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EU elections: Spain

2nd June 2014


By Mike Phipps

One of the most spectacular - and unpredicted - results in the European elections was in Spain. A 16% swing against the governing conservative People’s Party saw the newly formed left party Podemos (We can) take 8% of the vote and 5 seats in the European Parliament. Additionally the United Left, a broad grouping to the left of the social democratic PSOE, gained four MEPs.

The victory for Podemos was all the more stunning because the party didn’t exist at the start of 2014. Podemos was inspired by the radical left force in Greece, Syriza, which also did well in these elections, topping the poll. It grew out of the mass protests in Spain of the last three years, the Indignados movement.

Opinion polls before the election suggested Podemos would struggle to win a single seat. They fought the campaign on a tiny budget, much of it funded by small online donations. In fact, they polled 1.2 million votes, drawing considerable support from younger voters, running on an anti-austerity programme that was produced in a way very different to the opaque processes used by the traditional party elites.

Utilising social networks and online media, large numbers of supporters helped write Podemos’s programme. Amendments were discussed in local party circles and put to online referenda. The result is a comprehensive platform calling for public control of key sectors of the economy, a crackdown on tax evasion, a referendum on NATO membership and a citizens’ audit of Spain’s debt: “The illegitimate debt will not be paid.”

Top of the party list for the European Parliament is Pablo Iglesias, a former communist youth activist and political science professor. He told The Guardian “It’s citizens doing politics. If the citizens don’t get involved in politics, others will. And that opens the door to them robbing you of democracy, your rights and your wallet.”

One commentator described Iglesias as “highly intelligent and charismatic, as well as polite and calm under fire”.“spain-is-different”-podemos-and-15m
As a frequent TV pundit, he has relentlessly criticised austerity, corruption, social inequality, banking fraud, the Troika, bailouts and the housing crisis.

What makes Podemos different from other left-wing populist initiatives is that it draws on the very rich experience of the vast gatherings in public squares across Spain from 2011 on. As with Occupy!, a huge amount of political discussion took place at these protests, focused on how people could take back control of the economy and society from the financial and political elites. In the spirit of this openness, Podemos conducted open primaries, in which anyone could vote, for places on the party’s list. Over 33,000 voters took part, giving those who voted a real sense of ownership of the movement.

Early analysis suggests Podemos was able to activate voters who usually abstain: there is a clear correlation between increased participation and the vote for Podemos. The party also did well in areas of rising unemployment and where there are large numbers of young voters.

Podemos is not explicitly anti-EU, but it advocates some serious reforms, calling for democratic and parliamentary control of the European Central Bank, an increase in the EU’s social budget and a levy on capital movements within its boundaries and from the EU to third countries. It also calls for “a derogation from the Lisbon Treaty so that public services are exempted from the competition principle.”

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