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Spanish Populism Is On The Rise

Spain is no longer immune to the rise of far-right populist politics that currently affects the EU

Within the last few years we have seen a worryingly upward trend in the number of parties categorized as far right, anti-immigration, populistic and extremely nationalistic both within and outside of the EU. Some blame it on the eurozone crisis and how the EU as managed it, others blame it on the large number of refugees and immigrants that have arrived in Europe in recent years, as a consequence of the conflicts in the Middle East and the emergence of the ISIS. Many watch the growth of the European extreme right with concern, and they wonder if the potential accession to power of these far-right political groups will put at risk the values that have characterized the EU for decades, like tolerance, solidarity, respect for human rights or equality.

One of the very few countries in the EU that lacked a strong and influential extreme right party can no longer consider itself free from this trend, which is a matter of concern to many. For the first time since its transition to democracy, Spain witnessed a party that is considered far-right make major gains in an election. The party in question is a recently created party named Vox, which gained a record number of votes in last December’s regional election in Andalucía, the largest region in the country.

Since its creation in 2013, this party had not been able to secure any seats  in the European Parliament, National Parliament, the Senate nor any of Spain’s regional parliaments; until December 2018, when Vox gained 12 seats (about 10%) in the Parliament of Andalucía, which, ironically, had been ruled by the left during the last two decades.

Santiago Abascal, President of Vox, on a party’s convention. Source: Flickr

Vox (which in Latin means “voice”), was created mostly by former members of the Spanish People’s Party (the largest party in the country together with the Socialist Party), who were disenchanted by its current policies and corruption scandals. Similarly to Sverigedemokraterna in Sweden or to Le Front National in France, Vox endorses an anti-immigration and Eurosceptic discourse, and is strongly critical of multiculturalism. In fact, the Attorney General of Spain has warned that some of the messages launched by the party could potentially fuel hatred and conflicts. And, just like Donald Trump with Mexico, Vox would build strong and impassable walls in Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish exclaves located in mainland Africa.

In a similar way to far-right populist countries in other Mediterranean and Eastern European countries, such as Italy or Hungary, Vox has placed a special emphasis on recovering Christian traditional family values that have characterized the era of former dictator Francisco Franco. It also opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, and plans to forbid sex-change operations or abortions (which are today carried out within the public healthcare system) in public hospitals.

Regarding domestic issues, Vox plans to eliminate the current administrative system of autonomous communities (regions) that prevails in Spain today, and centralize all power in Madrid. The current administrative Spanish system, granted by Spain’s last constitution, concedes greater autonomy to a few regions, including Catalonia, considered as having historical national identity recognition. With the on-going tensions between Catalonia and Spain’s central government and last year’s conflicts caused by the holding of an illegal independence referendum in the region by the autonomous government of Catalonia, Vox was able to gain a considerable number of voters by promising to solve Catalonia’s current conflict by depriving the region (and the other 16 regions of Spain) of its autonomous power.

Although gender violence, sexual assaults and abuses towards women remain a great problem today in Spain, the party’s program also includes the repeal of the current Gender Violence Law, which was unanimously approved in 2004, marking a historical turning point in the fight against gender violence and for real equality between men and women. By doing so, Vox denies that there still exists a gender problem in Spain, which has led to a massive wave of demonstrations in many Spanish cities.

Even though this recently created party only has representation in one region, polls show an increasingly rise in Vox’s popularity, which many groups, such as immigrants, LGTB collectives and women note with concern. Some have even expressed that if Vox ever took power in Spain the country would see a return to Francoism (the historical period during Franco’s regime). Although that is quite far from happening, as traditional parties in Spain still have much power and influence, they are expected to gain a few seats in the European Parliament, and in this way contribute to the already considerable share of Eurosceptic, anti-immigration and nationalistic ideologies that already exists in the EU and that in some way clashes with its principles and values.

Julia Vázquez Santiago

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