Spain's Socialists win EU and local ballots in boost for Sanchez
Pedro Sanchez's Socialists on Sunday won their second set of elections in a month, boosting their ambition to form a government at home in Spain and target a top EU job in Brussels.
After winning national elections in April without a majority, Mr Sanchez was looking to Sunday's local, regional and EU elections to reinforce his negotiating stance.
His PSOE party topped the European election and was on course to have the biggest contingent in the EU assembly's Socialist group.
"Spain is going to fight to have a position according to our new weight in Europe," a government source told Reuters ahead of what promises to be a tough battle on the bloc's coveted senior jobs amid a fragmented political landscape.
Spain has long punched below its weight in Brussels, dragged down by the economic crisis and a bigger focus on domestic issues, but sees in its better economic results, combined with Brexit and with Italy's woes, a chance to make a comeback.
Madrid is likely to aim for the EU's top foreign policy job and for a vice-presidency at the European Commission, government sources have said in recent days.
The Socialists won 20 seats in the European Parliament, the conservative Partido Popular 12, center-right Ciudadanos seven and far-right Vox three, official results with nearly all the votes counted showed.
Spaniards were also voting in local and regional elections, whose outcome will be crucial in complex negotiations to form the national government, likely to take several more weeks.
With around 80% of the votes counted, the Socialists had scored nearly 30% in both the municipal and regional elections, in further good news for Sanchez.
PP, badly bruised in last month's election, saw its numbers drop but might be able to win the Madrid municipality and keep control of the Madrid regional assembly, with the support of Vox and Ciudadanos.
Voting in Barcelona was very fragmented and it was unclear who could form a majority to rule the municipality.
Catalan separatist leaders Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras both won EU seats, but with question marks over whether they can become EU lawmakers.
Mr Puigdemont lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium and would be arrested over his role in a 2017 independence bid in Catalonia if he sets foot in Spain to complete the formalities to get his EU seat.
Mr Junqueras is in jail during his trial over the independence attempt.
MAIN PHOTO: REUTERS/Susana Vera