been the largest party in general and European elections since 1994, but the region has been governed without interruption by the PSOE since 1983. Until 2004, it was governed by José Bono, one of the powerful PSOE regional barons and today the President of the Chamber of Deputies. Bono had narrowly held on in the PP-landslide of 1995, but grew his majorities in 1999 and 2003 although the PSOE – now led by José María Barreda lost 3 seats in 2007. Today, Barreda is fighting to hold on against the secretary-general of the PP, María Dolores de Cospedal. Polling shows that the race is in a statistical tie and has barely budged in any direction since the campaign kicked off. The PP seems to have a one-seat edge in most polls. If you watch only one region on May 22, make it this one.
2007: PSOE 26 seatsPP 21 seats

Castilla y León: There is absolutely no contest in the heartland of Spanish conservatism, governed by the PP since 1987 and which has had a PP absolute majority since 1991. The PP’s Juan Vicente Herrera will consolidate his majority with some small gains, at the expense of the PSOE. The Leonese regionalist UPL will likely hold its two seats. Somebody will inevitably make the symbolic comment that the PSOE will do badly in León, Zapatero’s home province, which the PSOE had narrowly won in 2007.
2007: PP 48 seats, PSOE 33 seats, UPL 2 seats

Extremadura: Extremadura is a Socialist stronghold and has been governed by the PSOE since 1983, and, until 2007, by the powerful PSOE baron Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra. It is thus very bad news for the PSOE to be in a tight race in its stronghold. The PSOE is either tied or narrowly trailing the PP, while IU – which lost all seats in 2007 – could return to parliament if it clears the 5% threshold. A very dire situation for the PSOE, but certainly a region to watch on May 22.
2007: PSOE-Regionalists 38 seats, PP-UEX 27 seats

La Rioja: Another snoozer in a conservative stronghold. The PP’s Pedro Sanz will sail to another majority in the region he has governed since 1995. Neither the PP nor the PSOE seems to be budging much from their 2007 levels, and it is unlikely that the PP will have major gains or the PSOE major loses. The regionalist Riojan Party (PR), which has held two seats since 1983, will either keep both or lose one. At any rate, it isn’t a contest to lose sleep over.
2007: PP 17 seats, PSOE 14 seats, PR 2 seats

Madrid:The interesting contest in Madrid was last year – the PSOE primary. The PP’s Esperanza Aguirre, at the helm of the region since 2003, won a record-breaking super-majority in 2007 taking 67 out of 120 seats. Aguirre, a top figure within the PP and a potential leader if Rajoy ever leaves, will likely re-edit – and build upon that impressive feat.  The interesting contest, the PSOE primary last year, saw Zapatero’s favourite candidate – Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez defeated by a rebel, Tomás Gómez. The PSOE’s wranglings certainly didn’t help their case much. IU could make some gains, but eyes will be on UPyD which hopes to break the 5% threshold required to win seats. Madrid’s legislature will now have 129 seats (+9).
2007: PP 67 seats, PSOE 42 seats, IU 11 seats

Murcia: Murcia is a conservative stronghold, one of the most conservative autonomous communities in Spain. The PP’s Ramón Luis Valcárcel has governed the region since 1995 with increasingly solid majorities (29/45 in 2007). Polling shows that the PP could gain two seats at the PSOE’s expense – such a result would be the PP’s best result in a region which has trended heavily towards the right in recent years.
2007: PP 29 seats, PSOE 15 seats, IU 1 seat

