Spain's centrists stem far-right surge in EU vote, bolstering Sanchez status

European Parliament elections in Spain

By Belén Carreño and Charlie Devereux

MADRID (Reuters) -Spain's centrist parties contained a far-right surge in Sunday's European Parliament elections that is shaking governments in neighbouring countries, helping to bolster Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez standing as one of the European centre-left's leading figures.

The centre-right People's Party (PP) and Sanchez's Socialists (PSOE) gained two-thirds of the vote, up from about half of the share in 2019, winning a combined 42 of the available 61 seats. While the anti-immigration Vox party's vote share rose to 9.6% from 6.2% in 2019, it fell back from last year's national election, when it won 12.4%.

Gains by the far-right elsewhere in Europe prompted a bruised French President Emmanuel Macron to call a snap national election, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats suffered their worst result ever.

With Sanchez's hard-left allies Sumar also losing ground, the result represents a return to a two-party system after a decade of fragmented politics in Spain, said Ignacio Molina, a political science professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

"Spain is well placed in the new European Parliament," Molina said "It is the only member country where both main parties are pro-European."

Alberto Nunez Feijoo's PP gained ground from last year's national election, with his party gaining 1 percentage point.

He had called for the EU elections to be a plebiscite on Sanchez, who has been criticised by some Spaniards for granting a controversial amnesty to Catalan separatists in exchange for parliamentary support to his bid to another term as prime minister.


Feijoo said the PP's results were the best in 25 years in Europe and said that "every time the PP has won a European election it has won the next general election".

But the PP failed to deliver a knockout punch on their main rivals even as Sanchez has endured a year of complicated negotiations with Catalan nationalists and allegations of corruption against his wife that led him to consider stepping down.

"It is a clear victory for the PP, but not a crushing defeat for the PSOE," said Pablo Simon, political scientist at Carlos III University in Madrid.

Sanchez congratulated his rivals early on Monday but celebrated his party's results.

"The PSOE has become the only government option against the far-right wave sweeping Europe and Spain," he said.

As Spain's traditional parties gained in vote share, its parties on the hard left or right saw theirs diluted by competitors.

The Party is Over, a new movement set up by social media influencer Alvise Perez, emerged as competition on the far right, gaining 4.5% of the vote on a campaign to stamp out corruption in politics, in what could emerge as a "reconfiguration of the right-of-the-PP space, as has already happened in other EU countries," Madrid-based consultancy firm beBartlet wrote in a note.

Neighbouring Portugal also managed to kept the far-right Chega party in check. It won 9.8% of the vote, about half of the 18% vote share it managed in a national election in March.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's victory "is the one I would like to have had in Portugal (but) it wasn't possible," Chega leader Andre Ventura said.

On the far-left in Spain, Yolanda Diaz said on Monday she was stepping down as leader of the Socialists' junior coalition partner Sumar after the leftwing alliance's poor performance that saw some of their votes go to Podemos, another hard-left party and former ally.

However, Diaz said she would continue as Labour Minister and one of Sanchez's deputy prime ministers.

(Additional reporting by Inti Landauro and Catarina Demony; writing by Charlie Devereux)