Young Spaniards need to rekindle their EU belief


Picture of David Fernàndez Rojo
David Fernàndez Rojo

David Fernàndez Rojo is Doctoral Student and Researcher at the University of Deusto, Spain

Spaniards were asked to vote once again on 26 June, six months after inconclusive parliamentary elections. These second elections confirmed the change in the political landscape that had previously been dominated by two parties – the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) and the Socialists (PSOE). Whereas governments had previously been formed with an absolute majority, the rise of the left-wing Podemos and centrist Ciudadanos (Citizens) means a future of pacts and strategic alliances.

Surveys suggested that in June young Spaniards opted for the two new parties, who came third and fourth respectively in the overall election result. Among voters aged 18-34, Podemos polled at
36% and Ciudadanos at 26%. The establishment parties, PSOE and the PP, received 18% and 11% respectively. But the overall result gave the PP victory, with its leader, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, delivering a triumphant speech that boasted of Spain’s economic growth, the progressive creation of employment, and four years of stability. This message resonated heavily with the stability-driven older generation throughout the campaign.

Despite their popularity with young people, Podemos came third in June’s elections. This support for the leftwingers largely reflects young people’s difficult social and employment situation. Spain’s youth unemployment rate currently stands at 45%. 15.6% of those aged 15-24 neither study nor work (the EU average is 12%). Spain’s young people have greatly suffered the effects of the economic crisis and austerity policies. Last year alone, 209,000 young Spaniards between the ages of 20 and 35 left the country.

Podemos has channelled the growing indignation of young Spaniards. The party was very critical of how the PP government implemented EU austerity measures, damaging Spain’s longstanding
support for the EU. According to a June study by the Pew Research Center, 53% of Spaniards now view the EU unfavourably. The rate among young people is only slightly lower, at 47%. The study also found Spaniards to be especially critical of how the EU has handled the economic crisis.

2016 sees Spain celebrating the 30th anniversary of its entry into the EU. It’s a crucial and timely moment to assess pro-EU sentiment in Spain, particularly among the country’s young people, in the light of anger over EU-led austerity. To have a chance at mending the bridges between Spain and the EU, we Spaniards must move on from blaming the EU for our misfortunes and finally understand that our success is based on mutually dependence. Young Spaniards, especially, must strengthen their commitment to the EU, and support the European project – which is also the Spanish project.

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