Navarra: From its days as a Carlist stronghold, Navarra has kept a strong conservative regionalist streak which is expressed by the Navarrese People’s Union (UPN), which was allied to the PP until 2008. The UPN has governed the region since 1996 in coalition, until 2009, with the Convergence of Navarrese Democrats (CDN), a 1995 split in the UPN by the more nationalist and moderate wing of the party. There were high hopes for a left-wing government in 2007, which had the sufficient seats, but all finally fell through. Since 2007, the second largest block in the Foral Parliament is Nafarroa Bai (NaBai), a Basque nationalist electoral coalition now composed of Aralar and the PNV. Eusko Alkartasuna , the dwindling left-wing non-violent nationalist party has been taken over by alleged Batasuna (ETA’s political wing) militants who have driven EA into a new electoral coalition, Bildu, whose legality was recently upheld by the courts over the traditional fears that it was the latest front for Batasuna/ETA. Polls show a stronger right-wing vote, with the UPN losing less (from 22 to 18-19 or so) than the PP is gaining (7-10). The PSN-PSOE will suffer some rather important loses, and the CDN is fighting for survival. Pollsters disagree on Bildu’s strength, but the combined weight of NaBai and Bildu seems to be equal to or slightly superior to NaBai’s successful showing of 23.6% in 2007.
2007: UPN-PP 12 seats, NaBai 12 seats, PSN-PSOE 12 seats, CDN 2 seats, IU 2 seats

Valencian Community: Valencia is a conservative stronghold, governed by the PP since 1995 and with an absolute majority since 1999. All that is unlikely to change, as Francisco Camps remains far ahead. The PP could increase its comfortable majority at the PSOE’s expense. The United Left (EU), now separated from its nationalist allies, will likely hold most if not all of its seats. The nationalists grouped in the Coalició Compromís oscillate a bit below the 5% threshold.
2007: PP 55 seats, PSPV-PSOE 37 seats, EU 7 seats

Ceuta and Melilla: The Spanish North African enclaves are both PP strongholds and any change is extremely unlikely. In Ceuta, the PP won 65.2% in 2007 and could win up to 70% this year. The real race is for second, which was taken in 2007 by the UDCE, a local party allied to IU. The PSOE could improve on its 2007 standing a bit at the expense of the UDCE, now united with a smaller left-wing local party in a new coalition. In Melilla, the PP won 56% in 2007 and could improve either a bit or a lot on that showing. The Coalition for Melilla (CPM), allied to IU, had taken second with 22% in 2007 but seemingly could now lose that second place to the PSOE. UPyD, apparently, could also be looking at seats.
2007: Ceuta – PP 19 seats, UDCE-IU 4 seats, PSOE 2 seats; Melilla – PP 15 seats, CPM-IU 5 seats, PSOE 5 seats

The run-through (which is certainly very incomplete and extremely brief) shows the dire straits the left is in. The PSOE could realistically lose all regions and be left with Andalusia and Euskadi. It could, perhaps more realistically, be reduced to just one or two regions such as Aragón, Extremadura or Castilla-La Mancha.


El Mundo has a fabulous map of the 2007 municipal elections which also includes some interesting demographic information. Particularly interesting is the municipal survival of IU in a good number of towns, the regionalist presence of the Andalusian PA in rural Andalusia, and Navarra’s dominance by local parties.

Much more could be written, but for time’s sake I’ll go through the laundry list of major cities:

Madrid: the mayor of Madrid since 2003 is Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, a prominent moderate within the PP. The PP will hold its solid majorities, with little movement elsewhere aside from UPyD’s potential entrance into the municipal assembly.

Barcelona: The traditional core of the Catalan Socialists (PSC), Barcelona has been ruled by the PSC since 1979 and though CiU has come close at times – most recently in 2007 – the PSC has always been the largest party. Polls have shown that this may change, as the CiU is narrowly but consistently ahead of the PSC’s incumbent Jordi Hereu in polls. All other parties represented would remain roughly at those levels. Jordi Hereu could still hold on, of course, with the support of ICV and the ERC.

Valencia: Boring stuff again in a city ruled since 1991 by the PP’s Rita Barberà who will likely hold all her seats and perhaps gain some more while the PSPV-PSOE remains predictably weak.

Sevilla: Something is weird in the state of Andalusia. The eternal stronghold of the Spanish left is apparently seeing a major shift towards the right, with the PP on the road to governing all 8 provincial capitals (it currently holds 5). Sevilla is the major target, with the PP on track to win an absolute majority (17 seats). Both PP and PSOE had won 15 seats in 2007, the PSOE governing thanks to the support of two IU councillors.

Zaragoza: Held by the right between 1995 and 2003, the Aragonese capital is held by the PSOE since 2003. The PP could gain an extra councillor or two, but not enough for a majority. This could save the PSOE, which, though on track to some significant loses (from 13 seats to 10-11), could yet hold on thanks to the CHA, IU or PAR.

Málaga: The famous vacation resort is held by the PP since 1995 and that is unlikely to change. Mayor Francisco de la Torre will hold and perhaps increase his majority.

Murcia: I’m sorry, but this is getting very boring. The PP will hold this stronghold, governed by the right since 1995, with another predictably huge majority.

Palma de Mallorca: Similarly to what happened in the region as a whole, the PP won the most seats in Palma in 2007 – as it has done since 199 – but the PSOE’s Aina Calvo formed a governing coalition with the UM (2) and the Bloc per Mallorca [PSM-EN and EU] (2). The PP is quasi-certain to win an absolute majority and win back control. The PSOE will suffer loses, as will the PSM-EN, but seemingly UM will be shut out.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: On the back of that impressive Canarian PSOE surge in 2007, the PSOE’s Jerónimo Saavedra won control of a city governed by the PP since 1995. The PP could see some small gains, but insufficient for an overall majority, while the PSOE will likely lose 3 to 5 seats. Nueva Canarias could hold the balance of power, and would probably back the left.

Bilbao: Bilbao is the birthplace of the PNV, but it isn’t a stronghold of Basque nationalism by any means although the party has governed the capital of Vizcaya since 1979. It is unlikely that any of that will change, with the PNV set to hold on or gain marginally. The PSE-EE and PP could lose seats or remain where they are. Bildu, finally, will make its entrance with somewhere between 2 and 4 – roughly HB’s weight in the city before it was banned. Bildu’s showing will be worth watching in Guipuzcoa (and San Sebastián), the province most favourable to left-wing Basque nationalist movements and to Batasuna.

The image in the top 10 cities of Spain is very bleak for the left. They currently govern five of the ten, and they could very well be left with 0 (or, more realistically, a pitiful 1-2). The map of Spain’s provincial capitals could end up similar to what it was in 1995: 39 PP, 5 PSOE. In that election, the PSOE had topped the poll only in Andalusia and Extremadura. It isn’t inconceivable to imagine the PSOE doing even poorer than that.

Catalonia 2010

Regional elections were held in the Spanish autonomía of Catalonia on Sunday, November 28. All 135 seats in Catalonia’s Parliament were up for election, and the control of the Generalitat, Catalonia’s very devolved regional government, was also up for grabs as a result. I had discussed Catalan nationalism and the idea of ‘Catalanism’ at lengths and briefly discussed the main political parties in a preview post last week. Without further adue, here are the results:

CiU 38.48% (+6.96%) winning 62 seats (+14)
PSC 18.31% (-8.51%) winning 28 seats (-9)
PP 12.33% (+1.68%) winning 18 seats (+4)
ICV-EUiA 7.38% (-2.14%) winning 10 seats (-2)
ERC 7% (-7.03%) winning 10 seats (-11)
C’s 3.40% (+0.37%) winning 3 seats (nc)
Sol Cat 3.28% (+3.28%) winning 4 seats (+4)

