Open Europe Blog

The European Parliament elections have dealt a blow to Spain’s traditional two-party system. Together, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP) and the opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) won 49% of votes. In 2009, their combined score was 80.9%. No wonder Socialist leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba has decided to step down following his party’s poor showing.

But the big story coming out of Spanish ballot boxes is the success of Podemos (We Can), a new left-wing, anti-austerity movement that came from nowhere to become Spain’s fourth largest party and win five seats in the new European Parliament.

And ‘nowhere’ really means ‘nowhere’ in this case. Podemos was officially registered as a political party in March 2014 – which makes its performance extraordinary. Its leader, 35-year-old Pablo Iglesias (see picture), is a Political Science professor but also a bit of a TV star in Spain. Interestingly, his parents called him Pablo so their son could bear the same name as Pablo Iglesias, the founder of the Spanish Socialist Party.

Factoids apart, we have been flicking through Podemos’s European elections manifesto. The following bits give a good feel for what Podemos stands for in a number of policy areas:

  • “Citizens’ audit of public and private debt to find out what parts of it can be considered as illegitimate…and declare that those won’t be paid back.”
  • “Creation of democratic and parliamentary control mechanisms for the European Central Bank…Creation of a European public credit rating agency.”
  • “Regain public control over strategic sectors of the economy: telecommunications, energy, food, transport, health, pharmaceutical and education.”
  • “Budgetary support for and increased development of public R&D centres, in order to favour the return of Spanish researchers and scientists from abroad.”
  • “Right to a basic income for each and every citizen, for the mere fact of being citizens” – which sounds a lot like the ‘citizenship wage’ advocated by the Five-Star Movement in Italy.
  • “A moratorium on mortgage arrears for the first houses of families with difficulties in paying their loans back.”
  • “Increase the EU’s social budget, and establish a levy on capital movements within its boundaries” – which basically means saying adiós to free movement of capital. Podemos also calls for a “bigger levy” on movements of capital from the EU to third countries.
  • “Establishment of trade agreements among small producers in Southern European countries. Development of specific cooperation mechanisms among Southern European countries.” On the other hand, Podemos wants to “abandon” negotiations over the EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP), and calls for a “substantial revision” of the existing EU-Latin America free trade deals.
  • “A derogation from the Lisbon Treaty so that public services are exempted from the competition principle.” 
  • “Stop the use of Memoranda of Understanding” – which set out the conditions attached to EU-IMF bailout loans to struggling eurozone countries.

Call it left-wing, anti-establishment, anti-austerity (but clearly not anti-EU), the rise of Podemos is significant because – similar to what the Five-Star Movement has done in Italy – it can give Spaniards a channel through which they can voice their dissatisfaction with the political establishment (and the current eurozone economic policies), something which has been lacking at the peak of the eurozone crisis.

In an interview with today’s El Mundo, Pablo Iglesias has refused to reveal whether he and his movement will stand in next year’s Spanish general election. For now, though, it seems Beppe Grillo may just have found someone to work with in the new European Parliament.

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