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Forming The Bureau, First Test Of The Spanish Congress’s New Majorities

The complex and unclear result of Spain's July 23rd general election means that the two main parties.

The complex and unclear result of Spain’s July 23rd general election means that the two main parties, the PSOE and the PP, both have their eyes fixed on August 17th. 

That date is a day of mourning in Barcelona, as it is the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Rambla, but this year, it is also a red-letter day on the Madrid political calendar because it is the day on which the Spanish houses of parliament, the Cortes, will be constituted. And, therefore, the speaker of the Congress of Deputies will be chosen. 

 Relatives of those killed and injured in the Alvia derailment at the A Grandeira curve arrive at the Plaza del Obradoiro after a protest march, on July 24, 2023, in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain. (CESAR ARXINA/GETTY IMAGES) 

The Socialists want to keep this key post in their hands and the PP want to win it back, taking advantage of the vulnerable majorities that are likely to be standard fare in the lower house during this legislature. 

In fact, Thursday, August 17th will be the first examination of those majorities. Because, as will happen throughout the legislature if a government is formed, and it is able to start walking, the votes cast by the two Catalan pro-independence parties, Junts and ERC, will be decisive.

What happens on August 17th will, in fact, be a prologue to how events play out in the subsequent process of investiture of a Spanish prime minister. 

With the doubt still remaining whether king Felipe VI will – subsequently – opt for the PP’s Alberto Núñez Feijóo or the PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez as the one who will get to test the confidence of the chamber in his candidature to lead a government, next Thursday will be the moment in which the composition of the Bureau is decided. And that is not something unimportant – on the contrary. 

The Bureau, presided over by the speaker of the house, is the body that has the power to shape the parliamentary agenda and calendar. 

In other words, it has the ability to block proposals and this means that a Bureau commanded by a party opposed to that of the government complicates things for the executive.

The actual vote is carried out through a secret ballot, with each MP handing over a ballot paper with the name of the member of parliament they want to become the new speaker of Congress. In the first vote, an absolute majority is required – at least 176 in favor. 

If this is not achieved, the chamber must vote again, choosing only between the two candidates who obtained the most support in the previous election. Whoever gets the most confidence in this second vote, becomes the new speaker of the Congress.

That same day, the four deputy speakers and four secretaries of the Bureau are also elected. 

The method is as follows: each deputy writes one name on a ballot paper and the MPs who obtain the highest numbers of votes are elected, in successive order. First for the four deputy speakers – with each MP casting one vote – then once more for the four secretaries, and again, each MP casts one vote. 

It is simple on an individual level, but collectively complex, because to determine the outcome it is essential to arrive at the vote with agreements made with other parties. 

And, due to the fact that it is also secret, it is a voting format that opens the door to the risk of betrayal.

In the last legislature, for example, PP and Vox fell out, failed to coordinate their votes and this resulted in an unbalanced Bureau, which favored the left more heavily than the actual majority that existed in the chamber.

“Having the key is circumstantial: One day you have it and the next day you don’t,” said Pedro Sanchez in a tweet. “This cannot make us fall either into haste in the face of fear of losing it, or into overacting in the face of a power that is inevitably ephemeral.”

The method is the same for deputy speakers as for secretaries. If at any point there is a tie, a tie-breaker vote is held between the two tied MPs and the one who then has the most confidence retains the place.

How will this system work given the current congressional majority? It will be a very delicate scenario in which each bloc will have to manage their votes carefully and play their cards very intelligently. 

 Relatives of those killed and injured in the Alvia derailment at the A Grandeira curve arrive at the Plaza del Obradoiro after a protest march, on July 24, 2023, in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain. (CESAR ARXINA/GETTY IMAGES) 

Since using votes to ensure the first deputy speakers and secretaries means you have fewer left to vote for the rest, excellent arithmetic organization with one’s allies is needed to win the game against the opposing bloc. 

It should be noted that the speaker’s position is important, but not the order of all the other positions. They each have one vote on the Bureau and the most decisive factor is the overall Bureau majority.

Both Junts and ERC will be looking to have their needs and interests served in a way that brings them to reach an understanding with the PSOE on the 17th. 

The Socialists want to keep the speaker’s position in the chamber, which in the last legislature was in the hands of Meritxell Batet, and the two pro-independence parties want to achieve their own parliamentary group, and thus gain more speaking time and prominence in the house, among other advantages. 

Neither of the two parties currently meets the requirements set by the rules to have such a group, but this is where the three parties can reach an understanding.

There is no need for Junts and ERC to give their votes for free to ensure that a Socialist deputy can be the speaker of Congress. Because the Socialists can offer them something in return: a shortcut to obtain the parliamentary group that both parties want, by assigning them “extra” deputies and thus allowing them to reach the number of seats necessary to form their own group. 

However, this mechanism – and this is what makes everything work – must have the endorsement of the Bureau. 

“For the record, I would love to be in the chalet in Collioure,” said Sanchez on X. “But no, right now I’m in Waterloo, where it rains all day, and it’s 14 degrees.”

At the same time, Vox hopes that the PP will not only vote for itself, but will also give votes to the extreme right so that a member of Santiago Abascal’s party will also be present in the governance body of the lower house. Good coordination between PP and Vox would allow the Bureau to have a more representative composition of what actually exists in Congress. 

In addition, this will force the PSOE and Sumar (who have fewer seats than PP and Vox) to look for support among other parties. And there has even been speculation about the entry of the Basque Nationalist Party into prominent positions on the Bureau.

Produced in association with El Nacional En

Edited by and

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