The country is following a populist trend across Europe
In a curtain-raiser for the forthcoming general election, Spanish voters went to the polls yesterday in 12 of the country’s 17 regions. The country’s Right-wing parties were tipped to do well, but the actual outcome has exceeded expectations.
The most dramatic result was in Extremadura, a southern region which can be thought of as the ultimate in Spanish flyover country. Though twice the size of Wales, it has less than a third of the population. It is landlocked, drought-stricken and poor. Being dependent on state support, Extremadura has long been a socialist stronghold, but yesterday, for the first time since the restoration of democracy in Spain, Right-of-centre parties won a majority in the regional assembly.
This upset is making headlines in Spain — and is emblematic of the rise of the Right across the southern part of the country, which is the political equivalent of the Red Wall in Northern England.
There is much more going on here than a simple swing of the electoral pendulum. Thanks to multiple disruptions — the Eurozone crisis, the struggle for (and against) Catalan independence, and Covid — Spanish politics has been in flux for a decade. The rise of not one but three populist movements has meant that the establishment parties (the Socialists and conservative People’s Party) have struggled to form stable governments.
But the chaos is beginning to resolve itself. Especially significant are the divergent fortunes of the three upstart parties. On the Left, Podemos and its allies are now in marked decline. In the centre, Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) has been all but wiped out. However, the far-Right Vox is now firmly established as a key player. In most of yesterday’s regional elections, this hardline nationalist party gained in strength despite the advances made by its closest competitor, the centre-Right People’s Party (PP). Though the PP has made the biggest gains (mainly at the expense of Ciudadanos), it will probably have to rely on Vox to govern in several regions.
Without a sudden reversal in fortune, we can expect a similar outcome in the general election — which has just been called for the 23 July. This would mean the populist Right gaining a share of power in yet another EU country.
Nevertheless, Europe’s leaders are likely to reconcile themselves to a PP-Vox coalition government. After all, they haven’t had too much trouble accepting the rule of Giorgia Meloni in Italy.
With other parties of the far-Right coming ever closer to real political power in countries like Finland, Austria and even France, one has ask if there is no limit to the patience of the EU establishment. Perhaps there isn’t. The experience of dealing with the likes of Viktor Orbán in Central and Eastern Europe seems to have built up the EU’s tolerance for similar politicians in Western Europe.
Indeed, we’re witnessing an experiment in which the European body politic is injected with ever more potent quantities of a substance that some would call Right-wing populism and others fascism-lite.
Back home in Britain, a lot of people are pretending not to notice. But for how much longer can they ignore what’s going on? Though we’re not there yet, there has to be a point at which the far-Right influence on EU politics becomes unbearable even to the most ardent Remainer. Or is being part of Europe more important to them than liberal democracy?