Guide to understanding EU and local elections in Catalonia

Jailed and exiled leaders win seats, pro-independence camp obtains nearly 50% of vote, Socialists remain strong and far-right flounders

Image of the European parliament and commission seat in Barcelona in 2018 (by Laura Pous)
Image of the European parliament and commission seat in Barcelona in 2018 (by Laura Pous) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

May 27, 2019 05:22 PM

It was an intense election night on Sunday in Catalonia with EU elections and some 950 local elections taking place at the same time, with no clear results until past 11pm.

With loads of information to digest, here are some of the keys to understanding what this vote means for the country and what the aftermath will be:

1. Jailed and exiled pro-independence leaders elected MEPs

Three ministers from Puigdemont's ousted government were elected MEPs. The former president’s party won the election in Catalonia, meaning he secured a seat in the European Parliament, alongside his fellow exile Toni Comín. Whether they will be able to take up their seats is still up in the air and a legal battle is soon likely to begin.

The Socialists were runners-up in the European polls, with Esquerra coming third. This resulted in the latter party's jailed leader Oriol Junqueras also becoming an MEP. He is more likely to be able to take up his seat, as was the case following Spain’s general election, yet in that instance he was suspended by Spain’s authorities after only three days.

2. Pro-independence vote edges towards 50% watershed

The pro-independence parties won a combined 49.71% of the vote in the EU elections, their biggest share of the vote in any elections. Technically, that would produce an overall majority for a republic if spoilt ballots were taken out of the equation.

These were the first EU polls since the 2017 independence referendum and controversy over Spanish police violence. Brussels kept a low profile in the crisis.

3. Eleven Catalan elected MEPs

Alongside Puigdemont, Comín and Junqueras, Catalonia had other winners in Spain's single constituency. The outgoing Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell and current MEP Javi López for the Socialists; jailed leader Raül Romeva’s partner Diana Riba for ERC; returning MEP Javier Nart and ex-MP Jordi Cañas for Ciutadans; returning MEP Ernest Urtasun for the Greens; ex-health minister Dolors Montserrat for the PP; and Jorge Buxadé for far-right Vox.

4. Left dominates Barcelona, with Esquerra winning for first time in 80 years

Pro-independence party Esquerra won Barcelona's local election for the first time in over 80 years, with former Catalan foreign minister Ernest Maragall successfully dethroning mayor Ada Colau by fewer than 5,000 votes and half a percentage point.

It was a nail-biting three-way race for the City Hall, with Colau’s Barcelona en Comú and the Socialists narrowly falling short. Interestingly, all three are left-leaning, totaling 28 out of 41 local councilors, five more than four years ago. Yet a three-way coalition appears out of the question, with the independence issue a major diving line.

5. ERC and Socialists maintain Spanish election momentum

Across the 948 Catalan municipalities, Esquerra were winners, with 23.4% of the vote and 3,107 local councilors, their best result in modern times. The party therefore consolidated their clear victory in the Spanish general election last month.

The Socialists came second with a 21.9% share, and third in terms of council seats with 1,315 councilors, an increase on four years ago and stopping a downwards trend starting in 2011.

They are likely to have benefited from Spain’s Socialist president Pedro Sánchez’s momentum. Junts per Catalunya (15.3%, 2,798 councilors) had a sizeable proportion of losses compared to its predecessor CiU in 2015, and far-left CUP suffered the same fate.

6. People’s Party in freefall; far-right Vox below 2%

The People’s Party ended up with their worst ever result in the April 28 Spanish election – and confirmed its freefall in the local elections across Catalonia: only 67 local councilors and 3.1% of the share, also an all-time low, with a 5% total in the EU vote.

Far-right party Vox also fell considerably short of expectations in Catalan constituencies: prevailing in only 2% of the polling in the European Parliament election.