Opinion & Analysis

Is a grand coalition possible in Spain?

The leader of Spain’s People’s Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, failed to achieve enough support in a vote in the Spanish parliament on 27 September to form a new government. Rubén Díez Garcíaargues that in light of the country’s political deadlock, a grand coalition between the People’s Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party could help Spain break free from its cycle of polarisation and populism.

Spain’s general election on 23 July failed to produce a clear majority for either of the two main blocs led by the People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). As the party with the largest number of seats, the PP has since been exploring potential coalition options.

One option that has been proposed is for the PP and PSOE to form a coalition together. The PP’s leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, proposed such an agreement to the PSOE’s leader Pedro Sánchez at the end of August. The accompanying documentation includes a picture of Spanish political leaders signing the Moncloa Pacts in 1977 – a key agreement during the country’s transition to democracy.

The polarisation and populist nationalism that characterises Spanish politics today is partly a reflection of the country’s imperfect democratic transition process. Yet despite these unintended consequences, Spain’s transition to democracy also showcased the possibility of reaching agreement and compromise, as well as the benefits they bring. These are lessons that today’s leaders would do well to consider.

A civic-constitutional agreement

The PP’s proposal to the PSOE is presented as the embodiment of a civic-constitutionalist and reformist alliance. The aim would be to transcend ideological divides to avoid political deadlock and establish a set of six “state pacts”.

These pacts include a pact for democratic regeneration, which would seek to enhance the country’s democracy; a pact for the welfare state, prioritising the sustainability of the national health system, education and pensions, as well as gender equality; a pact for economic recovery; a pact for families aimed at facilitating a healthy work-life balance; a pact to address environmental concerns; and a territorial pact that envisages the transformation of the Spanish Senate into a territorial representation chamber, an improved model for regional autonomy and a new financing model to ensure uniform services for citizens.

The PP’s document outlines a strategic plan emphasising national unity. It pledges to safeguard Spain’s territorial integrity as enshrined in the 1978 Constitution and reject future independence referendums. This is important not least because Pedro Sánchez’s other route to power would require the consent of Catalan separatist parties who are demanding an amnesty and key concessions on finance and autonomy in exchange for their support.

Finally, the document states that the legislative term would conclude as soon as the six pacts have been implemented or within a period of two years. A general election would then follow unless signatories extended the term to finalise or initiate agreements.

A pragmatic coalition?

The argument for such an alliance, whether led by the PP or the PSOE, is that it would establish the foundation for a stable government in Spain. It would be based on a strong majority and emphasise a national perspective, while remaining open to the demands of minorities. It would take its legitimacy from the roughly 16 million voters who backed the two blocs in the 2023 election, representing around 65% of votes cast.

A case can also be made that the 2023 election represented a shift toward this model of government. When compared with the 2019 election, the PP and PSOE both gained seats at the expense of the other parties in parliament. The PP gained 48 seats in the 2023 election, while the PSOE gained 1 seat, with the other parties, taken together, losing 49 seats. This trend might suggest a potential consolidation of more moderate political preferences among citizens.

The question that arises is whether the PP’s offer to the PSOE was a genuine one or whether it was merely a tactical move to portray Sánchez as a leader solely focused on his own interests. It is possible, however, to reframe this as an opportunity. While some studies suggest that grand coalition governments in Europe have allowed extremist forces to advance, there is potential in Spain for such an agreement to counter the polarisation that now characterises Spanish politics.

The road ahead

Following Sánchez’s rejection of the proposal for a PP-PSOE alliance, Feijóo has launched a bid to form a government via a vote in parliament. The first attempt at this on 27 September was unsuccessful. If, as expected, a second vote on 29 September fails, the governance of the country will depend on Sánchez reaching an agreement with Carles Puigdemont, the leader of Together for Catalonia, who is currently a fugitive due to his role in the 2017 Catalan independence referendum, which was declared illegal by Spain’s constitutional court.

Against this backdrop, the question of whether unity and collaboration can transcend polarisation now appears more vital than ever. Sincere debates with a view to reaching a compromise could contribute to the ongoing evolution of civic culture within Spain’s democracy. Refusing this process with the aim of keeping power at all costs, even to the point of undermining the rule of law, is only likely to lead Spain toward a populist and illiberal future.

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