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2nd Mar 2024

Von der Leyen has 'confidence' in Spain — despite far-right election fears

  • 'I have full confidence in Spain’s deep European spirit,' European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday in Madrid, alongside PM Pedro Sanchez (Photo: EU2023ES)
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"Whatever the results of elections are, I trust that the Spanish movement and institutions will be able to deliver an effective presidency," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Monday (3 July) in Madrid, after a meeting of EU commissioners marking the beginning of the Spanish EU council presidency.

"I have full confidence in Spain's deep European spirit," she added.

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Spain will hold the rotating EU Council presidency until the end of the year — but the outcome of the imminent domestic election may complicate matters.

While this makes for an unusual opening, it is not the first time national elections have taken place during an EU presidency — it also happened during the French EU presidency last year.

However, undergoing a potential change of government within the first months of the presidency would mark a first for the EU.

The Spanish presidency comes at a "critical point in time," von der Leyen also said, pointing out there are about 250 proposals still in the pipeline. One of the key proposals on the table will be to continue providing financial and military support to Ukraine to fight Russia, as well as the process surrounding Ukraine's EU membership bid.

Likewise, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said that the EU council presidency brings an "immense" responsibility to the country to close as many legislative files as possible before the end of the year. "Inaction is not an option."

While the outcome of the Spain's elections on 23 July is up in the air, there is concern that should the centre-right People's Party (PP) win, it may form a coalition government with the far-right Vox.

In 2020, Spain finally broke its long-standing two-party hierachy — with a coalition between Sánchez socialists and the leftwing Podemos party.

But polls are now showing a victory for PP, which may need to make a coalition with the hard-right populists.

The leader of PP, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has already confirmed that he would make a coalition with Vox if he does not reach an absolute majority of seats.

If we need to ask Vox for support to form a government, "it is logical that Vox is part of the government," said Feijóo on Monday.

"Absolute majorities are very difficult, but that is my model. It is not a manifestation of intentions, it is a possible objective," he added.

PP and Vox have already formed an alliance in three different Spanish regions (Extremadura, Valencia, Baleares) — following the results of last May's regional elections.

These controversial political pacts include, for example, an agreement to stop using the rainbow flag on public buildings in a small village in Valencia.

Unprecedented

But it would be a historic first if Vox and PP formed a national-level coalition.

When asked about the rise of the far-right across Europe, von der Leyen said that it is crucial to give citizens confidence and security in times of change.

"If you look at extremists, whether it is the right or the left, they are looking back and they fear any kind of change," she said. "We, the democratic groups of the centre, have to show that we have a clear idea of how we want to address change that is happening"

During Giorgia Meloni's campaign for the Italian elections last year, the far-right leader told Spanish news agency EFE that she hoped her victory could prompt something similar in Spain.

Now fears have arisen about the future government of Spain, and what that means for the future of Europe.

After the summit in Brussels last week, Sanchez told reporters that some EU leaders are "surprised" by "the backlash" taking place in Spain on certain issues after the pacts being reached by Vox and PP in those regional elections.

The Vox party, founded in 2013, won 12 seats in the regional parliament of Andalusia in 2018, becoming the first far-right group to triumph in the ballots since the Franco era.

Vox seeks to exploit the centr-right's PP softer line in certain policies, plus pushing back against the rise of the socialist government after 2004 which boosted social rights (including a same-sex marriage law), and as a nationalist response against the Basque and Catalan separatism movements.

Spain will hold the EU council presidency until 31 December, which then will be followed by Belgium.

Nine commissioners were unable to attend the meeting in Madrid due to conflicting schedules. The list includes Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans, competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, internal market commissioner Thierry Breton and justice commissioner Didier Reynders.

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