As predicted, the centre-right regionalist CiU won a strong victory, though in the end it fell 6 shorts of an overall majority and performed slightly worse than most polls had predicted. With 62 seats, Artur Mas will become President of the Generalitat, the first CiU leader of Catalonia’s devolved government since the Socialist tripartito (PSC-ERC-ICV) took power from the CiU in 2003. The CiU cooperates well with other parties, but it rarely works with other parties in a formal coalition agreement. Its governments have only once (between 1984 and 1987) included a member of a party other than the CiU. It prefers As thus, Artur Mas will form a minority government which will enjoy relative stability. While relations between the CiU and the ERC have soured recently, they still do share some common ground, more or less, on questions of devolution. Finally, of course, the PP has an interest in supporting or propping up Mas in the long run. They disagree on devolution given that the PP are centralists, but the PP knows when to stop acting as such. Looking forward to 2012, when the PP could more likely than not have a minority government in Madrid, it would need the support of the CiU (as between 1996 and 2000) and the PP could support Mas in Barcelona in return for the CiU’s support if Rajoy is in power come 2012.

The PP are the second winners of this election, and furthermore they managed to exceed expectations. Not predicted to do well, they in fact gained 4 seats and nearly 2% of the vote. They probably took a few votes from the CiU (they do share a general right-wing ideology), which was widely predicted to win big (thus not motivating fickle voters to vote for them in the end). It certainly represents a positive trend for the PP, but the PP remains very weak in Catalonia overall. The Ciutadans held their ground, but didn’t gain anything in the end. Given that they work with a low floor and ceiling, that isn’t very surprising.

The PSC collapsed totally. The PSC’s old low in these elections had been 25% in 1995, and overall the PSC had never dropped below 20% in any election in Catalonia. The PSC basically had everything going against it. An unpopular Socialist government in Madrid, voter fatigue with a government in power since 2003, an economic crisis in which Catalans (who are faring slightly better) resent having to prop up poorer parts of Spain, and dogged by infighting in the three-party government. I said that these elections are poor predictors of other elections, but certainly this can’t be good news for the national Socialist Party ahead of the 2011 and 2012 elections. These numbers would indicate that the PSOE could fail worse than in 1995, but thankfully for them the PP is certainly not much stronger overall.

The PSC’s two allies since 2003 also took hits. The ERC took a big hit, losing half its vote. The ERC was hurt by internal squabbles between current leader (who has resigned) Joan Puigcercós and former leader J.L. Carod Rovira. It was also hurt significantly by competition to its left by two smaller and more radical separatist parties, the SI and RI. The ICV-EUiA did disappointingly badly, shedding a fair number of votes. The ICV and its national counterpart, the IU, always tend to over poll and suffer in the final stretch as a few hesitant left-wing voters return to the PSC. It is hard to see if that was a reason for their disappointing result this year, though.

The radical separatist Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència (SI), led by former Barcelona FC manager Joan Laporte, a millionaire. They picked up four seats. To my surprise, they cleared 3% just barely in Barcelona which gave them 3 seats in the most important province of the region. However, they also won nearly 5% in Girona, giving them a seat there as well. The Reagrupament Independentista, crazier than the SI, took 1.28% and broke 3% in Girona. The islamophobic Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC) took 2.42%, narrowly missing out on a seat.

In the process, CiU won all comarcas, a feat it had not done since 1995. It won Barcelona, which is a good bellwether for the national popular vote winner, with 36.3% against 17.8% for the PSC (it had only narrowly gone to the CiU in 2006). It also won a fair share of communes in Barcelona’s industrial-immigrant hinterland, most notably places like Sabadell or Badalona. In fact, the PSC was relegated to only a small base in that area, barely winning places such as L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a major industrial suburb of Barcelona. In rural Catalonia, as always, the CiU won clearly over 40% of the vote, often over 50% in the most isolated areas in the Pyrénées. In a lot of those villages, the ERC often managed to place second while parties such as the PSC or PP did extremely poorly.

It is important to note that comarcas are effectively gerrymandered to the CiU’s benefit in local government, so they’re perhaps not the best level for full analysis. For example, if these elections used comarcal boundaries as constituency boundaries, the CiU would garner roughly 88 seats to the PSC’s 23 according to an analysis here.

