Ahead of Spanish election, candidates ignoring effects of Brexit on Spain

Breakaway could affect trade relations, regional independence movements and the lives of over 200,000 Spaniards living in Britain

Spain's Mariano Rajoy and Britain's David Cameron in September 2015
Spain's Mariano Rajoy and Britain's David Cameron in September 2015Claudio Álvarez

The main candidates to the Spanish general election of June 26 all share a desire for Britain to remain within the European Union.

But beyond their generic statements against a Brexit, none of them has made any significant contribution to the public debate over the repercussions that such a move might have for Spain.

Yet the shock to the European project could have clear effects back home, say some Spanish analysts.

Podemos is the only Spanish party that sent a member to Britain to actively campaign for Remain

“Spain’s own country-project has always walked hand-in-hand with European integration ever since the transition to democracy,” writes Salvador Llaudes, a researcher at the Real Instituto Elcano think tank. “Out of pure logic, any risk to the common project – and Brexit certainly is – would entail a risk to Spain.”

To this must be added the fact that trade relations with the UK represent nearly €55 billion for Spain, and that more than 700 companies with British capital are established on Spanish territory (and there are over 300 Spanish companies in the British Isles).

Meanwhile, 15 million British tourists visit Spain each year. It is to be expected that a depreciated pound would make their travel plans more expensive. There are also over 300,000 British expats officially living in Spain, while over 200,000 Spaniards currently reside in Britain. All of these individuals are concerned that a Brexit would affect their eligibility for social services in their host country.

And last but not least, the question of Gibraltar would be more difficult to resolve outside the collaborative framework of the European Union.

Three days before Spanish election

The British will vote on whether to remain in the EU just three days before Spaniards go to the polls in a fresh general election following the inconclusive ballot of December 20.

All the Spanish candidates to the prime minister’s office have analyzed the potential effects of a Brexit on Spanish politics, but they have not taken their concerns to the public arena. Instead, they only share their thoughts when specifically asked about the matter.

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP) was crystal clear on Wednesday: “A Brexit would be catastrophic for the Spanish stock market and for all stock markets. For the British economy and for all European economies. I think it would be the worst possible news in many years, in economic terms, and I hope that British citizens will finally vote to remain in Europe, among other things because we Europeans want them to stay.”

Socialist Party sources say that Pedro Sánchez, their nominee, constantly mentions Brexit in his meetings with his expert committee. This and the refugee crisis “are the two issues that confirm the weakness of the European project, understood in its origin as a space for cooperation and shared values.”

Sánchez said in a television interview on Wednesday that “if the Brexit option wins, we Socialists will team up with other European social democrats to relaunch a European project that will allow us to continue progressing toward a Europe that is stronger, more united, more prosperous and more social.”

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, the candidate who tends to incorporate more European issues into the public debate, said that “we need to make the most of the European crisis to restart Europe.”

“If we remain stuck and scared to death, there will be a fragile government and fragile institutions, and the exact same thing is happening in Europe,” he said in Madrid on Tuesday.

Podemos concerned

But if anyone is showing concern, that is Unidos Podemos, the alliance made up of the anti-austerity Podemos and the hard-left federation Izquierda Unida (United Left). This new coalition includes one member, the Spanish Communist Party, which openly supports a Spanish exit from the EU and “recovering economic sovereignty.”

But Podemos is making efforts to showcase that it does not agree with this point, and that it opposes Brexit as well. In fact, they are the only Spanish party that sent a member to Britain to actively campaign for Remain.

Although no Spanish party will deny that a Brexit poses a serious threat to the future of the EU, few are paying close attention to a country with a parliamentary monarchy like Spain’s, with a territorial structure not unlike Spain’s, with a similar production model based heavily on the financial sector, and with similar problems with breakaway regions. Scotland is already threatening with a second independence vote if Britain exits the EU, and that would give renewed energy to pro-independence movements like the one in Catalonia.

English version by Susana Urra.


More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS