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It’s been four months since Spanish voters went to the polls and delivered a result so inconclusive that most political observers – including incumbent prime minister Mariano Rajoy himself – have been predicting another round of elections almost since the results were first counted. Unless King Felipe can pull a rabbit out of the hat today when he meets the heads of the four largest parties for a final time, Spaniards are likely to head to the polls again on June 26 to have another try.
Would another election change anything? Recent opinion polls show that Mr Rajoy’s centre-right Popular party may gain a little more than the 28.7 per cent it won in December, and the second-place Socialists would lose a bit on their 22 per cent take. But the numbers have held pretty steady throughout the four-month drama. Which would suggest that the parties should hunker down and find a coalition that works rather than risk a repeat. But several hurdles have prevented any agreement, particularly within the Socialists and the far-left Podemos insurgent party.
The Socialists have resisted Mr Rajoy’s repeated entreaties to form a grand coalition, and one only need to look at what happened to the centre-left Pasok party in Greece to understand why: joining in a grand coalition in Athens led by the centre-right allowed far-left Syriza to claim the mantle of the left from Pasok, and the Spanish Socialists are deathly afraid of Podemos repeating the feat in Madrid. But Podemos has been equally resistant, blowing up the only long-shot coalition attempt that was seriously tried during the talks – a Socialist-led government with Podemos and the upstart centrist Ciudadanos party joining in – when its membership voted overwhelmingly to reject it earlier this month.
There has been some buzzing that either Mr Rajoy or Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader, would step down ahead of the vote to revitalise their parties going into a new election. A poll published by El Español yesterday showed that while the Socialists would fare no better under the party’s Andalusian chief, Susana Díaz, Mr Rajoy’s Popular party had interesting gains if led by the technocratic deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. Regardless, neither leader is expected to be replaced.
The best chance of anything changing is for Mr Rajoy to gain enough seats in the re-vote that he can go into coalition alone with Ciudadanos, a centrist and free-market party. Alternatively, Podemos could run on a joint list with fellow leftists in Izquierda Unida, vaulting them into second place and giving them the upper hand in creating a broad coalition of the left with the Socialists. But if things remain as now, the pressure will be intense for the Socialists to give in and join a government led by the Popular party – though perhaps without Mr Rajoy as prime minister.
Regardless, nobody expects another election to make things much easier. So the pain in Spain will remain even after the endgame.
What we’re reading
The long-simmering feud between Donald Tusk, the ex-Polish prime minister who now presides over the European Council, and the current Law and Justice government in Warsaw is threatening to boil over after Beata Szydlo, the sitting prime minister, yesterday ordered an investigation into allegations a Tusk aide got a newspaper editor fired for critical coverage during Mr Tusk’s premiership. Ms Szydlo announced the move after the weekly Do Rzeczy reported it had heard a recording of a 2014 conversation between Pawel Gras, the Tusk aide who now works for him in Brussels, and billionaire Jan Kulczyk in which Mr Gras complains about coverage in the tabloid Fakt, which was running critical stories about Mr Tusk’s daughter. Fakt’s editor was sacked shortly thereafter. Polish public broadcaster TVP reports that Axel Springer, which owns Fakt, has called the allegations “absurd” and a “conspiracy theory”. Mr Tusk’s office wasn’t commenting yesterday.
Spain isn’t the only EU country struggling to build a governing coalition. In Ireland, a grand coalition between historic rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is being held up over a dispute on the future of Irish Water, a new utility created by the ruling Fine Gael government during the Irish bailout to collect water fees – which remains hugely unpopular. Fianna Fáil ran on a platform of ending water charges, at least for a while, and the Irish Times reports that party leader Micheal Martin has insisted the issue be resolved before a new government is formed. The Irish Independent quotes Mr Martin, who resumed talks with incumbent Enda Kenny yesterday, as saying the chances of forming a grand coalition are no better than 50-50.
Barack Obama wrapped up his trip to Germany yesterday with a ringing endorsement of European integration in a Hanover speech, adding that while the EU is under fire on the continent, “Perhaps you need an outsider to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved from the ruins of the second world war,” the Guardian reported. Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung dubbed it “Obama’s anti-angst speech”, and noted it continued his pattern of lacing his remarks with jokes, including his intention to return to Germany for Oktoberfest, which would be “more fun when you’re not president”. The transcript posted by the White House also includes a not-so subtle dig at Brussels, which Mr Obama notes can be “frustrating” because of its “slow decision-making”. “I understand,” Mr Obama notes. “I’ve been in meetings with the European Commission.” The New York Times contrasted the speech with his famous 2008 campaign appearance in Berlin, noting that Mr Obama has scaled back his once-lofty foreign policy ambitions.
The unity of the British government’s campaign to stay in the EU was upended yesterday when Theresa May, the UK home secretary who is one of the most prominent proponents of Remain, gave a major speech advocating pulling out of the European Convention of Human Rights instead. Although the convention is not an EU pact – it’s the founding document of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe – it is required of all EU members, leading some Brexit advocates, including UK Independence party chief Nigel Farage, to accuse Ms May of making a distinction without a difference. The Guardian noted Ms May is a potential candidate to replace David Cameron as prime minister, but has lost support among eurosceptics because of her backing of Mr Cameron on the Brexit issue. Ms May said the convention prevents the UK from deporting “dangerous foreign nationals,” reports the Daily Telegraph.
French shipbuilder DCNS won a hotly-contested A$50bn (or about €34bn) contract to build diesel submarines for the Australian navy overnight, beating out German and Japanese competitors. The deal is fraught with geopolitical complexities, particularly for Tokyo, which sought to move into the weapons exporting business for the first time since the second world war as regional rival China has been spending heavily to build up its own blue-water navy. Le Monde reports that while both DCNS and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp offered to build the vessels in Adelaide, Japan – which was once viewed as the frontrunner – balked at transferring some of the technology to Australian partners. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes that the deal would have been the largest industrial contract in Germany economic history.