Catalonia will likely get four years of stable conservative government, with the squabbling of the tripartito era gone – if not for good, than for quite some time. Though Mas has a forthright attitude towards devolution, the economy was the basis of the CiU’s campaign. He promises, first off, some sort of austerity measures. That could include getting rid of the tons of quangos which the outgoing government setup. However, his government will also attempt to wrestle off more powers from Madrid, as is usual with all CiU governments. Mas’ ultimate goal is to give Catalonia full financial powers, and thus give the region an aura of sovereignty without being an independent nation. Zapatero has already signed a deal with the Basque PNV which grants the Basque Country more powers in return for the PNV’s support for Zapatero’s budget. It is likely that the CiU will do the same either with Zapatero or his successor.

Election Preview: Catalonia 2010

Catalonia, perhaps Spain’s best known autonomía, votes for its 135-seat Parliament on November 28. Catalonia’s autonomous parliament and the government, known as the Generalitat holds considerable powers. The Parliament is elected by closed-list proportional representation with a 3% threshold in the context of the region’s four provinces. Barcelona, by far, holds the most weight electing 85 deputies on its own. The three other provinces have either 15, 17 or 18 deputies. This electoral system seems to give the regionalist CiU an advantage, given that it managed to win the most seats in 1999 and 2003 despite narrowly losing the popular vote.

Catalonia, along with the Basque Country, is also home to Spain’s best known regionalist and nationalist movement. The roots, nature and strategy of the Catalonian nationalist movement warrants some explanation.

Catalan Nationalism

In the nineteenth century, Catalonia (along with the Basque Country) was Spain’s most industrialized region. Barcelona, open to the Mediterranean, was the base of a major industrialist (the textile industry was very important in the region) and merchant elite. Barcelona’s modern industrial bourgeoisie contrasted with Madrid’s bureaucratic or dynastic bourgeoisie, with roots in Castilian Spain’s quasi-feudalistic rural agrarian economy. The Madrid elite, which dominated an increasingly centralized liberal (in the Spanish sense) government, was seen in an increasingly negative light by the Catalonian industrialist elite. The growth of a distinct Catalan industrialist bourgeoisie went hand in hand with the intellectual renaissance of Catalonian culture and language which took pride in Catalonia’s distinct history (notably the County of Barcelona and the Kingdom of Aragon) and in the Catalan language.

Catalan industrialists saw autonomy of some sort for Catalonia as a desirable method to help grow Catalonia’s industrial economy and to separate it from Spain’s feudalistic agrarian economy. They favoured high tariffs to protect the burgeoning textile industry from foreign competition, while the Castilian elite (largely dominated by Spanish liberal thought in vogue since the 1820s) favoured free trade to open markets to their agricultural produce. Catalonia’s industrialist-dominated elite, which was largely conservative and Catholic (though not Carlist or reactionary as Basque nationalism) also used regionalism as a bulwark against the growth of left-wing workers’ movements and anarcho-syndicalism amongst the working-class, which included, as in the Basque Country, a large number of migrants from other parts of Spain (notably from the dirt-poor regions of Andalusia and Extremadura).

Catalan regionalists did not call for the region’s independence from Spain realizing that independence would hurt the economy and realizing that it still needed Spanish markets. The dominant regionalist party until the Republic, the Lliga Regionalista never advocated secession and instead saw itself the Catalan elite as the leaders of a broad national modernizing trend.

As much as Catalanism was born as a largely bourgeois right-wing ideology, Catalan nationalism during the Republic was dominated by the left and a new party, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and its most notable leaders Francesc Macià and Lluís Companys. The ERC originally called for the independence of a Catalan Republic federated with Spain but ended up approving a statute of autonomy which restored Catalonia’s autonomous government. The ERC, along with the anarcho-syndicalist CNT and the Stalinist PSUC during the Civil War, formed an integral part of the Popular Front and made Catalonia the last bulwark against the nationalist advance. The Francoist state, of course, led to the exile of the nationalist leadership as well as repression of Catalan autonomy and the Catalan language itself.

Out of the transition emerged the main regionalist party of present-day Catalonia, Convergència i Unió (CiU) which is in fact a quasi-permament two-party coalition composed of the larger, liberal Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC) and the smaller, Christian democratic Unió Democràtica de Catalunya (UDC). The CiU’s best known leader was Jordi Pujol, who led the Generalitat between 1980 and 2003. The CiU is a broadly right-wing party, but its main difference from the Spanish right comes on matters of autonomy. The CiU does not call, at least not openly, for independence. It supports broad autonomy for Catalonia, and Pujol’s government led to very stringent linguistic legislation (a la Quebec) which over time led to an increase in the number of Catalans speaking the language. Paying homage to Catalan nationalism’s historical ability to compromise with Madrid, the CiU instead tries, little by little, to wrestle concessions from the government in Madrid which would further increase the Generalitat’s fiscal autonomy. Traditionally, the CiU’s goal is to make Catalonia an independent member of a broader Spanish federation/confederation; or, simply put, being independent without the hassles of being independent. The CiU recognizes Catalonia as a part of the Spanish state, but rejects Catalonia’s inclusion in the Spanish nation, instead claiming Catalonia as a nation within the broader Spanish state. And thus despite the major disagreements on the issue of autonomy, the CiU has been able to work rather well (at least in the past) with the PP, supporting both of Aznar’s government between 1995 and 2004. In this election, the CiU’s leader, Artur Mas, has taken an unusually adventurous line saying that Catalonia, as a nation, is entitled to choose the dimensions of self-government it wants. It also now calls on Madrid to give the Generalitat full fiscal autonomy, and could make this a pre-condition for supporting any government in Madrid, especially setting its eyes of the aftermath of the 2012 general election.

The CiU’s strength lies in rural areas, being traditionally weak in urban centres and areas which have seen a lot of immigration from other regions of Spain. Catalan is traditionally the language of the upper and middle-classes, thus the language of the local elite. Castilian, on the other hand, is traditionally the language of the working-classes. Local government structures, specifically the comarcas it created in the 1980s, are also set up to favour the CiU and its strong base in small municipalities. Generally, the CiU tends to perform much better in elections to the Catalonian Parliament than in elections to the Spanish Chamber of Deputies. It has topped the poll in all but two of the elections to the former, but has never topped the poll in an election to the latter. In fact, it polled a mere 21% in the 2008 elections when it had won 31.5% in the 2006 elections to the Catalan Parliament. Many theses have been put forward to explain this trend, including higher nationalist turnout in elections to the Catalan Parliament. This trend also means that these elections are a bad predictor of future trends in broader Spanish politics, and explains why almost nobody have called these elections a real “test” for the Zapatero government in Madrid.

The other main nationalist party is the left-wing ERC, the leader of the left-wing current of Catalan nationalism. The ERC vocally supports the independence of a Catalan Republic from Spain, and in this campaign has made the organization of a referendum on the matter a pre-condition for any coalition. The ERC has had a shaky relationship with the CiU and in fact cooperates better with the Socialists (PSC). With 21 seats, they are currently the junior partner in the Socialist-led government of the region. They did exceptionally well in 2003 (16.5%) and 2004 (16%), likely the result of a certain backlash against the CiU’s support of Aznar’s centralist government. Their strength has abetted somewhat, suffering a big drop in the 2008 general elections despite resisting rather well in the 2006 Catalan elections.

The Other Parties

The main party of the left, and some would say the dominant party of Catalan politics, is the Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (PSC), associated to the national PSOE and born in 1978 out of the merger of two small socialist parties with the Catalan federation of the PSOE. Led by José Montilla, the President of the Generalitat, the PSC has formed government in Catalonia since 2003. The PSC recognizes Catalonia as a nation and has a definite ‘Catalanist’ orientation, supporting the transformation of Spain into a truly federal state (the Constitution of 1977 being rather centralist in its terms). The PSC is very much a urban party, being dominant in Barcelona and especially in Barcelona’s industrial suburbs where a large share of the population are descended or themselves immigrants from other regions of Spain. The Andalusian community in Barcelona Province is so big that the Andalusian Socialist Party (PSA) managed to win 2 seats in the Catalan Parliament in 1980!

