Spain’s parties use Brexit to advance their own agenda ahead of Sunday’s elections

Acting PM, Socialist and Ciudadanos nominees warn against the outcome of a Catalan referendum on independence in Spain

Socialist nominee Pedro Sánchez campaigning ahead of Sunday's elections.
Socialist nominee Pedro Sánchez campaigning ahead of Sunday's elections.Marcial Guillén (EFE)

Spain’s main candidates in Sunday’s general election all spoke out on Brexit shortly after news emerged that Britain has voted to split up with the European Union.

The nominees to the prime minister’s office also used the British example to talk about Spain’s own struggle with demands for a Catalan referendum on independence, an issue that has figured prominently in the campaign race ahead of the June 26 elections.

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP), first sought to reassure tax payers and investors alike with a morning press conference in which he stressed the stability of Spain’s financial system.

But he also took the opportunity to underscore the fact that Spaniards overwhelmingly support EU permanence, according to surveys.

The Brexit referendum is not the problem, it is the symptom of a EU made for business and built against the people

Alberto Garzón, United Left

“I think I represent the feelings of the vast majority of Spaniards when I defend Spain’s commitment to the European integration process, the importance of euro zone stability and continuing the reform of our economic and monetary union,” he concluded.

Later, in a radio interview on the conservative Cope radio station, Rajoy said that referendums “are a tool that must be used with great care,” a clear reference to Catalan separatists’ demands for a regional referendum on independence from Spain.

The Socialist view

The Socialist Party (PSOE) candidate, Pedro Sánchez, said that the Leave victory “is a tough blow to those of us who are pro-Europe, but it is not an irreversible blow. What has happened is a combination of populism and an irresponsible right. The populists have told British society that the phony solutions of populism can resolve real solutions [sic],” he said in a radio interview on SER.

“Europe and Spain are experiencing tension between those who defend doing nothing and those who defend a break, such as those calling for referendums,” he added, alluding to his political rival on the Spanish left, Unidos Podemos, which defends the right to decide in Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country.

Polls indicate that Unidos Podemos, an alliance of the anti-austerity Podemos and the Communist-led Izquierda Unida (United Left), will bump the Socialists down from second to third place at the Sunday election. Sánchez has said that he will not enter into any governing deals with a party that defends independence referendums in Spain.

“We are already starting to see what referendums produce: they unload on citizens the [search for] solutions that should be resolved by parties. […] We need to reflect on some people’s irresponsible behavior of offering binary yes-no solutions to complex problems.”

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Podemos sad at Brexit

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias expressed his concern over the Brexit victory on Friday, at the same time as calling for changes in European policies.

“It's a sad day for Europe. We must change tack. Nobody would want to leave a Europe of fairness and solidarity. We need to change Europe,” he said, noting that his party was the only one to actively campaign for Britain’s permanence in the EU.

He also added that his electoral partner, Alberto Garzón of the IU communist party-led coalition, shares his views even though the Spanish Communist Party has openly proposed leaving the euro zone and the European Union.

“Alberto and I see the euro as an unavoidable framework,” said Iglesias.

Meanwhile, Garzón tweeted that “the Brexit referendum is not the problem, it is the symptom of a EU made for business and built against the people.”

Ciudadanos: an opportunity

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, who has spoken out the most about Brexit throughout the Spanish campaign race, said on Friday that the British exit should be viewed “as an opportunity to relaunch the common European project.”

“We must be aware that if the necessary reforms are not undertaken to have more Europe and more union, and if citizens are not involved in the EU’s decisions, then the project could fall apart,” he added. “David Cameron and British conservatives committed a historical irresponsibility by calling a referendum whose goal was to stop the conservatives’ competitors at the British domestic level.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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