Election Day: Independence issue dominates atypical EU and local contests

The Catalan aspect of the elections explained as Europe heads to the polls

Image of the European Parliament in March 2019 (by EP)
Image of the European Parliament in March 2019 (by EP) / Guifré Jordan

Daniel Wittenberg | Barcelona

May 26, 2019 08:58 AM

It's déjà vu in Catalonia as polling stations pop up once again, with candidates appearing in person, in prison and in exile to spur on the public to vote, amid the prospect of major shake-ups in the European Parliament and Barcelona City Hall.

What is happening?

Voters in Catalonia and across Spain are going to the polls for the second time in less than a month to cast their ballot in another two elections.

After April's Spanish general election, attention turns to European and local politics with seats in the EU Parliament and town councils up for grabs.

How does it work?

For the European elections, the whole of Spain counts as a single constituency and parties are allocated MEPs broadly in proportion to their share of the Spanish-wide vote.

As a result, some Catalan parties appear as part of alliances with counterparts elsewhere in Spain, in order to maximize their representation.

Spain will initially have 54 representatives in the EU Parliament, but once the UK is legally out of the organization, a further five Spanish MEPs will take their seats.

For the local elections, the proportional, party-based system is the same – but each council is a separate constituency, meaning results vary from place to place.

The mayor and deputy mayors are elected by their respective council assemblies so, like a prime minister, they need to command a majority in their local legislature. Should all the candidates fail to do so, the mayoralty goes to the largest party.

Who are the key players?

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, together with his former ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí, are standing at the European elections as candidates in exile from Belgium for liberal pro-independence alliance Junts per Catalunya.

Puigdemont, the lead candidate, is expected to win a seat in the EU Parliament but it remains to be seen whether he would actually be able to take it given the controversy over his legal status following the failed independence drive in October 2017.

Oriol Junqueras, Puigdemont's vice-president in 2017 and leader of left-wing, pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana, is standing as the top candidate for the Ara Repúbliques alliance despite remaining in preventative prison over the independence bid.

If Junqueras wins a seat as projected by the polls, he will have to choose whether to remain a member of the Spanish parliament or attempt to assume his post in Europe. Yet whether he can last the full term looks uncertain pending his trial outcome.

Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau is battling to keep control of the City Hall in a likely close race with her Esquerra rival Ernest Maragall. The leader of left-wing unionist alliance Barcelona en Comú, Colau became the first woman in charge of the Catalan capital in 2015 but could have to cede overall control in a coalition with Maragall as mayor.

Ex-French prime minister Manuel Valls, supported by staunch unionist party Ciutadans, is widely expected to fall short in his ambition of becoming mayor – but if neither the pro-independence nor constitutionalist blocs win a majority, he could play a part.

When will we know the results?

For the European elections, an estimate for Spain will be published after polls close in the country at 8pm local time. Official provisional results for Spain, as well as a Europe-wide results projection, will not arrive until polls close in Italy at 11pm.

For the local elections, the timings will differ between councils but the Barcelona mayoral picture is predicted to become clear around midnight at the earliest.