Barcelona and its suburbs, the core of Spain’s industrialization (along with the metal-working industries in the Basque Country) were the heart of a very strong anarcho-syndicalist and later communist movement. The high numbers of migrant workers, mixed in with increasingly poor working conditions and a strong libertarian intellectual elite, made Barcelona the core (alongside Andalusia) of Spain’s anarcho-syndicalist trade union movement (the CNT) as early as 1909. During the Civil War, Barcelona was known as the “red city” or the “red capital” (somewhat erroneously, Valencia was the seat of the Republican government, though Barcelona was the Republican movement’s heart). To this day, the Socialists remain dominant in Barcelona local politics since the fall of Franco.

Aside from the ERC, which proved to be a thorn in the PSC’s side in 2006, the PSC’s favoured coalition partner is the Initiative for Catalonia Greens – United and Alternative Left coalition (ICV-EUiA). The ICV, originally the Initiative for Catalonia (IC) was born in 1987 out of the merger of the PSUC and two smaller hard-left parties. The PSUC, created in 1936, had been a major player in the Civil War as the main Stalinist party in the region, associated with the Comintern. The PSUC, which participated in the Catalan government during the Civil War and played a major role in crushing the Trotskyst POUM in 1937, still counted for around 18% of the electorate between 1977 and 1980 but which entered a period of rapid decline shortly afterwards. Originally a loose coalition of parties, the IC progressively integrated its component parties, notably the PSUC, into a united political party which expanded to small green movements in 1995 and adopted the label ICV in 2002. The smaller United and Alternative Left was formed in 1998 by a left-wing split in the IC by a PSUC faction which refused integration into the IC. Since 2003, however, the EUiA has always run alongside the ICV. Despite its name and ecosocialist creed, the ICV is nothing comparable to the Netherland’s GroenLinks and remains in reality a democratic socialist/eurocommunist party. The party still performs rather strongly in the old PSUC strongholds in Barcelona’s industrial suburbs such as Sabadell and Badalona. The ICV is a soft-nationalist party, supporting amending the Constitution to make Spain a plurinational federal state, or, in the absence of that, holding a referendum with a choice between status-quo, federalism or independence.

The mainstream Spanish right, the PP, remains weak in Catalonia. It broke 20% only in 2000, and usually ranges from a low of 9-10% to roughly 17-18%. Like the Socialists, the PP usually performs better in elections to the Spanish Chamber of Deputies than in elections to the Catalan Parliament. Though it has offered backing to the CiU governments in the Generalitat when the CiU lacked an absolute majority, most recently between 1999 and 2003, the PP diverges dramatically from the CiU on the issue of regional autonomy. The PP does not recognize Catalonia as a nation, defining it as a part of Spain and supports decentralized autonomy within Spain. The PP also is one of the two parliamentary parties which takes a strong position against Catalan linguistic legislation, defending instead equal bilingualism, free school choice (like Quebec, Catalan linguistic legislation also entails limited school choice for parents) and an end to government penalties for businesses which are not sufficiently “Catalanized”. The PP was against the 2006 statute of autonomy and has pledged to support no party which is separatist or which supports the holding of a referendum on the question of independence.

The weakest of the parliamentary parties, winning 3 seats in 2006, the Citizens – Party of the Citizenry (C’s). A centrist libertarian/liberal party, the C’s remind me of the 1820s Spanish liberal by their liberal orientation on issues such as economics, immigration or moral values but also by their very centralist attitude on the question of regional autonomy. The C’s, which are slightly to the right of the ideologically similar UPyD (which holds 1 seat in Madrid and 1 MEP), are probably best placed to the right of the PP on the question of regional autonomy. They clearly define Catalonia as an autonomous community of Spain. On language issues, they support free school choice, equal bilingualism between Castilian and Catalan and ending government subsidies to Catalan media and cultural outlets.

