The Brief – Europe, the big absent in Spanish election debate

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Spain is heading for general elections on Sunday (28 April). In the first electoral debate ahead of the vote, barely a month before the crucial EU-wide elections, none of the main candidates made a single mention of the EU.

This was not extraordinary given the topics – Catalonia and economy – that had shaped the campaign, Elcano Royal Institute analyst Salvador Llaudes told EURACTIV.

The absence of a debate about Europe ahead of the elections reflects that “there is a strong pro-EU consensus in the Spanish society,” Llaudes pointed out.

As in many other countries, nationalism is on the rise here. But contrary to what’s happening across Europe, in Spain, it is a response to regional separatist movements –particularly in Catalonia – and not to EU integration.

The fact that nationalism is not linked to Euroscepticism in Spain is good news for Europe. The lack of EU debate in a country which intends to grow in influence in the decision-making process in Brussels, however, is not.

(The far right Vox was absent from the debate as rules say parties already have to be represented at national level to take part).

Spain has spent the past decade dealing with internal problems that have undermined its position on the European debate; first, due to a loss of trust during the financial crisis; now, because of the political instability and the Catalan dispute.

“What one must ask Spain is to translate that Europeanism into a greater real ambition, into more concrete proposals. But in order for that to be possible, the political situation of the country needs to be more stable,” Llaudes explained.

If yesterday’s television debate, or a glance at the programmes of the four main political parties, was the only thing to go by, it would be hard to know what their vision is on the future of Europe.

Spaniards will go to polls only a few weeks before the European vote, in a crucial moment for the future of the Union.

The election of national leaders who will sit at the European Council and the council of ministers seem as important for the future running of the EU, as is choosing the representatives in the next European Parliament.

If the UK leaves the Union, Spain will be the fourth main power in the bloc, with France, Germany and Italy, though the latter is phasing out due to its Eurosceptic government.

If Spain wants to regain influence in Europe, there might be no better time than now.

The main party leaders would be better off, therefore, explaining how and in which direction they want to see Europe moving in the future.

However, if a more stable internal situation is required for Spain to bolster its ambitions in Europe, these elections are not likely to be a turning point, judging by the recent polls.

The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has vowed to crack down on Brussels-bashing in the run up to next month’s European elections.

Meanwhile, a former French minister who is leading Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party in the elections admitted to a “stupid mistake” after reports that she ran as a far-right candidate in a student elections.

How will British participation change the outcome of the European elections?

Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel Johnson, and former BBC reporter Gavin Esler will lead a ‘Remain alliance’ of pro-EU candidates at next month’s European elections for the new Change UK party.

Germany’s far-right party AfD has invited Donald Trump’s former advisor, Steve Bannon, to a media conference in Berlin next month.

Ukraine has entered uncharted territory after Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no political experience, won the country’s presidential election by a landslide.

Football can bring joy or frustration to supporters… but also a lot of waste. UK football teams have decided to introduce reusable cups in stadiums, as part of a joint initiative by the Premier League and British TV channel Sky News.

Thousands of protesters across Europe have taken to the streets over the last few years to demand cleaner air. The Commission’s environment chief, Karmenu Vella, explains how he has fought for higher standards during his term in office.

The Dutch government has launched a new vision for the country’s agriculture, which prioritises the protection of natural resources and the reduction of the sector’s environmental impact.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Sam Morgan]

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