Spain’s Socialists win big in EU vote

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was the big winner of European elections on Sunday with his ruling Socialists coming first, a result he will likely use to wield more influence in the EU.

Spain's Socialists win big in EU vote
The number of seats won by Spanish parties in EU election. Data: Interior Ministry

With more than 95 percent of votes counted, government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa announced the Socialist Party had come first with close to 33 percent, followed by the conservative Popular Party which won just over 20 percent.

The PSOE won 20 seats, six seats more than in the 2014 European election, and a share equivalent to more than 4 percentage points above last month’s Spanish general election.

In another devastating blow for the Popular Party, still reeling from disastrous results in the April 28th vote, the conservatives came in second place with 20.09 percent of the vote and 12 seats, four down from 2014.

The conservative vote was split by Ciudadanos who won seven votes and the new far-right Vox party, which enters the EU parliament for the first time, with three seats.

The far-left Podemos will be disappointed with  just six seats, only one more than in the last election. 

Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who is now living in exile in Belgium won a seat as an MEP as did his former deputy Oriol Junqueras currently, currently jailed on remand in Spain and on trial with 11 others for his role in staging the illegal referendum on independence, also won a seat as an MEP as well as being elected to Spain's national parliament.

Newly-emerged far-right party Vox, meanwhile, got just over six percent of the vote.

That's less than the 10 percent it won in the general election when it burst into the national parliament.

Sanchez was hoping that the party would perform well to strengthen his preferred plan of forming a minority government with the support of other parties on a case-by-case basis when passing laws.

But he will also be looking to the European Union, where Sanchez has emerged as the big hope for European social democrats.   

Spain could be the only major EU member state with socialists coming out on top in the European parliament elections.   

On Friday, outgoing Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, whom Spain could push to become the next EU foreign policy chief, told supporters that Sanchez was going to “lead the resurgence of social democracy in Europe”.

Podemos or not?

On the domestic front, the results of local and regional elections may determine what Spain's new government looks like, and Sanchez has urged supporters to “finish the work” of the general election and turn out in force.   

While Sanchez wants to rule alone in a minority government, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of far-left party Podemos, is pushing him to form a coalition.   

Whether Sanchez accepts may depend on how both parties fare.   

The Socialists “might need the support of Podemos to retain power in some regions, which Iglesias might use to pressure Sanchez into forming a coalition,” said Teneo analyst Antonio Barroso.

But “Iglesias' party is on the decline according to the most recent polls, and PSOE might enjoy a certain 'honeymoon effect' after its victory in the April legislative election. 

“If the distance between the two parties widens after Sunday, Sanchez will be in an even stronger position to head a minority government.”   

Polls suggest the Socialists will win in most of the 12 regions going to the polls on Sunday.

But all eyes will be on the region of Madrid, which could swing left after being governed by the PP for 24 years.   

An exit poll by local television channel Telemadrid predicted that would be the case, with Socialist candidate Angel Gabilondo coming first.   

It also predicted that outgoing Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena would win again.

READ MORE: Meet the guiris battling for your votes on Sunday

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German Greens’ chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news

With Germany's Green party leading the polls ahead of September's general elections, the ecologists' would-be successor to Angela Merkel has become increasingly targeted by internet trolls and fake news in recent weeks.

German Greens' chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news
The Greens chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock on April 26th. Photo: DPA

From wild claims about CO2-emitting cats and dogs to George Soros photo collages, 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock has been the subject of a dizzying array of fake news, conspiracy theories and online attacks since she was announced as the Greens’ chancellor candidate in mid-April.

The latest polls have the Greens either ahead of or level with Merkel’s ruling conservatives, as the once fringe party further establishes itself as a leading electoral force in Europe’s biggest economy.

Baerbock herself also consistently polls higher than her conservative and centre-left rivals in the race to succeed Merkel, who will leave office after 16 years this autumn.

Yet her popularity has also brought about unwanted attention and a glut of fake news stories aimed at discrediting Baerbock as she bids to become Germany’s first Green chancellor.


False claims

Among the false stories circulating about Baerbock is the bizarre claim that she wants to ban household pets in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Another fake story firmly denied by the party claimed that she defied rules on mask-wearing and social-distancing by embracing colleagues upon her nomination earlier this month.

Baerbock has also been presented as a “model student” of Hungarian billionaire George Soros – a hate figure for the European far-right and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists – in a mocked-up social media graphic shared among others by a far-right MP.

More serious online attacks include a purported photo of Baerbock which in fact shows a similar-looking naked model.

The Greens’ campaign manager Michael Kellner said that the attempts to discredit Baerbock had “taken on a new dimension”, that “women are targeted more heavily by online attacks than men, and that is also true of our candidate”.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock earlier this month. Photo: DPA

Other false claims about the party include reports of a proposed ban on barbecues, as well as plans to disarm the police and enforce the teaching of the Quran in schools.

While such reports are patently absurd, they are potentially damaging to Baerbock and her party as they bid to spring a surprise victory in September.

“She has a very real chance, but the coming weeks are going to be very important because Baerbock’s public image is still taking shape,” Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University told AFP.

In a bid to fight back against the flood of false information, the party has launched a new “online fire service” to report fake news stories.

READ ALSO: Greens become ‘most popular political party’ in Germany

Russian disinformation

Yet stemming the tide is no easy job, with many of those who peddle disinformation now using private messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram rather than public platforms such as Facebook.

The pandemic and ongoing restrictions on public life will also make it harder for the campaign to push through their own narratives at public events.

Miro Dittrich of Germany’s Amadeu-Antonio anti-racism foundation claims that lockdown has “played a role” in the spread of fake news.

“People are isolated from their social environment and are spending a lot more time online,” he said.

Another factor is Russia, which has made Germany a primary target of its efforts to spread disinformation in Europe.

According to the European anti-disinformation platform EUvsDisinfo, Germany has been the target of 700 Russian disinformation cases since 2015, compared to 300 aimed at France and 170 at Italy.

As an outspoken critic of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, Baerbock may well become a target of such attacks during the election campaign.

By Mathieu FOULKES