The 2006 election produced these results:

CiU 31.52% winning 48 seats (+2)
PSC-CpC 26.82% winning 37 seats (-5)
ERC 14.03% winning 21 seats (-2)
PP 10.65% winning 14 seats (-1)
ICV-EUiA 9.52% winning 12 seats (+3)
C’s 3.03% winning 3 seats (+3)

turnout 56.04%

A PSC-ERC-ICV government holding 70 seats against 65 for the opposition was formed, led by José Montilla (PSC) with Josep Lluís Carod-Rovira (ERC) as Vice President.

Election Preview

Despite this being the only election in Spain in 2010, few have treated this as a major test for the Spanish government (although undoubtedly a few fools will try to look smarter than they are by perilously making connections). The major test are obviously the much wider regionals and locals being held in the spring of 2011, elections which traditionally predict the winner of the general elections a year later. The Catalan voter’s propensity to split his vote between the two levels of government makes any connection hard to establish, given that these regional elections are very rarely good harbingers of things to come. In 2006, the CiU vote increased while in 2008 it polled 11% lower than it had in 2006. In 1999, the PP got a paltry 9.5% in the regional elections but in the 2000 general elections (a PP landslide nationally) the party polled a record high 22.8%.

To start off the brief overview of what things are shaping up to be like on Sunday, here is the latest poll published in the Periodic d’Andorra (presumably published in Andorra because of a ban on late polls in Spain)

CiU 39.9% winning 65-67 seats (+17 to +19)
PSC 19.5% winning 29-30 seats (-7 to -8)
PP 9.9% winning 13-14 seats (nc to -1)
ICV-EUiA 9.5% winning 11-13 seats (+1 to -1)
ERC 7.0% winning 10-11 seats (-10 to -11)
C’s 3.7% winning 3-4 seats (+1 to nc)
Sol Cat 2.6% winning 0 seats
Others 7.9%

On these numbers, the CiU is on the verge of winning an outright majority of 68 seats (the CiU held outright majorities between 1984 and 1995), while at the same time giving the PSC its worse election result in any Catalan election since the death of Franco. It had collapsed to 24.8% in the 1995 elections, at a point where the national PSOE government was in its worst bout of unpopularity; but has never fallen below 20% in any election. Even if it ends up short of the 68 seats, the CiU on these numbers would have no trouble forming a relatively stable minority government. It could rely on the PP and ERC for issue-by-issue support to get a full majority, but the CiU is used to working in minority situations with outside support from another party, usually the PP.

The CiU seems to be doing very well overall, at the expense mainly of the PSC but also of the ERC which seems headed to a major drubbing. Perhaps Artur Mas’ unusually tough rhetoric on the question of regional autonomy and his insinuation that a referendum of some sort could drew a number of ERC voters who had perhaps abandoned the CiU in the 2003 election where the CiU’s support for the growingly unpopular Aznar PP government hurt it with its most radical nationalist voters.

The result of Solidaritat Catalana (SI) and the Reagrupament (R), two left-wing nationalist separatist parties, should be watched closely. Running to the left of the ERC on a platform which in R’s case includes unilateral declaration of independence, it is possible that one of those parties might squeak in. SI has been polling below the 3% threshold, but it might break 3% in one province and qualify for a seat there. But the problem is that SI’s support will likely be too weak in Barcelona, where the real threshold is 3%; and strength in the other three provinces which hold 15-18 seats will be hurt by the fact that the real threshold there is slightly higher than 3%. Another party, the Platform for Catalonia (PxC) is a populist right-wing anti-immigration/anti-Islam outfit, which will get a few votes but won’t win a seat. UPyD, which doesn’t along well with the C’s, is also running but will do poorly.