Spanish Elections 2023: What Does It Mean For The Climate?

by Bella Shorrock

Spain’s general election in late July comes as the country assumed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Charged with steering EU climate policy ahead of COP28, what do the inconclusive results mean for the climate crisis? 

What happened at the elections? 

The 2023 Spanish election was expected to be an indicator of Europe’s political future. Commentators suggested that the election would see right-leaning parties sweep into power, after the governing Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) suffered dramatic losses in May’s local and regional elections [1]. But what happened was far less clear cut. The center-right Popular Party (PP) won the election with 136 seats. But in the absence of an outright majority, and with significant losses for the far-right party Vox, the future of Spain is uncertain, with parties making deals and scrambling for coalition partners [2]. 

What does it mean for Spain’s climate policy? 

Time is of the essence when it comes to Spanish climate policy. The Spanish elections took place during blistering temperatures – and scientists have confirmed that July was the hottest month on record [3]. These devastating effects of the climate crisis can already be seen in Spain – where water stress is the worst in the region and temperatures last month rose to the mid-40s Celsius [4]. Water scarcity is a particularly contentious political issue. Attempts made by the Socialist government to limit the illegal use of water in agriculture have met with vocal opposition, particularly by the two parties on the right [4]. Those are the two parties – Partido Popular and Vox – who may, together, now form a government. 

And while far-right party Vox did not gain as many seats as predicted, the rise of the party reflects the rise of climate denial in Spain – with the party denouncing Spain’s 2021 Climate Change law as “insane” [4, 5]. They’ve also said that proposed EU legislation on nature conservation will precipitate “the return to caves and poverty”, and argued that attempts made to tackle water scarcity are victimising farmers [4]. If Vox were to be part of a future coalition government, it would, in the words of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, create a “political earthquake that will be felt on the continent in the middle of the Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union” [6]. 

How does the election affect the EU? 

This election holds special significance for the future of EU climate policy. As of July 1st, Spain has taken over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU [7]. While the role has limited executive powers, it means that Spain will be responsible for implementing elements of the Green Deal legislative process before next years’ European elections and the upcoming COP28 [7]. But with predicted months of political gridlock and no clear majority, will Spain be able to show strong leadership at this critical time for international climate action? 

The European Green Deal first emerged in 2019. Its main objective is for the EU to achieve “net zero emissions” by 2050, in a global effort to reduce global warming to 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial levels. The goals of the deal are ambitious and varied – they include calls for integrating climate into foreign policy, shifting to a ‘circular’ economy, preventing biodiversity loss and electrifying transport [8]. 

In Spain’s role as President of the Council of the EU, the country will steer the EU’s climate agenda and oversee negotiations [7]. But a weak government with a limited margin for decision-making, absorbed with domestic political struggles, is unlikely to be able to keep its attention on complex EU priorities at this crucial time. 
While the future government is, at the time of writing, unknown, it is clear that this is a crucial turning point for Spain. The urgency to address the climate crisis means that Spain, in its role as President of the Council of the EU, must ensure that domestic political struggles do not interrupt continuity in climate policy. There is no time to lose. 


[1] Cué, EC. Spain calls snap general election after right, far-right, inflict heavy local and regional defeat. El País., accessed on August 4 , 2023

[2] Kassam, A. Spain Election 2023 Results. The Guardian, Spain election 2023 results: rightwing bloc pulls ahead but remains short of overall majority – as it happened, accessed on August 4, 2023.

[3] Paddison, L. This Month is the Hottest on Record by Far. CNN., accessed on August 3, 2023.

[4] Whitelaw, K and Orihuela, R. European Heatwave: How Climate is Playing Out For Spain’s Election. Bloomberg. European Heatwave: How Climate is Playing Out For Spain’s Election – Bloomberg, accessed on August 3 2023.

[5]Jefatura del Estado, 2021, Ley 7/2021, de 20 de mayo, de cambio climático y transición energética, 

[6] Brown, G. Spain’s election is a key battle in a Europe-wide struggle against neofascism. The Guardian, Spain’s election is a key battle in the Europe-wide struggle against neofascism | Gordon Brown | The Guardian, accessed on August 5 2023.

[7] Upcoming Spanish Elections Could Hamper European Climate Diplomacy at a Time When it Should be a Top Priority. New Climate Institute., accessed on August 3 2023.

[8] What is the European Green Deal? The Economist., accessed on August 2, 2023.

Categories EU - Current Affairs

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